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California Cult Cabernet


GordonCooks
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I'm a huge fan of California Cabs. My wine Cellar is a small one but choice Cult Cabs dominate. As a younger aficionado - I must admit that as I drink more French, my new world interest is waning. These thoughts are prompted by my tasting of my 94 Dalla Valle Maya, Penfolds Grange, 89 Lynch-Bages over a 3 month period. How would you spend a 500.00 gift certificate ?

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If you want to try 2 of the newer cult wines....Gemstone (100% cab.No tasting room, mailing list only and always sells out immediately...3rd vintage coming out this year) and CE2V 2000 Cab (not released yet and the tasting room allocation is sold out...2nd vintage... so you will have to bribe your local wine shop to hold them for you). They are both small production wines. CE2V is from the folks at Cosentino Winery...the grapes are from Pope Valley. At the Napa wine auction their barrell lot was the 3rd choice out of all lots...Gemstone is Napa grown and finished in the top 10 in the barrell auction. I drank both with the winemakers at a party over the 4th...both are incredibly smooth for their age already. And other winemakers there were saying how well they should age and what beautiful wines they were. I have seen the Gemstone on winelists in NYC at Aureole, Gotham B & G and Veritas. The CE2V I not seen on lists in NYC yet...I have presumed you are in NYC...?

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I like Chateau St. Jean and luckily have a few bottles of the 1997 cinq cepage socked away in my cellar, However, that being said, the sink seepage is no longer the deal it once was. The 1996 was wine of the year by Wine Spectator (if you read that kind of thing) because it was very good and very cheap. The 1997 scored even higher (1997 was the vintage of the century in Napa and Sonoma Valleys) but Chateau St. Jean priced it accordingly. Now, the 1998 has been released (1998 was a mediocre vintage in Napa and Sonoma) and the price creeps upward further. I think that you can find better.

You are unclear whether you would like a case of wine or a few bottles for your $500.00?

I would recommend looking to the Rhone Valley. The recent vintages have been excellent and most of these are on store shelves right, with the exception of heavily allocated brands such as Ogier. For 500 bones you could pick up a mixed case of Northern and Southern Rhone wines from the 1998, 1999 vintages.

Another option is to go with the 1997 Brunellos that are just being released. These wines are uniformly considered on par with the stellar 1995 vintage and may be even better.

California Cabs have deservedly made a name for themselves in the last 20 years. However, they, and some Aussie wines, are becoming known more for winemaker skills than terroir or good fruit. New World wines now are earmarked by overuse of new oak, higher alcohol levels, extraction, lower tannins and being extremely fruit forward.

I think your $500 would be better spent on a few bottles each from Cote Rotie, Gigondas, Cornas, Chateauneuf du Pape, Crozes Hermitage, and Vacquerayas.

Cheers.

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The CE2V I not seen on lists in NYC yet...I have presumed you are in NYC...?

Nope - Upstate, Rochester to be exact. I'm leaning more towards a conversation about the Harlans, the Bryants, the Screaming Eagles of the Valley. I have a 94 Screaming Eagle that I'm scared to open. I don't think I'd spend the dough.

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Those are great wines...I understand your trepidation at opening your bottle of Screaming Eagle...that's why I thought you might want to try something that in the Valley has "buzz"(although grantedly relatively unknown), but is not stratospherically priced. The two wines I mentioned are more in the $100 range per bottle. Two other well known cult wines you might want to consider are Colgin and Vineyard 29.

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If you want to splurge and are willing to spend cult $ (on grey market prices) and want to try something different, see if you can't get a bottle of Imposter McCoy from Sine Qua Non. Definitely cult status, awesome Syrah. More conventional, but not quite in the inner circle of Harlan et. al. would be Fisher Wedding Vineyard 1997 (I haven't tried it but my buddies went nuts over it).

The best I had was 1997 Bryant, now that price has fallen, I think you can get it for $500 on gray market.

But I'd rather have 5 Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto's from 1990 (or 1997 to hold).

Finally, I've seen some pretty reasonable prices on 91 Montelena ($120 or so, the cost of the current vintage). Fabulous for drinking now (as would be a 91 Dominus).

beachfan

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If you want to splurge and are willing to spend cult $ (on grey market prices) and want to try something different, see if you can't get a bottle of Imposter McCoy from Sine Qua Non.---

YES YES YES

More conventional, but not quite in the inner circle of Harlan et. al. would be Fisher Wedding Vineyard 1997 (I haven't tried it but my buddies went nuts over it).

WHO IS THE WINEMAKER, BEACHFAN????

BEACHFAN, WHO MAKES FISHER????

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I tried the '97 too, just as good as the '98.  I'm talking Cinq Cepages.  Never had the '96.  But I love the wine.

I am speaking of the Cinq Cepages also. The 1997 is noticeably better than the 1998 because of the near perfect weather conditions that year.

GordonCooks: I have had Bryant Family, Grace, Colgin, Turley, and a few others that I am forgetting. These are good wines, but they are simply not worth the exorbitant price tags. In fact, the auction prices of these wines are falling at an alarming rate. Many people spent $1,000 for a bottle of Screagle that is now worth maybe $400. I just think your money is better spent elsewhere. These wines are more about status and name recognition than anything else. Joseph Phelps Insignia is every bit as good as the cult cabs (IMHO, better) and it retails for $100/bottle.

If you really want to spend that kind of money on a wine, I would look at the following wines

Rhone Valley: J.L. Chave Hermitage, Ogier or Jamet Cote Rotie

Spain: Vega Sicilia

Bordeaux: Ducru Beacaillou 1995

Burgundy: Any DRC from '96 or '99

Italy: Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Gaudo al Tasso, Tignanello from 1997.

I think that any of these wines would be a far superior drinking experience than a cult cab and offer a much better value, although none are cheap. I opened a bottle of 1990 Ogier Cote Rotie the other night and I was literally speechless. It was an astonishing bottle of wine.

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There is an okay Italian on Staten Island named Bocca that has Harlan, Screaming Eagle and Bryant Family on their wine list.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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There is an okay Italian on Staten Island named Bocca that has Harlan, Screaming Eagle and Bryant Family on their wine list.

Do you have any sense for the prices that they charge?

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Only was there once, it mentioned those three on their regular wine list and said inquire as to price and vintage availability.

Since I wasn't going to order a $1,000 bottle of wine with $10 plate of pasta, I never "inquired." - sorry.

The restaurant is on Hylan Blvd. - I'm sure you can call and ask.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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If you want to splurge and are willing to spend cult $ (on grey market prices) and want to try something different, see if you can't get a bottle of Imposter McCoy from Sine Qua Non.---

YES YES YES

More conventional, but not quite in the inner circle of Harlan et. al. would be Fisher Wedding Vineyard 1997 (I haven't tried it but my buddies went nuts over it).

WHO IS THE WINEMAKER, BEACHFAN????

BEACHFAN, WHO MAKES FISHER????

Mia Klein is the winemaking consultant (per Stephen Tanzer, May 2001) but Whitney Fisher does the day to day work.

Wedding Vineyard is currently being replanted (Abreu is supervising).

beachfan

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These are good wines, but they are simply not worth the exorbitant price tags.

It's a slightly different dynamic when you are on the mailing lists. Then is it worth it to drink it or sell it.

While I disagree that a Guado al Tasso is the equivalent (let alone better) than Harlan, I agree with your overall comments that the best Italian and Rhone wines are just as good (better for some palates) and better buys if you aren't on the mailing list.

(

beachfan

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Gordon, I'm a bit confused about your post. Are you soliciting opinions on the three bottles listed (in which case this thread has taken a definate detour) or are you asking how we each would spend $500 on a few bottles or bottle of wine?

To answer the first part, I'm not a big fan of New World wine when compared with comparable wines from Europe -- the price/value ration is just way out of whack. As such, I would jump at the 89 Lynch, a great bottle at a fraction (I would think) of the cost of either the Grange or the Maya.

I would really need some serious time to think about how best to spend $500 (other than going to Rosenthal and putting together a case of obscure Italians and Burgundies!). I agree with earlier posters that the Rhone Valley is perhaps the best value for great red wines -- a Clape Cornas perhaps from a monster historical vintage? Maybe Piedmont, for a Sperss historical bottling? One bottle would definately be a high numbered Kracher from Austria, though -- I haven't had one of the really rare ones.

Too little time, too much wine . . .

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These are good wines, but they are simply not worth the exorbitant price tags.

It's a slightly different dynamic when you are on the mailing lists. Then is it worth it to drink it or sell it.

While I disagree that a Guado al Tasso is the equivalent (let alone better) than Harlan, I agree with your overall comments that the best Italian and Rhone wines are just as good (better for some palates) and better buys if you aren't on the mailing list.

(

The whole purpose of the mailing list system was to create an artificial market and otherwise increase demand. Sure these wines fetch huge prices on the secondary market because people always want what they can't have. However, I do not think that this is a reason to think that a wine is good.

I have not had Harlan because I am not a fan of wine that tastes strongly of oak, fruit jam, and alcohol, especially at that price point. However, I have other cult cabs and feel very confident that Gaudo al Tasso is superior to any of them. Interestingly, Gaudo shares much of the same characteristics as it is markedly new world in style.

The problem with the cult cabs is that they are way out of balance. Not enough acidity, not enough tannins, not enough herbal qualities. They are all fruit and wood with out of whack alcohol percentages by volume. The very talented winemakers at these wineries have suceeded in isolating the few characteristics that are most noticeable and marketable, as well as favorites of a certain influential wine critic. They have then manipulated their wines, through reverse osmosis, super hot fermentation, high extraction, extended new oak contact, and use of ultra-ripe fruit to make relatively one-dimensional wines that showcase these limited characterisitics.

I think there are better buys out there.

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Gordon, I'm a bit confused about your post.  Are you soliciting opinions on the three bottles listed (in which case this thread has taken a definate detour) or are you asking how we each would spend $500 on a few bottles or bottle of wine?

As pretty much a wine novice (in this forum at least) - I've made a conscious effort to increase my wine knowledge for the past 5-6 years. What is obvious to me is that 250.00 spent on 89 Lynch-Bages is a better investment that 250.00 spent on Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow. Like I mentioned, as a novice, I'm looking for the guidance of the experts who have probably forgotten more knowledge than I may ever attain. Supply-Side economics withstanding - why has the price of California wines risen with such a disproportionate rise in wine quality? I want to make sure I shouldn't have my taste buds sent in for a Tune up.

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These are good wines, but they are simply not worth the exorbitant price tags.

It's a slightly different dynamic when you are on the mailing lists. Then is it worth it to drink it or sell it.

While I disagree that a Guado al Tasso is the equivalent (let alone better) than Harlan, I agree with your overall comments that the best Italian and Rhone wines are just as good (better for some palates) and better buys if you aren't on the mailing list.

(

The whole purpose of the mailing list system was to create an artificial market and otherwise increase demand. Sure these wines fetch huge prices on the secondary market because people always want what they can't have. However, I do not think that this is a reason to think that a wine is good.

I have not had Harlan because I am not a fan of wine that tastes strongly of oak, fruit jam, and alcohol, especially at that price point. However, I have other cult cabs and feel very confident that Gaudo al Tasso is superior to any of them. Interestingly, Gaudo shares much of the same characteristics as it is markedly new world in style.

The problem with the cult cabs is that they are way out of balance. Not enough acidity, not enough tannins, not enough herbal qualities. They are all fruit and wood with out of whack alcohol percentages by volume. The very talented winemakers at these wineries have suceeded in isolating the few characteristics that are most noticeable and marketable, as well as favorites of a certain influential wine critic. They have then manipulated their wines, through reverse osmosis, super hot fermentation, high extraction, extended new oak contact, and use of ultra-ripe fruit to make relatively one-dimensional wines that showcase these limited characterisitics.

I think there are better buys out there.

Don't confuse personal preferences with superiority. Some people really like wine that is all fruit. I like my wines fruit forward without prominent oak. I don't like herbal flavors. That doesn't mean I don't like good wine.

Also, your logic on mailing lists seems flawed. They are done so wineries can sell as much as possible directly to consumers at retail. They get no benefit from the gray market markup. They are interested in maximizing their profit, not Christie's. Some of them will bounce you off their mailing list if they know you are flipping the wine.

Finally, I love Italian wines, and most of my wine dollars are going there. While I thought Guado al Tasso was very nice, I wasn't impressed as others.

beachfan

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I like my wines fruit forward without prominent oak.

I thought you said you liked the Cult Cabs? Those wines see more new oak than a North Carolina furniture factory.

Perhaps predominant is the better word. Big enough fruit can handle a lot of oak. But that's probably why California Chardonnay is often disappointing to me. Pahlmeyer 99 tasted like I was chewing on a tongue depressor.

But I find Pahlmeyer Merlot nice. Probably same amount of oak, but not predominant because of the fruit.

If one disliked oak flavors as a significant component, then you probably would have found the Merlot objectionable too.

beachfan

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Supply-Side economics withstanding - why has the price of California wines risen with such a disproportionate rise in wine quality? I want to make sure I shouldn't have my taste buds sent in for a Tune up.

Throw in the Demand-Side economics and you have your answer. They charge that much because they can get it. The biggest problem is in second tier cabernets - $75 to $100 wines that would be ok at $34.

As production increases quicker than the supply of grapes from mature vines, quality will decrease. This is sort of the opposite of what has happened in Italy. Most of the grapes from mature vines (outside of Piedmonte and Tuscany) went to large cooperatives. Now that there has been major investment, the quantity of excellent wine has shot up dramatically. And while the prices haven risen to cover the higher costs, the comparable Italian Cabernet was $35 in 2001, and may still be under $50.

Many are made in a New World style and would appeal to palates that enjoy Californian wines. Also, Ron is right about Rhone wines as well as Italians. Check out the 2000 Chateauneuf du Papes, even with their price increases, still a lot, lot cheaper than California wines, and are probably in a style you would enjoy.

PS Those second tier cabs aren't selling too well anymore. Because with each dumb marketing move (like raising prices 20% in a bad year), more people discover the Rhone, Italian wines (and now, Spanish wines).

beachfan

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