The party scene shifted from Sonoma (I wrote a blog on the Wine Spectator "Bring Your Own Magnum" party in Sonoma earlier this week) to Napa on Wednesday night, and so did the mindset.
While Sonoma vintners contemplate their future, vis a vis its new rising star Pinot Noir and whether that wine will ever achieve the fame of its neighbor’s superstar wine, Cabernet, there’s no shortage of confidence or lack of self esteem in Napaland.
At Wine Spectator’s annual “Bring Your Own Magnum Party” Wednesday at Tra Vigne in St. Helena, there were scores of $100-plus wines on display and what seemed like dozens more that routinely fetch $150, $200, even $300 a bottle. In the big-bottle format, these babies go for $300 to $600 or more. Napa vintners seem to believe it’s better to have charged and failed than to have never charged at all.
It was interesting to hear Napa vintners talk about the new wines they’re working on, most of which seem to be the elite, high-end, dinky production, luxury-class bottlings of Cabernet that vintners hope will fetch a 98-point rating, orbiting it into the cult hero stratosphere.
I’m sure wineries make a tidy profit on these swanky wines. But I get the feeling that the ego trip associated with that image is an even bigger charge. Many of these wines will go to exclusive mailing lists and restaurants, bypassing the regular markets and most of the critics as well. Many winemakers, particularly in Napa, have decided they don’t need or want critical endorsements, or judgments or evaluations, even by independent voices. And if that flies with consumers, good for them. I’m often told I can only try a wine if I visit the winery and taste with the winemaker.
The most expensive new-release wine I tasted in Sonoma on Tuesday may have been the Kosta Browne 2006 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, which retails for $75 in a 750ml bottle and probably $150 in the magnum form from which it was poured that night.
That night a young vintner asked me if I thought Sonoma Pinot would ever achieve the kind of notoriety—and lofty pricing scale—enjoyed by Napa Cabernet. I imagine it will.
But the Pinot Noir market, for all is success and progress of late, is still relatively new and underdeveloped compared with Napa Cabernet, which has a long tradition for excellence, part of which has been built on the wine’s longevity and exclusivity. Never mind the recent shift in styles to more readily accessible wines. There are still plenty of Napa Cabernets that age exceptionally well, such as Phelps Insignia, or Beringer Private Reserve, and I expect that soon vintners will concentrate on making wines with greater longevity in mind because consumers will demand such. (When I taste Cabernets from, say, the 1997 vintage that are already tired, that’s a poor excuse for a truly great wine, much less great winemaking.) But that ageworthiness doesn’t have to come at the expense of suppleness and early-drinking generosity. Nor will these wines be inexpensive.
We’re living in an era of luxury wines and Napa vintners are not the least bit afraid to push the price envelope. Consumers too know that if they corner hot new wines they can flip them, reselling them for a quick and tidy profit.
Vintners in Sonoma are paying increasingly close attention. They too want a slice of that luxury pie.
Alex Bernardo — Millbrae, CA — June 6, 2008 1:29pm ET
Don Noone — June 6, 2008 1:44pm ET
Dan Murphy — Tampa, FL — June 6, 2008 2:35pm ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — June 6, 2008 3:07pm ET
Steve Pinchuk — New Jersey — June 6, 2008 4:58pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — June 6, 2008 10:13pm ET
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — June 6, 2008 11:42pm ET
Greg Piatigorski — CA — June 7, 2008 1:56am ET
Hugh L Sutherland Jr-m — miramar beach, fl — June 7, 2008 11:23am ET
T F Rogerson — Claremont, CA — June 8, 2008 1:06am ET
Matthew Weiler — Los Angeles, CA — June 8, 2008 4:19pm ET
Matthew Slywka — Seymour, CT — June 8, 2008 10:25pm ET
Mark Horowitz — Brooklyn, USA — June 9, 2008 11:19am ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — June 9, 2008 2:52pm ET
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