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Cure for Bordeaux Fever: Napa Cabernets

A stunning 2007 vintage with plenty of great buys, too
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 30, 2010 4:45pm ET

Thanks to futures prices for 2009 Bordeaux, 2007 Napa Cabernets are amazing deals. The lofty prices elite Bordeaux are commanding, with first-growths hovering in the $1,400 range, distort the bigger picture. As my colleague James Suckling, who covers Bordeaux, rightly points out, there are plenty of great and affordable Bordeaux to be had once you look past the headlines.

Part of me understands the Bordeaux futures buying frenzy. I've been caught up in it a couple of times myself. Buying futures is the most practical way to buy Bordeaux because of the price discount. However, the wines are still two years away from delivery, and putting money down on wines you haven't tried and won't taste for another 24 months doesn't make much sense to me. Try before you buy is always best. It's not always possible, but it should be the goal.

Lately I've been happily immersed in a surge of 2007 California Cabernets, and this is indeed a stunning vintage. The wines are uniformly ripe but not overdone; they are smooth textured, full of dark berry fruit flavors, charming mocha and red and black licorice flavors and the kind of ripe, fleshy tannins that make them fun and appealing to drink now yet with the structure and backbone for cellaring. The wines are lower in alcohol than they've been in years, a function both of winemakers dialing back ripeness and lower sugar-to-alcohol conversions.

The kicker is that aside from a few marquee names from California, the prices are well within striking range for anyone who wants to drink great Cabernet.

One of the exceptions is the new Vérité pricing I've seen; Jess Jackson's Bordeaux-inspired 2007 reds also have Bordeaux-inspired prices: La Joie is $800 a bottle and La Muse and Le Désir are $720 apiece. But these are very limited-production wines, so a vintner such as Jackson can certainly test demand and make a statement. Staking out these high-water prices makes other Cabernets from California (not to mention Washington) look all that more affordable.

I know the Cabernet and Bordeaux markets are not interchangeable. People don't buy Cabernet one year and Bordeaux the next. The wines are too different in style. I never agreed, for instance, when Bordeaux prices came under fire in the 1980s (or you name the decade or year), with some East Coast writers who suggested that consumers turn to Napa Cabernet as a viable alternative. Let's face it. Napa Cabernet has always been less expensive than Bordeaux. It doesn't have the cachet of Bordeaux, and Bordeaux doesn't have the flash of Napa Cabernet.

In the next few weeks we'll be publishing many reviews of the wines I'm talking about, all from 2007, that not only fall under the $100 mark, but some of which are under $50, a few under $40 and a couple under $30. How about Neyers Ranch-Conn Valley (95 points, $48)? Or Round Pond Rutherford (94, $50) and Honig (92, $40). And keep your eye out for upcoming reviews of outstanding Cabernets in the Insider, Tasting Highlights and the magazine, including Coho, Beaulieu Tapestry, Trinchero and Pedemonte. The latter is one of the best buys you'll find from 2007, or from just about any other vintage, for that matter. 

Brad Kanipe
GA —  June 30, 2010 6:50pm ET
Why would you even give those ridiculously priced Verite wines publicity? I look forward to the rest of your 07 reviews.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  June 30, 2010 10:48pm ET
The other issue with Bordeaux futures, even the ones with less stratospheric prices, is the time required for cellaring for the wines to become palatable. Realistically, buying 2009 futures, with a 2011-12 delivery date, will still require an additional 10-15+ years of cellar time thus you have to wait until 2020+ to drink the wines. Instead, you can spend at lot less money and get as much if not more drinking pleasure (and support our local economy) by buying California cabs-- and you can drink the wines today or cellar them if you wish. I'd say that is a win/win/win proposition and it is certainly where I'll be spending my $$s
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  June 30, 2010 10:48pm ET
The other issue with Bordeaux futures, even the ones with less stratospheric prices, is the time required for cellaring for the wines to become palatable. Realistically, buying 2009 futures, with a 2011-12 delivery date, will still require an additional 10-15+ years of cellar time thus you have to wait until 2020+ to drink the wines. Instead, you can spend at lot less money and get as much if not more drinking pleasure (and support our local economy) by buying California cabs-- and you can drink the wines today or cellar them if you wish. I'd say that is a win/win/win proposition and it is certainly where I'll be spending my $$s
Ted Henry
Napa, CA —  July 1, 2010 1:46am ET
Wow, out pricing Harlan. Sounds like KJ is aiming high! Highest price ever for a Sonoma County wine?
Scott Elder
The Dalles, OR —  July 1, 2010 2:13pm ET
JL – If the sugar-to-alcohol conversion was lower does that mean there is residual sugar in the wine?

thegrandedalles.com
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  July 1, 2010 2:24pm ET
I played the Bordelais' futures game for several years, then I found that almost to a bottle I could obtain these at lower prices a couple of years after release. I believe it's because there have been so many "vintage of the century" proclamations, and each subsequent declaration diminishes the formerly-perceived value of the prior. For this reason I refuse to buy any 2009 Bordeaux except at retail and only after the next "best thing ever - sell the house and children to buy it all" vintage comes along!
Don R Wagner
Illinois —  July 1, 2010 10:25pm ET
While I can think of a number of good reasons to participate in the 09 "lofty" Bordeaux Futures Campaign (primarily being "in the business" in some form), I think it makes little sense for most to participate for many reasons already mentioned. Moreover, even if one is blessed to have the "scratch" and "lifespan" to do it, I believe I can name 10 Cal wineries that will stand up very strongly in blind tastings when it's all said and done. Finally, my 25 years of investing experience tells me, unless one is a "PRO" -- don't even think about the "lofty" 09 Bordeaux Futures game!
Brad Schier
Texas —  July 2, 2010 8:25am ET
James - many of the top 07s are sold out. How does 08 look so far?
Jonathan Troutman
New York, NY —  August 18, 2010 8:03am ET
"Buying futures is the most practical way to buy Bordeaux because of the price discount."

Like Troy said, I'd be willing to bet that the above sentence will not hold true for '09, and we've already received indication that it may not. Despite the great press, '09 Futures sales haven't been as lofty as the prices that the Bordelais have set. Expect deep discounts from many Chateau over the next couple of years.

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