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.