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james laube's wine flights

First Taste of Levy McClellan 2004

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 21, 2007 5:05pm ET

Earlier this year I wrote about a hot new wine, with a super winemaker pedigree and a supersonic price. Last week, I got to try the 2004 Levy McClellan Cabernet, and its sister vintage, the 2005, with the makers.

The wines are awfully good. As you might expect, the style is similar to the wines Bob Levy and Martha McClellan Levy make at their day jobs—Harlan and Bond for him, and Sloan for her.

The 2004 is the riper and bigger of the two, which is consistent with the vintages. It’s plush, rich, opulent and, at points, fleshy and elegant, given its size. The 2005 is a shade less opulent, a little brighter, sleek and focused. Both wines share a similar flavor profile, with ripe black cherry, wildberry, anise and dusty herb notes. Both are dense and concentrated. Both wines, based on what I tried, would earn mid-90s scores.

Perhaps the easiest way to draw attention to a new wine is to price it at the top of the market, which is what the winemakers did with the '04. At $350 a bottle, only Screaming Eagle, now at $500, commands a higher price.

Think what you may about the price, it (not the wine) has been the year’s top lightning rod—whether it’s the owners’ audacity or their brilliant marketing plan, a test of the elasticity of supply-demand or perhaps the stark financial realities of buying land in Napa Valley, planting a vineyard and waiting for the vines to mature enough to make wine, only to declassify the first vintage.

The 2004 will be released next April, with the 2005 to follow a year later. No price on the '05 yet, though it’s a safe guess that it won’t be as big a surprise as the inaugural.

Many of you have wondered whether I think the wines are worth the money and I have three answers: One is I can’t determine what’s expensive for you. Two, I can’t afford them—or any others in that price range, and three I don’t consider price in my wine evaluations.

That said, the wines are terrific.

Holger Berndt
SF —  May 21, 2007 7:13pm ET
Given the lack of its own track record, the price is stupid. Unless you're swimming in funny money, dot-com bucks, the silver spoon club, etc., $70/glass (plus tax and/or shipping) is absurd.Since it's a free market ruled by supply and demand, more power to them. I hope the '05 goes for more than Screaming Eagle and starts a Napa arms race!
Jim Gallagher
Jim Gallagher —  May 21, 2007 8:16pm ET
Thanks for the early notes on this much hyped not yet released wine. I am hopeful that I will be able to enjoy a glass.
Don R Wagner
Illinois —  May 21, 2007 9:02pm ET
Thank you Jim...as usual, your insight is (brutally!?) honest and fair. I consider myself very fortunate to be in "the deal" on this wine...my reasons for buying - are mine (and I for paying the price am not stupid, et.al.); I really don't care what "anyone" pays, nor should "anyone" care what I pay -- supply & demand, free market -- sorry, but true! I think 1 of the key points to recognize is; you (and your competition)tasted it, pre-rated it and commented on it. Whether we purchase it or not -- those reasons are ours; you have performed your job perfectly! Thank you and I genuinely look forward to your blogs -- keep them coming. PS - My comment would have been the same had you "trashed" it! DRW
Don R Wagner
Illinois —  May 21, 2007 9:03pm ET
Thank you Jim...as usual, your insight is (brutally!?) honest and fair. I consider myself very fortunate to be in "the deal" on this wine...my reasons for buying - are mine (and I for paying the price am not stupid, et.al.); I really don't care what "anyone" pays, nor should "anyone" care what I pay -- supply & demand, free market -- sorry, but true! I think 1 of the key points to recognize is; you (and your competition) tasted it, pre-rated it and commented on it. Whether we purchase it or not -- those reasons are ours; you have performed your job perfectly! Thank you and I genuinely look forward to your blogs -- keep them coming. PS - My comment would have been the same had you "trashed" it! DRW
Lawrence Weitzner
May 21, 2007 9:27pm ET
the price is ridiculous. Its all about trophies, not drinking quality wine.
Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  May 21, 2007 9:28pm ET
James,I just celebrated my 70th birthday & have enjoyed wine for well over half those years. My modest collection is strictly California & seldom do I buy a wine that you have not recommended. Your original article & their track record convinced me this wine would be special. Marketing strategy is determined by how much you sell & I hope they sold it all. Your tips have allowed me in my later years to enjoy wine from Kosta Browne, Dumol, SeaSmoke & future Levy McClellan. My sincere thanks!
Tim Adcock
Gilbert, Az —  May 21, 2007 9:30pm ET
I passed and am very tired of these overpriced wines and their marketing schemes.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  May 21, 2007 11:32pm ET
If it was a slam dunk for a 98+ pointer, I might have considered it just for kicks. There's just too much risk with "mid-90's." Glad I passed on this offering. It made my eyes bulge out!
Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  May 21, 2007 11:47pm ET
Mr. Wagner from Illinois put it much better than I did. I could not agree with him more.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  May 22, 2007 1:07am ET
I bought a 2001 Premiere Cru a few weeks ago for just over 400.00. It was magnificent.I paid about 750.00 about a year and a half ago for an older La Mouline. It was worth it.If I'm willing to pay those prices for imports, why wouldn't I be willing to invest the same in a domestic wine if it proves to be well-made, distinctive, memorable and delicious?I'm the kind of wine lover that will save up all my money just to be able to taste a really special wine. To me, it's like injesting art. So, though I'm not rich, I'll buy special bottles because life's too short, and I want to taste as many amazing wines as I can in my lifetime.Granted, some great wines have only cost me 30.00, maybe 50.00. But, some of them also cost over 400.00....it doesn't seem ridiculous to me.It's all relative, in the end.
Fred Taleghani
Palo Alto, CA —  May 22, 2007 1:08am ET
Yet again why Northern California wines have dropped to 4th among my growing collection of wines. Its shrunk over the past few years and now numbers only 60 or so and shows no signs of getting any higher.
David A Zajac
May 22, 2007 6:26am ET
Interesting and diverse views expressed here - I am surprised by the support personally as I find the pricing ridiculous, but agree, if you want to pay it and they can sell it, good for them. Their track record as winemakers is certainly enviable, so I expect the wines will be fantastic, but I don't get it - then again I don't get first growths at $750/bottle or gas at $3.50/gallon either.
Don R Wagner
Illinois —  May 22, 2007 7:44am ET
Jim, This was fun...when are you going to "stir the pot" again and taste Ovid or the new Scarecrow? One final point on LM; As an avid auction participant on numerous auctions, my guess is that this wine will command a minimum of "4 figures" the moment it is in buyers hands! It is a FACT that "fine" Cal Cab is an appreciating asset and that "quality" buyers are standing in line to buy it, ergo; prices will continue to rise and so will the value of one's "fine" wine cellar! Thanks again, DRW
Jason Fernandez
Boston, MA —  May 22, 2007 8:24am ET
I had a tough time deciding on this wine and ended up not buying. I just thought about how much Pax, KB and Staglin I could buy for that money. I do really hope that people drink it though, as opposed to letting it sit on display.
David A Zajac
May 22, 2007 9:32am ET
Don, no offense but your dreaming if you think its going to command four figures. I think its everyone's fantasy to find the next Screaming Eagle, well there already is one and this won't be another, no offense. As an avid auction fan, you can now easily acquire new releases of virtually any Cali Cab for under $400 upon release, including Harlan, Colgin, Bryant, Araujo and Abreu. You can also buy mid 90 point wines from Schrader for under $100 - mark my words, unless this wine is rated 97 or higher, you will be buying it at auction for LESS than the release price within a year. Can anyone say Blankiet?
Holger Berndt
SF —  May 22, 2007 12:33pm ET
Don, your posts seem to contradict each other. First you write "I really don't care what "anyone" pays" and then you say "As an avid auction participant on numerous auctions, my guess is that this wine will command a minimum of "4 figures" the moment it is in buyers hands!", so you do seem to care very much what people are willing to pay. Good luck with your auction or trophy.
H L Sutherland Md
miramar beach, fl —  May 22, 2007 4:43pm ET
Buying this priced wine is more about ego than brains. I, myself, think how many bottles of a very good wine that I could buy for the price of salving my ego before acquiring a wine of this price. I feel that I would get more joy out of buying almost a case of Phelps Cab.
Brent L Pierce
St. Helena, CA —  May 22, 2007 4:46pm ET
I agree with Sao. Of course this is all relative. That said, virtually every "epiphany" type wine drinking experience I have had, it is been with a wine that commanded a high price. Of course there have been some pleasant surprises for considerably less, but for the most part, they were in the top tier pricewise ANd I would do it again, if it was within my means.
Mr Randy Beranek
Napa, CA —  May 22, 2007 9:00pm ET
Yes the price is obscene. Is it any less obscene than the 04 Harlan which many have bought, few have actually tasted? This is a commodity that at some level pedigree(of the winemaker or the producer) influences price and that cost to quality ratios are pointless. You can argue about how many bottles of this or that can be bought for the price of 1 Levy just as you can argue that for the price of one Ferrari you can buy a dozen convertible Mercedes 500 series. The reality of it all is that L&M couldn't completely fulfill the orders they received, so perhaps they left money on the table.
David Sean Muttillo
Port —  May 25, 2007 12:32am ET
For all of the complaints and plaudits, my two cents here is, I was disappointed to only get two bottles. I asked for more. Enough said.
Jeffrey Nowak
scottsdale, arizona —  May 25, 2007 1:24am ET
so much whining...it's really remarkable. and yet, i'll bet you would all like to taste the wine, wouldn't you? well, i would too, only i decided to make certain i will by purchasing my allocation. i'll bet that most people taking a swipe at levy mcclellan are not even on the list, and therefore never even had an offer to buy! if you passed on your offer, THEN you can complain about the price, if that was your reason for not purchasing. i especially enjoyed the ego vs. brain comment. so i guess people buying first growth bordeaux, petrus, and DRC are idiots, too, right? phelps cab? at least drink something decent as an alternative.
David A Zajac
May 25, 2007 8:44am ET
Jeffrey, are you really comparing Levy-McClellan to Petrus, DRC or the first growths? Seriously? If so, on what grounds? As for buying the wine, it was offered to me and I passed, although I have no problem with anyone that bot it - lets face it, if I made Bill Gates type money I would have to, but I don't and passed. The argument goes something like what on earth are they thinking that they would justify that price for an initial release. Obviously a few good barrel sample reviews and the name recoginition of the winemakers, but no matter how you slice it, the price is silly - then again, its all sold out! Anyone complaining about the cost of wine should mark this day as its bad for the industry and wine consumers in general and if you don't see that, then you must really be Bill Gates.
Totv
La Quinta, CA —  June 8, 2007 4:29pm ET
I hate to say this everyone.....WINE SPECTATOR is NOT the end all for scores. Remember Scarecrow? 88 points WS 98 points Parker. Here is Parker's tasting note on the '04 LM....The debut vintage, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, will be bottled, without fining or filtration, in January, 2007. An amazing effort, it boasts a deep purple color as well as a gorgeous perfume of scorched earth (reminiscent of a Graves wine from Bordeaux), espresso roast, creme de cassis, licorice, new saddle leather, flowers, and chocolate. This powerful, rich wine cuts a broad swath across the palate, but is neither heavy nor excessive. A beautiful integration of acidity, wood, alcohol, and tannin result in an impressively endowed, fabulously concentrated, compelling Cabernet Sauvignon that should drink reasonably well young, yet age for 15-20 years. These wines are primarily sold via the winery¿s mailing list. If that doesn't sound good then don't buy. Pretty simple to me.
Eric Swanson
Westlake —  February 14, 2008 9:56am ET
James,

Received my offering for 2005 L&M and it's priced at $400 / bottle. I think to myself will the price consistently increase annually $50? By 2014 we could be talking about a $700 bottle. Do the wine makers ever take into account the state of the economy as a whole in determining prices, being on the brink of a possible recession?

I guess it's all a matter of supply and demand. When you have the demand for a product, the price will rise.

Cheers,Eric
James Laube
Napa, CA —  February 14, 2008 11:16am ET
Eric, I'm sure they do, though getting into the wine business is a big risk (as is starting most businesses), so there's also the possibility their business model might fail.

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