Prices for a few elite California wines are heating up--although given the small size of these wineries, the rise is more like an outdoor patio heating lamp than a roaring bonfire on campus before a big football game.
Harlan Estate is selling its 2004 Cabernet for $350 a bottle, effectively as a wine future, since you need to pay now and wait for the wine. It won’t be released until early 2008.
That’s a sizeable increase for the 2004, since the 2002 sold for $265 as a prerelease and the 2003, being distributed next year, also sold for $265 to mailing-list subscribers. But Harlan still trails Screaming Eagle by several wingspans. The high-flying bird of prey is now $500 per bottle.
While this might appear to be a risky move, I’m sure it’s founded in owner Bill Harlan’s belief that the wine is worth it and demand is sufficient to command this price. He has two years to sell some 2,000 cases. (Also Harlan wines are seldom found at retail, so he has more control over the prices.)
In looking at California’s highest-priced wines, Harlan has created his own armada of elite offerings, including his other winery, Bond, which makes single-vineyard wines, most of which I think are terrific, if pricey. A sheer pleasure to drink if someone else brings or buys.
For vintners such as Harlan, and many of the wineries listed below, the pricing strategy is based on so-called “first growth” Bordeaux prices. And frankly, these California wines still cost one-third to one-half of what the 2005 Bordeaux are selling as futures.
One more thing: Many vintners publicly express concerns about high prices, yet privately they’re thrilled when someone else sticks their neck out and raises the ante. It gives everyone one else room to tack on a few dollars to their offerings.
Here are some of California’s high rollers:
• Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2003: $500
• Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard 2002: $265 (the '03 dropped to $235)
• ZD Wines Abacus Napa Valley NV $375: (yes, it’s non-vintage, a solera style that blends years)
• Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Tychson Hill Vineyard 2003: $250
• Sloan Rutherford 2002: $245
• Harlan Napa Valley 2002: $245
• Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003: $235
• Bond Melbury Napa Valley 2003: $230
• Bond St. Eden Napa Valley 2003: $230
• Bond Vecina Napa Valley 2003: $230
• Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003: $225
• Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Eisele Vineyard 2003: $215
• Schramsberg California Napa Valley 40th Anniversary Late Disgorged Reserve 1994: $200 (magnum)
• Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Backus 2003: $200
Have you tried any of these wines?