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Is luxe Cabernet back? The prices say it is

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I’ve reviewed more $100 and up Cabs and Bordeaux blends in the last several months than ever, by far. One might have thought that the quantity of expensive California wines would be going down because of the recession, which as we all know has forced Americans to seek out more affordable wines. That’s the conventional wisdom, so I’m not really sure how to account for this plethora of pricy bottles, except that, maybe, the proprietors know something I don’t.

Some of these wines are familiar; they’ve been expensive forever and will remain so. Others that made this list are new to me, either as brands, or this is the first time I’ve seen them break the $100 barrier. By the way, I’m sure there are far more $100-plus Cabs I reviewed this year than just the ones on this list. I got tired searching through the database after I reached the Ridge. And remember, this is just $100 and over. There are dozens more that are $60, $75 and $90, which is still pretty expensive in my book.

I’m not saying these aren’t good wines, or that they’re not worth the price. I’m simply impressed by how many California (and mainly Napa Valley) wineries are pricing so high these days. It used to be a sound principle of marketing, back in the good old pre-recession days, that if you priced your Cab too low, people would think it wasn’t very good. You’d be surprised how many Cabs out there increased their prices for this simple reason, and then saw their sales increase, because a lot of newly rich people thought expensive=good, and so more expensive=better. Is that why so many of these wines are $100 and up? Or is it because the proprietors, many of whom are in greater touch with Wall Street than I am, sense that change is coming–that people are loosening up the purse strings and willing to spend more, if only for an occasional special wine?

I don’t know, but here’s the list. It’s almost like a Bordeaux classified growth menu. I also have no idea if people actually are buying these wines, or if the owners are simply hoping they will. It’s just fascinating to me to see this insight into the owner mentality these days.

Venge 2008 Family Reserve Cab $125
Araujo 2007 Eisele $275
Stonestreet 2007 Christopher’s $100
Vineyard 7&8 2008 Estate Cabernet, $125
Hall 2007 Exzellenz $165
Hall 2008 Exzellenz $165
Hall 2007 Segassia Vineyard Cab $145
Hall 2008 Segassia Vineyard Cab $150
Moone-Tsai 2008 Cor Leonis $175
Flora Springs 2008 Hillside Reserve Cab $100
Salvestrin 2007 3D Cab, $125
Hestan 2007 Cab $100
D.R. Stephens 2008 Moose Valley Vineyard Cab $125 and 2008 Walther River Block Cab $105
Far Niente 2008 Cab $120
Maybach 2008 Weitz Vineyard “Materium” Cab $125
ZD 2008 Reserve Cab $125
B Cellars 2008 Beckstoffer To Kalon Cab $125
Staglin 2008 Cab $185 and 2007 INEO $250
Jarvis 2005 Reserve Cab $195
Jarvis 2007 Lake William Cab $115
Tom Eddy 2004 Dr. Crane Cab $115
Bennett Lane 2008 Lynch Family Vineyard Cab $125
Von Strasser 2008 Reserve $125
Verite 2006 La Joie $300 and Le Desir $300 and La Muse $260
Merryvale 2008 Profile $165
Parallel 2008 Estate Cab $125
Charles Krug 2008 “Celebrating 150 Years” Cab $150 and X Clones Cab $100
Rubicon 2008 $175
Knights Bridge 2008 Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Cab $135 and 2008 Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cab $135
David Arthur 2008 Elevation 1147 Cab $150
Promise 2006 Cab $225
Carter 2008 Beckstoffer To Kalon $125
Janzen 2008 Missouri Hopper Vineyard Cab $100 and 2008 Cloudy’s Vineyard Cab $100
Tuck Beckstoffer 2007 Mockingbird Green Label Cab $170
Joseph Phelps 2008 Backus Vineyard Cab $250 and 2008 Insignia $200
Pride Mountain 2007 Reserve Cab $125 and 2008 Vintner Select Cab $130
Louis M. Martini 2008 Lot 1 Cab $120
Meander 2008 Morisoli Vineyard Cab $120
Luna 2006 North Fork Cab $110
Diamond Creek 2008 Gravelly Meadow, Volcanic Hill and Red Rock Terrace, all $175
Baldacci 2007 Brenda’s Vineyard Cab $105
Veedercrest 2006 Cab $125
Veedercrest 2007 Cab $200
Arrowood 2007 Reserve Speciale Cab $110
Kapcsandy 2008 Grand Vin Cab $325 and 2008 State Lane Vineyard $165
Nickel & Nickel 2008 Martin Stelling Vineyard Cab $140
M by Michael Mondavi 2007 Cab $200
Bialla 2009 Vita Cab $125
Robert Mondavi 2008 Reserve Cab $135
Carter 2008 Coliseum Block Cab $125
Beringer 2008 Private Reserve Cab $115
Duckhorn 2007 The Discussion $115
Cardinale 2007 $300
Dominus 2008 $149
White Cottage 2008 Celestia Estate $125
Continuum 2008 $150
Viader 2008 $100
Alpha Omega 2008 Era $195
Ridge 2008 Monte Bello $145

  1. It’s all about perspective.

    59 bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet (give or take): $8,744.00

    Or…

    4,372 bottles of Charles Shaw Two-Buck Chuck
    971.5 bottles of Bogle Cabernet
    546.5 bottles of Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet
    249.8 bottles of Tablas Creek
    124.9 bottles of Sanguis
    118.2 bottles of Saxum
    29.2 bottles of Sine Qua Non
    17.5 bottles of Harlan
    11.7 bottles of Screaming Eagles (if purchased from Screaming Eagle)
    6.5 – 8.7 bottles of Screaming Eagle (if not purchased from Screaming Eagle)

    In retrospect, I feel a lot better about my Sanguis purchases.

  2. Steve,

    I think you are right about the growth in prices, I have tasted a similar amount from Napa in the last few weeks though very few from your list, yet I have noticed many wineries are pricing their top CS, or blends at over $100. Without a doubt most of them are at least very good and some go way beyond that, yet one of the most pleasurable wines out of close to 300 tasted was a $24.00 bottle of Cabernet Franc. My issue is when the price of the wine is out of synch with the respective quality. Recent short vintages will help limit supply, and generally the highest priced wines are not produced in great quantity to begin with. For example, the top four wines I tasted average only a couple hundred cases and even though they are all over $100.00 each, they are not the most expensive of what I tasted. I look forward to reading more about what you discovered. Keep it up!

  3. We used to buy wines like Camus SS, Mondavi Reserve and similar when the price was below $50. As the prices escalated to $100 and up, we started to taste more reasonably priced wines. There is enough such Cabernet to satisfy us without looking at the plus $100 wines.

  4. Asia is still strong for “investment grade” wines. I see this category as the wines whose high prices are the result of market demand in the luxury market. Classified european and established New World growths. But there are quite a few wines with prices that are not determined by high demand/short supply, rather vanity pricing set high to appear to be part of the luxury market. These are still a tough sell.

  5. raley roger says:

    If I could afford to buy all of those wines, I probably would. It is, indeed, all about perspective. Some women spend 3,000 on a hand bag. I prefer to buy wines. One should be able to buy what one choose. That being said, I feel a lot better about my Sanguis purchases too!

  6. Raley, nice, another Sanguis fan! Just got home from the winery earlier this afternoon actually. With two bottles, not 124.9! :)

  7. raley roger says:

    Yes, huge Sanguis fan. I really like that kind of underground vibe their label artwork has. He’s a pretty killer artist, Matthias is (also the winemaker). Anyway, I kind of hoard these in my cellar and am just waiting for the rest of the wine world to get with the program. Great wines to invest in. Very age-worthy, edgy, multi-dimensional. Don’t know much about availability for your readers, but I buy them regularly at Dean and DeLuca in St. Helena. They carry the Ramshackle and Threadbare which really does remind me of a very good Guigal white.

  8. Raley, I’ve liked the Sanguis wines ever since I first experienced them. I nearly always give them high scores.

  9. Perhaps it’s just a case of producers cutting back production on the high end labels, while jacking up the price. So there are more $100+ SKUs, but fewer $100+ bottles.

    Otherwise it simply doesn’t make much sense. The economy is still not sound, and there are problems like Greece that globally need to be digested. It’s an odd time to be pushing luxury goods. Unless, of course, the top 5% is doing really well while the bottom 50% struggle. That would not be surprising at all.

  10. High prices do not necessarily lead to higher demand and sales. These wines remain a tough sell on the street.

  11. Ryan Stiefvater says:

    While I understand the idea behind raising your prices to increase perceived quality in the wine, at what point does it get out of hand and when is the original goal of higher demand and sales lost? As a Napa local I am fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of wine clubs, specials and end of vintage offerings. This has given me a chance to try some of these great cabs, but am finding more and more that looking to varietals outside of the Napa Cabernet Sauvignon to be where the magic is. This brings me to ask Doug: What was the $24 bottle that has you so impressed?

  12. Great post…There is absolutely no reason to spend $100 for a great bottle of wine. None. There are so many freaking choices. Price has long ago stopped being a good measure of quality, especially for high end California wines. I am the owner of Rad Grapes, a NY based importer & distributor that specializes in artisanal wines from around the world that don’t break the bank. I started Rad Grapes in 2005 after 15 years of selling great wines at large distributors and because I felt that great small producers who make killer wines at great prices were being ignored by the traditional distributors. I found my niche. There isn’t a single wine in our portfolio that retails above $50 a bottle. You want an awesome 800 case production Walla Walla Cab for $30? No problem. You want an unreal 500 case production Spring Mountain Cab for less than $50? No problem. Let your palate guide you…not Robert Parker. You will be amazed at what you discover and your palate will certainly thank you. How Rad are your Grapes?

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