Is there an upper limit to Napa Valley cult Cabernet prices?
I know the Recession is supposed to be ending–let’s hope so. But I’m struck by the hopefulness coming out of Napa Valley. To judge from the escalating prices, people up there are convinced happy days are here again.
I’ve reviewed, since last June 1–not even a year ago–85 Cabernet Sauvignons over $100. That doesn’t even count the ones just under $100. My eyes got tired combing through the database. But wait, there’s more! I also reviewed 30 red Bordeaux blends over $100, almost all of them based on Cabernet. That’s 115 wines, more than all the classified growth red Bordeaux put together.
Beyond even that, I must’ve tasted at least 2 dozen more Napa Cabs or Bordeaux blends that I didn’t formally review, because I wasn’t able to taste the wines blind. Almost of those cost above $100, too. Then, as if to gild the lily, I received in the mail the latest Bounty Hunter spring offering: still more triple-digit wines, some I never even heard of.
This is all very interesting, as Arte Johnson’s character used to say on Laugh-In. Until recently, the take on expensive wines was “they’re not selling.” Believe me, I talk to a lot of people who know about these things, from the marketing and sales side, and that’s what they’ve been saying for the past three-plus years, ever since the dreadful fourth quarter of 2008, when the economy fell off the cliff.
So what do these $100-plus proprietors know that I don’t? Do they have a crystal ball predicting that demand for ultra-luxury Napa Cabs is going to explode? I don’t know. What’s exploding are sweet red wines and Moscatos. But those are inexpensive wines. People in Napa Valley don’t care about inexpensive wine. They leave that to everyone else.
It needs to be said that these expensive Napa wines are very good. No, make that very, very good. Of course, I have a palate that can appreciate them. I love a rich Napa Cabernet; my scores reflect that. I give few California wines 100, 99 or 98 points, but when I do, Napa dominates that category, for a simple reason: sheer fabulousness. I often use the word “dramatic” to describe these wines. By that, I mean the feeling that people must have felt when they watched Gielgud play Hamlet. Electric. Or seeing Nureyev at his height, doing Giselle, in the early 60s, at the Royal Ballet. There’s something about a great Napa Cabernet or Bordeaux blend that brings you to the edge of your chair, celebrating the sheer beauty of a performance you know is rare and historic in the long story of wine.
Maybe this onslaught of expensive wine is a leading indicator of an economic recovery. Maybe each is produced in such small quantities that the proprietors feel they can find enough club memberships and restaurants to sell it all. Maybe they have visions of Chinese markets dancing in their heads. Maybe some of them will never sell it all, and don’t care; they’re rich enough for wine to be a hobby, not a real business. It makes me wonder if Napa will always be proliferating new brands, like mushrooms popping up after a spring storm, or if it will settle down to a respectable middle age, like Bordeaux, where hardly any new wineries ever appear. But then, Napa Valley is in California, and one of the state’s purest expressions of our weltanschauung, which is: ferment, reinvention, change, evolution, radical transformation. These always have marked the Golden State, and I hope they always will.