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Today’s post is all about wine!

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A reader griped the other day that I was writing  too much about social media and not enough about wine. So here goes!

These are my 5 top-scoring wines from three popular varieties over the past several months. (All reviews and scores have been published, either in Wine Enthusiast’s print Buying Guide, online, or both. I’ve scored other wines higher, but they haven’t been published yet.) Within each variety, I consider the commonalities that made the wines so great, to me.

Cabernet Sauvignon:
98 Goldschmidt 2006 PLUS Game Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); $150
97 Shafer 2007 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap); $225
97 Cardinale 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $250
97 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2008 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $195
97 Yao Ming 2009 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); $625

Commonalities:
1. expensive
2. from Napa Valley or its sub-appellations
3. relatively high in alcohol [minimum: 14.5%]
4. relatively low production
5. ageworthy
6. quality factors: richness, full-bodied, ripe, oaky, dense, appearance of sweetness, complexity

Pinot Noir:
98 Merry Edwards 2009 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $57
97 Donum Estate 2009 West Slope Estate Pinot Noir (Carneros); $100
96 Rochioli 2010 West Block Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $100
96 Marimar Estate 2008 La Masia Don Miguel Vinyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $39
96 De Loach 2009 Pennacchio Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley); $45

Commonalities:
1. All from Russian River Valley except Donum, which is on the Sonoma side of Carneros
2. alcohols within a narrow range [14.4-14.7]
3. production relatively low [maximum: Marimar Estate, 3,300 cases]
4. all show oak, but balanced
5. quality factors: juicy in acidity, medium-bodied [not too light or too heavy], rich in fruits [generally red stone and berry], dry, spicy, silky, elegant, approachable

Chardonnay:
99 Failla 2010 Estate Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast); $44
96 Lynmar 2010 Susanna’s Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley); $50
96 Roar 2010 Sierra Mar Vineyard (Snta Lucia Highlands); $45
94 Sandhi 2010 Rita’s Crown Chardonnay (Sta. Rita HIlls); $55
94 Matanzas Creek 2010 Journey Chardonnay (Sonoma County); $75

Commonalities:
1. Geographically diverse, so no common origin
2. alcohol levels diverse, ranging from Sandhi (13.0%) to Matanzas Creek (14.6%)
3. all show well-integrated oak
4 quality factors: all made in the popular style: oaky, creamy, rich, flashy fruit, spicy, good balancing acidity

General discussion:

In Cabernet Sauvignon the address remains Napa Valley, most often the hills but not necessarily. And you get what you pay for. Also, great Cabernet can come from any vintage, regardless of its challenges.

In Pinot Noir, quality is considerably less tied to price: put another way, there are more bargains and also more overpriced ripoffs. Nor is geography as simple as with Cabernet: any of the coastal appellations can shine.

In Chardonnay, the same is true: great Chardonnay comes from the same areas as great Pinot Noir, with the single exception of Napa Valley, where very little reliably good Pinot Noir is produced. But then, I can remember a time when Napa Valley did produce interesting Pinot Noirs. The vines have all since been ripped out or budded over, victims of a critical mindset that determined Napa Valley cannot produce good Pinot Noir.

  1. Yes but, did you Tweet this?

  2. Can you speak to the need to or benefit from aging the Pinots and/or Chardonnays? That Failla must have been something else. . . sad I didn’t get any from my allocation in the spring. I did just pop a bottle of their 2010 Alban vineyard Viognier and it was pretty fantastic. It actually tasted better and better as it warmed to nearly room temp. I really like viognier for its viscosity but also because I don’t have to make excuses for popping it within a year or two of release (better when young).

  3. JacLyn Nystrom says:

    Steve-I luv ya lots…but, all Cabs $150 and over? And oaky and high alcohol? I would love to see what you think about Cabs that regular people can buy. Please? Those I talk to prefer lighter alcohol without the heavy oak.

  4. Steve, I think the price on the 2009 Donum West Slope is $85, not $100, according to my notes. I tasted it at the winery a couple weeks ago and it has come around since I first had it in February. Originally I thought it would need another year.

  5. Regarding the “critical mindset that determined Napa Valley cannot produce good Pinot Noir” did that come from the growers and producers of Napa Valley Pinot or a myth created by the wine media that made Napa Pinot a hard sell compared to Cab?

  6. Morton, you’re right.

  7. JacLyn, that’s my palate!

  8. My sense with Chardonnay is that it’s not worth aging, except for certain exceptions. A great Pinot will generally take 15 years but I’m not sure that makes it better, just different.

  9. It’s so unfortunate that all of these Cabs are priced to a level that is profoundly obscene. I tasted the Shafer and found it to be as outstanding as your review states. Didn’t buy any though due to the nuts price. Just for hoots, I ran a search through the WE database for Napa Cabs that scored 95 or higher and was $80 or less. Vintages 2008 and 2009. Did the same on the Spectator’s DB. You have 13 all scoring 95. Laube has 2. Only one of yours was from Oakville: Hunnicutt 2008 at $75. The rest were various Napa Valley, Rutherford, and mountain wines. It seems that the mountain wines (Atlas, Howell, Spring, Veeder) are the best value for Cab these days. Oakville wines are now priced completely out of my cellar which is a shame.

    Steve, I recall a recent post here where you stated that 153 recently reviewed Cabs were over $100. Question is: are these actually selling or are these wineries sitting on cases of this stuff they can’t move? I’ve seen a bunch of boxes of 2008 Insignia at my local Costco for $139 ($225 at release) and they are not moving at all. I just can’t see that many people paying these crazy prices for this to be sustainable.

    True or wishful thinking?

  10. I, too, prefer more affordable Cabs but most of the best Napa Cabs still sell for a lot less than Premier Cru red Bordeauxs. I’m not saying that Bordeauxs are affordable or fairly priced, but if you think of the top Napa Cabs as premier crus, then they are still a lot less than French. And, imho, Napa now has premier cru wineries, and I think the same can be said for Russian River Pinots. I’ve talked to winemakers in Napa Valley about this and the very best grapes from the few sites that produce them, are extremely expensive. One winery I know that has been sourcing premium cab grapes and selling their wine for only $80 told me they would no longer afford produce it. They simply cannot afford the price of the grapes. Many exceptional wines cost more because of the cost of the grapes (and limited supply) and that is why you can’t usually find great wines at discount prices. Steve’s previous articles about the prices of Cabs and Pinot Noirs:
    http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2012/04/16/with-cabernet-and-pinot-you-get-what-you-pay-for/
    and cheap versus expensive wines: http://www.steveheimoff.com/index.php/2012/07/10/cheap-vs-expensive-yes-virginia-there-is-a-difference/
    hit the nails on the head.

  11. Dear Bob, believe me, if I weren’t a wine critic I couldn’t afford these Cabs either, so I feel your pain. Re: “are these actually selling?” Who knows? Only the owner knows for sure.

  12. Had the susanna’s over the weekend at the winery. Im generally a fan of Lynmar’s chards. This was by far my least favorite ever, with the possible exception of the 2007 Old Wente. Seemed very heavy and ponderous to me. Serenité seems a much better wine, as does the 09 RRV

  13. Yes, Steve’s favorite cabs are costly but these are his top favorites and he has access to wines that many of us do not. If you look at wine prices purely in terms of supply and demand, then it seems that the absolute best wines in the world will continue to increase in price. This includes some Napa Valley Cabs. Even in Napa Valley, there are only certain areas that can grow the finest grapes. These magical places do not seem to be increasing in acres. But the demand for the very best is increasing because of the number of people who can afford these wines and want to purchase them. Screaming Eagle has a waiting list that takes several years before you can even purchase a bottle and many of the best Napa Valley wineries that I visit have sold out by allotment before the wine is even released. Premium wines that are produced in larger quantities will still have their wines sold at a discount at Costco when the economy is down. Some of the wineries that sell cabs in the $100 to $200 range will probably be in the $200 to $400 range a few years from now, but there will only be a few of them. Others will either have to adjust their prices or go out of business. Of course this does not mean that Steve cannot tell us his favorite under $100 Cabs, and there are many really good ones out there.

  14. The Finger Lakes International Wine Competition is this March 23-24th to benefit Camp Good Days. This is the world’s largest charitable wine competition! Open to commercial wineries from all over the wine producing world. More than 3,200 wines from 22 countries and all 50 states, competed in 2012.

    It would be great if you could write something about it

    thank you

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