Wine Talk

Snooth User: edwilley3

Best Value in the Super Premium California Cab

Posted by edwilley3, Nov 10, 2013.

I'm about to poke the bear, I suspect, but something has been bothering me lately. What irritates me to no end is the marketing designation of wines and spirits as "premium" or "super premium". Now, I'm a pretty small time whisky collector and moderate wine enthusiast. Yet even I know that there's nothing really special about a Woodford Reserve bourbon (it's everywhere and pretty affordable). We all know that a $20 wine is hardly "super" anything unless we are talking about the very very rare exception. Clearly the marketing BS runs strong. On the true super premium end of the spectrum, prices on previously expensive but not astronomical wines have skyrocketed to high 3 figure heights, now even crossing into four figures. I can see why some people think that wine is not accessible.

Looking at the true super premium category, I wondered if the group had any thoughts about where the value proposition is relatively strong in the great California cabs or even chards and where it evaporates. Let me state definitively that $500 for a cab is a tough proposition for me. Any wine that costs as much as a lease payment on a Lexus or BMW is just more than I am willing to pay. Yes, it's complicated to make great wine, but it's still fermented grape juice. You get about 5-6 glasses from a bottle. It's gone in a very short time. Yet others may disagree.

I'm wondering what other Snoothers think is a reasonable price to pay for that great cab (could be red blend) or chardonnay from California. I'm not talking about the typical Friday night out with the neighbors. I'm talking about Thanksgiving weekend or a quarterly wine meet up when you meet with other enthusiasts or toast a special occasion.

I have a friend who is a big enthusiast of Peter Michael wines. We periodically get together for some Les Pavots or a chardonnay. That's $100-250 depending on grape and year and vineyard. I like the Verite I've tried. As Foxall knows I am a fan of wines from Anthony Bell, the top level of which cross $100. But there are so many others like Caymus Special Selection and Dominus. Some are better than others but all are quite good compared to over 90% of wines in the market.

Here's the deal, though: Is a Harlan or Screaming Eagle really good enough to justify the premium over a 2002 Les Pavots or 2002 Verite La Joie? Both are terrific wines in the 95+ range. Neither costs over $300. I could get a 1999 Shafer Hillside Select (well cellared) on Monday for $300 or perhaps a 2007 O'Shaughnessy for much less than that. Now compare these prices to a Harlan. Or a Penfolds Grange. Or a first growth Bordeaux for that matter.

Where does the line fall for you? Is there something in the $100-300 range that's good enough to beat out those cult bottlings like Harlan?



Reply by SecretSanta, Nov 10, 2013.

I don't dabble in the cult bottlings as I draw the line on a 750 of wine at about $100. With that said I cannot  imagine QPR ever being used in the same sentence with a Screagle. Have had some very good SQN's but still cannot justify the $200-$300/btl price. I get just as much satisfaction from a good $40 syrah. 

QPR Cab in the vein of those you mentioned, I would go with a Carter To Kalon "Three Kings" that delivers what you are looking for, including RP 99pts, at under $150. That would be a value play for you.

Reply by GregT, Nov 10, 2013.

Ed - in the business "premium" is anything over $15. For a lot of people, spending ten or fifteen dollars on a bottle is pretty extreme.

But there's no real legal requirement. It's not like Riserva or Reserva in Italy or Spain for example. It's just marketing.

As to whether the premium in dollars is warranted for one wine over another - you have to make that decision. For some people wine is a Veblen good and in that case, the more expensive it is, the better. Some of those wines costing $400 and up are just not a hell of a lot better than wines costing less. I have some l'Evangile for example. It's very good wine and I thought it was expensive when I bought it. Now it's like $350. Would I pay that? Hell no.

SQN is big, ripe, jammy. If you like the style, great. But you can get that elsewhere for a fraction of the price.

For me, Caymus is too woody and Dominus consistently fails to impress when consumed alongside other wines of equal stature. So I own neither. But the same thing can be said about wines from all over the world - producers charge what the market will support. Can't really blame them.

Reply by edwilley3, Nov 11, 2013.

Yes, "value" is a personal decision. My point is that I haven't had many $50 Cali cabs that measured up to some higher level bottles such as the Les Pavots or the Verite La Joie. Not all higher stature bottles are going to taste a lot better, but surely some of them have a real quality advantage. As a consumer I'm basically ok with diminishing quality returns as price increases. That's customary in all product categories. However some of the prices are at such price multipliers that they become hard to stomach unless a person has piles of free cash sitting around. The question is which ones are a relatively good product compared to others in that true premium category.

Reply by GregT, Nov 11, 2013.

Well, for my 2 cts, if you're in the $100+ category, Staglin and Pahlmeyer were relatively better than their peers back in the mid 90s. Pahlmeyer has changed and isn't as good these days, and Staglin has become more expensive, but those would be 2 that I'd buy over some of the other high-priced ones.

Bryant was one that I always thought was overpriced relative to others in that category. Shafer Hillside Select depends on the vintage but generally outshines the rest. Maybach is newer but never wowed me so much. Same with most of the newer jammy Cabs.

Togni, for considerably less, can outshine the lot of them when it's on. If it's upwards of say, $60, I tend to group them all together. Insignia is another one - used to be available at $99 then it got WOTY from Spectator and now it's double that. But it used to shine as well.

Reply by JonDerry, Nov 11, 2013.

I'm focusing on the $80-100+ Cabs myself these days, a very select group.

Corison, Ridge, Forman, and Myriad - The first two are classics that can really age and Forman is pretty classic too. Myriad is a favorite in a little more forward style. O'Shaughnessy is another good one in this vein. Really want to try and grab a good amount of their '10's and '12's.

Beyond that the only thing I've dabbled in is Shafer Hillside Select. The '02 was the best Cali Cab I've ever had, but it's an inconsistent wine for the money and they've gone too ripe for my tastes.

Reply by JonDerry, Nov 11, 2013.

Another tip: Look for some '90's Dunn's, most are drinking great with some air. '96 and '99 are good places to start. The regular Napa Valley wine I've had good luck with.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 11, 2013.

Good topic, EdWilley.  I haven't had the Les Pavots or the like, certainly never the Screaming or Harlan or Colgin.  In a fair number of cases, the grapes that go into those wines grow right next door to grapes going into much less expensive wines, but that doesn't mean the wines will be the same--winemaking and growing choices can change wines and add to the expense, or they can be marketing fodder.  

Montelena at just over $100 and well-aged Mondavi Reserves from ToKalon at about the same are about as pricey as I ever go (that and the Bell Clone 6 from good years).  In spite of diminishing returns, I'd say they can be worth it.  Dunn Howell Mountain hovers just under three figures and is pretty hard to beat if it's your style and you have the time to let it come around.  I've consumed a fair bit of Chappellet Signature but haven't dipped my toes into the Pritchard Hill, but, at $150, it ranks like a steal compared to its neighbors.  I'm heading up there to try it soon, and I'll report back.

Back when I was an impoverished young public defender, I bought a bottle of Pahlmeyer's flagship red for a whopping $30 (1990 vintage).  Never got to drink it, but that's a tale for a different time.

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