Wine Talk

Snooth User: ChipDWood

The re-classification of... California?

Posted by ChipDWood, Nov 17, 2010.

Just throught I would throw out this question to the educated audience:

If you were put in charge of giving five California Estates "First Grwoth" status as was done in Bordeaux back in 1855, what would your list look like?

While I haven't had the pleasure to try many of these, mine would go:

1) Screaming Eagle
2) Harlan Estate
3) Bryant Family
4) Sine Qua Non (UnBELIEVABLE creativity over there)
5) Joseph Phelps

Although I know that last one may be eclipsed in recent years by The Scarecrow, and there are a lot of arguments that could be made for operations like Dalla Valle (I've had the Maya... good Lord man) ~ I think when it comes to it, the Phelps Insignia has earned its place on its own as an American 'First Growth', with the 'Backus' not being a bad second label in the least.  I know I know: Araujo's still out there as well, but I think that estate would be a grand way to start the class of the 'Super Seconds' in  its own right.

Thoughts?  Opinions?  Concerns?

Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Nov 17, 2010.

So Chip, you (mostly) just like those cult items where buzz and marketing pzazz has led to the highest possible prices??

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Reply by ChipDWood, Nov 17, 2010.

Well, as I mentioned, I haven't even gotten to try them all- but I would add to your assumption that the original classification of Bordeaux was based solely on what a bottle of each Chateau would command at market.

Read a REALLY interesting article on the re-classification of Bordeaux concerning this very matter in Fine Wine magazine actually.  Mouton was relegated to being a second growth while Le Pin, Cheval Blanc, and Petrus pushed their way in.,

But, that's a diffferent topic for a different thread I spose.

I AM surprised that you didn't list any of what you would consider to be California, 'First Growth' material.

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Reply by outthere, Nov 17, 2010.

If you were to go on commanding retail price alone then Ghost Horse would lead the pack.

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Reply by ChipDWood, Nov 17, 2010.

Ghost Horse over Screaming Eagle?

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Reply by outthere, Nov 17, 2010.

Yeah, Ghost Horse Spectre retails at $3500 a bottle at release.

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Reply by gregt, Nov 17, 2010.

It's a valid point that the original 1855 classification was based on price, not quality - a fact often conveniently forgotten today.  I guess you could list the most expensive wines and class them that way.

As an intellectual game it's OK.  But I'd hate to see it really take place. Every so often the idea comes up in places where I'm always afraid someone will actually start some kind of formal action. Classifying vineyards like Burgundy is another one.  

Seems like we did OK since 1970 without the benefit of classifications, and without the benefit of regulations that spec what we can use to make wine in certain areas, etc. MORE freewheeling unrestricted efforts seem a better approach than imposing restrictions.

All that said, I don't think you can include SQN.  It's a kind of arriviste wine - too new, even though it's pretty tasty.  OTOH it's really pushing the limit for ripe fruit and if fashion changes, it's going to be left out there. 

Phelps is a good one, Harlan seems a bit overrated, at least the few times I've ever had their top wine, Bryant and Screaming Eagle probably make the cut but I've never had SE so can't really opine but in that same category you have Schraeder and Levy and McLellan.

But I think you need a more established name for the list.  As you point Dalle Valle was once a cult wine, now it's available.  Who knows if the aforementioned aren't going to be considered passe shortly? 

Where do you put something like BV or Mondavi?  They've been around for a long time.  Or Diamond Creek? 

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Nov 17, 2010.

Chip/DMck/Outthere

I think it would be fun to see what the community thinks but it needs some parameters, say like

  1. A solid history of performance >20 Years?
  2. Must be truly representative of California and do you limit it to Napa the Bordeaux classifcation is only formally for the Medoc [and Haut Brion] and Sauterne
  3. Whilst many will not have tasted due to exhorbitant price perhaps we can use aaverage of WS/WA/other ratings
  4. Why not be democratic and vote

What do we think?

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Reply by ChipDWood, Nov 18, 2010.

I consider the SQN wines to be akin, or at least a sort of creative American wine equivalent to Mouton Rothschild in a way.  Part of their success comes from their quality as well as their creativity.

I don't mean to hem the American wines in either, or compartmentalize them in any way- just thought it might be fun to see what others thought, and particularly "who" others may be thinking of what stands above the others.

Regarding BV, Mondavi, Diamond Creek, and several others (Dominus, the earlier vintages of the BV wines like the Tapesty or the George Latour Private Reserve, the Stag's Leap Wine Cellars SLV, Cask, and others)- I think they would all fit neatly into that second or third tier.  I've not had them all myself, so again: just wanted to gather the opinions of those who have.

I think judging a wine upon its history has a lot of merit, totally agreee with that thought regarding all this, and another reason why I think I may have jammed the creative SQN in there hastily before considering the performance and dominance of the Araujo- but that's what I was hoping the thread would evolve into.

It's not just a reflection of what we consider to be the cream of California- but do we also realize what the real cream of Bordeaux is, and how it all came to be.  As in: would you agree with this article, postulating a possible reclassification of Bordeaux itself, or the article by Jim Budd: "The 1855 Bordeaux Classification: Genius or Inertia?"  Fine Wine 5,  2005- which was an absolutely phenomenal read and used actual sales data at auction for more than fifty years running to shake-up & rearrange the top spots from both banks.

I BEG thee to have some fun with it, and not to take things so seriously.

Sine Qua Non: The Antagonist

Sine Qua Non = "Sine qua non (pronounced as Americanized /ˌsaɪni kweɪ ˈnɒn/ or more Latinate /ˌsɪneɪ kwɑː ˈnoʊn/)[1] or conditio sine qua non (plural: sine quibus non) refers to an indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient. It was originally a Latin legal term for "(a condition) without which it could not be" or "but for..." or "without which (there is) nothing."

Just yo dos pesos.

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Reply by gregt, Nov 18, 2010.

Then I'd include the old-liners with some history and the newer wines would be like the garagiste wines.  The old line guys have to include Ridge, Spottswoode, Heitz and perhaps Montelena - they're still good, they still command respect on the secondary market and age well, and they're established.  SE, Harlan, Bryant don't seem like they're going anywhere and they're surely more expensive, so using the price category, those should probably be on the list.  So for five, it's those, RIdge, and Heitz.

SQN is just so new - fifteen years maybe? Plus it's not cab and most importantly, it doesn't have its own fruit - it sources fruit and can't be a first growth if it doesn't grow anything.

But that's a whole separate category and maybe deserves another thread -- best wineries using sourced fruit. As they've shown, it may not be necessary to own your own vineyards to produce compelling wine. 

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Reply by dmcker, Nov 18, 2010.

SQN does grow some of their own fruit, but they definitely fall in the Garagiste category. And the negociant category, for lack of a better term.

What about Caymus? What about Pahlmeyer? What about Dunn? Krug? Then if you're going to go for many of the names listed above, what about Thomas Brown's offerings?

I also find it highly dodgy that people are talking about wines they haven't even tasted on one occasion, much less over several vintages.

Sounds more, at this stage, like a conversation over a smoke, with a mite of fantasizing thrown in. Especially with some of the 'first growths' vs. 'second or third tier' groupings.

And though 1855 was certainly about pricing, it was also about track record, on sites were wine had already been grown for hundreds of years. Oxymoronic if you try to include several of the names above with that concept.

Shall we reconvene in 2025? See how our lists compare then?

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Reply by gregt, Nov 18, 2010.

It's why I mentioned the wines I did - the track record.  Pahlmeyer used to be one of my very faves - I've got some from the 80s that are a little past and from the mid 90s that are at peak right now - some of the best merlot ever made in CA IMHO.  Caymus is up there too and I completely forgot about them.  Dunn is probably the wine I have most of, and those too date back.  The Pahlmeyers of recent vintage are VERY different wines though and they've also replanted and ploughed the hillside and who knows what else.   

FYI - tonight I had the BV Tapestry and GdL and I gotta say, RP was right - they're better than ever. Not over the top, just good solid, tasty winemaking.

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Nov 20, 2010.

The French 1st Growths weren't classified as such due to price they commanded, it was due to the location of, age of and other factors relating to the vineyards themselves.  Vineyards that were thought to produce the best, top tier wines.  Harlan I might agree with, but the others in your list, based on the classification guidelines, I cannot support.  I am sure everyone on here would list a different five and collectively, maybe 2 of the 5 would be consistent. 

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Reply by gregt, Nov 20, 2010.

Vegas - where did you found that info on the classification?  I've never actually read anything like that and I'd be interested.  As far as I know, Emperor Napoleon III was organizing a grand fair or exposition and he was a little irritated that the people in London knew as much about the Bordeaux wines as anyone in France.  His cousin was organizing the fair and they asked the wine brokers to classify the wines.

The wine brokers classified them based on the prices they commanded in the London market, which was the world's largest wine market.  In fact, many of the brokers were also British.  The thinking was that the market itself was paying a premium for what it considered "better" wines and that was therefore a perfectly rational way to classify the wines.

In fact, that classification pretty much tracked to an earlier classification done by Thomas Jefferson.  I don't think either of the classifications really paid much attention to the location of the vineyards and especially to the age of the vineyards.  That's a pretty recent concern. But I could be entirely wrong and I'd be interested in reading anything that speaks to other factors.

So the classification of CA by price is logical in a sense.  However, I don' think it's comparable in another sense - the chateaux in Bordeaux are far larger than the wineries in CA.  In CA one can actually talk about a vineyard, which is more difficult in the case of Bordeaux.

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Reply by VegasOenophile, Nov 20, 2010.

I may be misinformaed, I'll have to look where I read that. 

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Reply by dmcker, Nov 21, 2010.

By price is rubbish, IMHO. Why would some overwrought Turley rank higher than a Mayacamas, or Ridge or...?

Prices now are about marketing hype and other things, as well as catering to an American palate educated on overblown flavors from Coca Cola on, that demands greater 'sweetness' than many other countries and cultures. I learned far more about food and how to cook it once I started traveling overseas, to Europe and throughout Asia, and certainly about restraint. Food-based health, too.

So why, if you haven't even had any of them, Chip, do you want to elevate and worship Turley's efforts (just as an example)?

I'm very curious what people in even California will be saying about those wines of today, 25 to 50 years down the line. And regardless of the marketing and PR efforts Napoleon III initiated, Greg, without a doubt there were centuries of wine culture, and nearly that long continuous growth in those vineyards of Bordeaux, that underlay that classification. Even through the English influence on the industry there, and in Portugal and elsewhere, the French folk doing the growing and winemaking and immediate industry support in the area were undoubtedly then as now a bit conservative, and wouldn't have allowed chateaux without any track record to have been so elevated--no matter what Napoleon III envisioned in his grandiose plans for both the 2nd Republic and 2nd French Empire (pretty flashy guy since he was both the first President of France and also its last Emperor).

Lots of success he had with that Mexican venture of his, but then most of his overseas ventures (from the Crimean to SE Asia to the 2nd Opium war to the Senegal) were both messy and destructive of life. Oh yeah, he's also the guy who lost Alsace-Lorraine, including all that good wine, to the Germans. By then even the French had had enough, and one could certainly say the tide then continued to only recede, steadily, on France's place in the international sun. Now most all that's left under a cynic's view is a great lifestyle, from wine to food to fashion to partying.... ;-)

 

 

 

 

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Nov 21, 2010.

Why don't we organise a Snooth Poll and see what the Community rates as the "First Growths", perhaps title it:

The Snooth Rating of the Wines of Napa and Sonoma 2010

The rules could be:

  1. The rating is for a particular wine
  2. Pick 5 reds and 5 whites in order
  3. Score on a 6,4,3,2,1 basis
  4. Top five to be classified as NS Outstanding 1st
  5. Next five NS Outstanding 2nd
  6. Maybe go to 3 levels

I think the exercise would be interesting to get a consolidated Snooth view on Napa and Sonoma

Thoughts?

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Reply by dmcker, Nov 22, 2010.

You'll need a bigger list. 10 maybe? Particularly reds. Definitely not only five in CA....

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Nov 22, 2010.

Agree thats why I thought to have three levels [or 5 like the classified growths] of 5 Wines in each level.  Mind you the number does not fuss me, I was more curious to see how the forum would rate NV & SV wines overall

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Reply by dmcker, Nov 23, 2010.

Perhaps we need a different classification than something merely a transplant of mid-19th century French promotional thought...

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Reply by Stephen Harvey, Nov 23, 2010.

But if we can get a Snooth poll, merely digesting and discussing the results would be fun and for us non-yanks it would be quite fascinating to see what bubbles to the top


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