By Chris Gill
The outrageously overinflated prices for 2010 Bordeaux futures have pretty much taken the fun and enjoyment out of collecting Bordeaux wines. While a few of these wines may be the greatest examples of our lifetime (so far), improved production techniques and technology suggest that we may see even better wines in the not-too-distant future. However, current trends also suggest that prices may become so prohibitive that only billionaires can afford to buy first growth wines in any significant quantity, while us mere millionaires will only want to splurge on a bottle or two for very special occasions (and pray that the bottle isn’t corked).
Current conditions in Bordeaux have shed new light on the quality and variety offered by California wines. While California wines are not immune to absurd inflation (*cough* Screaming Eagle *cough* Opus One), many producers have bucked the trend and maintained consistent pricing over the last 10 to 15 years even when their wines have earned impressive scores from wine critics. The following five examples are my California alternative suggestions for Bordeaux drinkers who are disgusted with 2010 futures prices but still want to enjoy Cabernet- and/or Merlot-based wines with lots of style, character, and pleasure.
1. Hundred Acre wines
Made with meticulous attention to detail that makes even the most scrutinizing Bordeaux producers like Petrus seem like slackers, Hundred Acre wines are the product of visionary genius Jayson Woodbridge and consultant winemaker Philippe Melka. Drinking the finest of Woodbridge’s incredible Hundred Acre Cabernet wines (which include The Ark, Deep Time, Few and Far Between, Fortunate Son, Kayli Morgan, and Precious) is a life-changing experience where flavors explode in the mouth with near orgasmic pleasure. If you look carefully you can find bottles from the 2008 vintage around $300, but you’ll need to move quickly as prices for Hundred Acre wines are already beginning to soar on the secondary and auction markets.
2. Robert Foley wines
Robert Foley is another outrageously talented winemaker who produces truly stunning wines, but even though he’s become one of the most highly regarded producers in the Napa region he hasn’t let success go to his head. His prices are still the same as they were when he struck out on his own just over 10 years ago, yet the quality of his wines continues to progress and improve. Foley’s 2001 and 2007 Claret both earned high scores, but their prices are surprisingly down to earth and reasonable for wines of this quality. His excellent 2008 Merlot is a great alternative for drinkers who love Pomerol wines.
3. Dunn Howell Mountain wines
Despite becoming one of the most highly regarded cult wines since releasing their first vintage in 1981, Dunn Howell Mountain wines still sell for about the same prices upon release as they did back then. The most recent release—the tasty, elegant 2007 vintage—sells for between $65 to $80, which makes it an outrageous bargain for a wine of this quality. Randy Dunn is still the main winemaker, and his son Mike joined full time as assistant winemaker and cellar master starting in 1999. You can find the excellent 1992 vintage for about $160, but the outstanding 2001 and 2004 vintages are even better buys at current prices below $100.
4. Gargiulo Vineyards G Major 7
Made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Merlot, Gargiulo G Major 7 is a Bordeaux-style blend that reminds me of a cross between the concentrated fruit of a fine Saint-Estèphe wine and the masculine pencil lead nose of Lynch Bages. The grapes all come from Gargiulo’s 575 OVX vineyard in Oakville, which is situated between vineyards for Screaming Eagle and Rudd, and the wines are produced by a team that includes chief winemaker Kristof Anderson and consultant Andy Erickson (who until recently was Screaming Eagle’s winemaker).
5. 2007 Trivium Les Ivrettes
I don’t know whether the bottle of 2007 Trivium Les Ivrettes Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted was an anomaly or not, but it had a compelling bouquet that smelled a lot like Floris White Rose perfume and reminded me of the floral qualities of a fine Margaux wine—a quality I’ve never encountered from a California Cabernet before. On the palate it’s more masculine, with layers of tobacco and nutmeg spice intertwined with rich blackberry and cassis fruit. The personality reminds me a lot of classic Bordeaux wines from 1985 and 1986, so if you liked those wines chances are good you’ll love this.