California's First Growths?

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California's First Growths?

Postby Jenise » Wed Sep 04, 2013 4:22 pm

While tasting a lot of great old California cabernets last weekend with friends, I asked what they thought California's First Growths would be if a classification system like that of 1855 in France were applied to California wines. The answers varied, and had much to do with the age of the responder.

My question came from a conversation I remember reading on the wine internet when I first started seeking this fellowship about 20+ years ago. I vividly recall that Laurel Glen was considered by all a candidate and pointedly the only Sonoma entrant; it was a winery I wasn't otherwise familiar with (I lived in Alaska at the time, shopping options were narrow) and made a point of seeking out the wines after so reading. And out of sentimentality, that's why I chose it and a Montelena (also a top candidate back when, probably THE top candidate) to take to last weekend's tasting.

In today's chateau-less, trophy-driven world in which ownership and vineyard sources change hands regularly, I'm not sure Laurel Glen would occur to most when answering this question, especially anyone under 40. Montelena still does. I suggested Phelps which got shot down by a younger guy who suggested Araujo, unaware that one of Phelps' great early wines, I believe it was the Eisele and not the Bacchus, had been made from Araujo fruit before Araujo decided to became a winery and not just a grower.

Anyway, Montelena and Ridge Monte Bello were the only two California First Growths we could agree on at this point. I'm curious what suggestions others would throw in the hat, though I'm not even sure how to establish the criteria.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Sep 04, 2013 4:49 pm

Shafer Hillside Select?

Harlan?

Phelps Insignia?

I am trying to put stylistic preferences aside. Track records are getting longer at this point. I've experienced some amazing veritcals of the Shafer. Insignia has pretty much established itself as a top wine. I haven't had enough vintages of Harlan to really be sure, but the ones I have had (including the '91) have been delicious. They also make a very fine second wine - The Maiden can be considered Carruades de Harlan.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Gary Kahle » Wed Sep 04, 2013 5:56 pm

Philip Togni and Dominus

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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Jim Grow » Wed Sep 04, 2013 6:42 pm

Spottswoode, Dunn, Caymus, Beringer and of course Screagle
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Jenise » Wed Sep 04, 2013 6:46 pm

Jim Grow wrote:Spottswoode, Dunn, Caymus, Beringer and of course Screagle


But is Screaming Eagle be a true first growth or just a high flying garagiste? I tend to nod in the latter direction. Agree that the other four you mention would at least be classed growth properties.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Sam Platt » Wed Sep 04, 2013 6:47 pm

Dunn and Heitz should be on the list. Maybe Caymus SS, and Opus One.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Victorwine » Wed Sep 04, 2013 8:46 pm

If the emphasis is on the price a wine could fetch in the market than its all about ‘First Growth Wines”.

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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Lou Kessler » Wed Sep 04, 2013 8:58 pm

Sam Platt wrote:Dunn and Heitz should be on the list. Maybe Caymus SS, and Opus One.

Dunn for sure. Heitz a used to be. Caymus SS close. Opus not enought really good vintages, especially lately.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Sep 04, 2013 9:27 pm

Dominus has been too inconsistent as well.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Mark Lipton » Wed Sep 04, 2013 11:28 pm

If long track record and consistently high quality are the prime considerations, then my nominees are:

Chateau Montelena
RIdge Monte Bello
Caymus SS
Mayacamas
Heitz Martha's Vyd

If we're not limited to 5, and if we relax the track record criterion (slightly), I'd add:

Phelps Insignia
Dunn Howell Mtn
Laurel Glen
Mondavi Reserve (pre-Constellation)

Honorable mention (or Deuxieme Cru?)
Stag's Leap Cask 23
Corison
Shafer Hillside Select
Diamond Creek (choose your vineyard)
Philip Togni

I don't have enough experience with the Johnny-come-latelys (Harlan, Araujo, Dalla Valle, Screagle, Staglin) to be able to judge their place.

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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Lou Kessler » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:37 am

Mark Lipton wrote:If long track record and consistently high quality are the prime considerations, then my nominees are:

Chateau Montelena
RIdge Monte Bello
Caymus SS
Mayacamas
Heitz Martha's Vyd

If we're not limited to 5, and if we relax the track record criterion (slightly), I'd add:

Phelps Insignia
Dunn Howell Mtn
Laurel Glen
Mondavi Reserve (pre-Constellation)

Honorable mention (or Deuxieme Cru?)
Stag's Leap Cask 23
Corison
Shafer Hillside Select
Diamond Creek (choose your vineyard)
Philip Togni

I don't have enough experience with the Johnny-come-latelys (Harlan, Araujo, Dalla Valle, Screagle, Staglin) to be able to judge their place.

Mark Lipton

Laurel Glenn was really a short window of excellence. Heitz hasn't made an outstanding cab in many years. Caymus SS the same thing. Diamond Creek my fav Gravelly Meadow. Randy Dunn in all these years hasn't made a bad wine, all really good to excellent. Everbody has to have their own favorites.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby David M. Bueker » Thu Sep 05, 2013 8:56 am

Insignia goes back a long way (for California).
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Sam Platt » Thu Sep 05, 2013 10:50 am

Lou Kessler wrote:Heitz a used to be.


Hi Lou,

I didn't taste any of the legendary '60's and '70's Heitz MV vintages, so my basis for a vertical comparison is limited, but the '04 Heitz MV is certainly among the best Cal Cabs I have ever tasted. Heitz MV would show up on my list just behind Dunn and Ridge MB.

About the only wine of those listed so far that I have never tasted is Screaming Eagle. But once that Power Ball ticket comes in...
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Tom Troiano » Thu Sep 05, 2013 12:06 pm

I think Mark L. nailed it. Track record is very important.

Chateau Montelena
RIdge Monte Bello
Caymus SS
Mayacamas
Heitz Martha's Vyd
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Hoke » Thu Sep 05, 2013 12:22 pm

Track record, absolutely.

And by that argument, you'd have to exclude Heitz Martha's Vineyard. It has been inconsistent, and for a time it was consistently poor.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Mark Lipton » Thu Sep 05, 2013 12:53 pm

Lou and Hoke,
Heitz Martha's should have come with an asterisk, as the phylloxera replanting obviously represented a major change that would take decades to overcome. I don't drink many of these wines with any regularity any more, so I'm really talking about their records 1968-1999 more than anything else. I could easily flip-flop Mondavi Reserve with Heitz Martha's in that period, as I think that Mondavi's record was quite consistent. Lou, Caymus SS has never been my cup of tea, but judging others' reactions to it, I'd say it has had a very consistent track record.

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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby David M. Bueker » Thu Sep 05, 2013 12:59 pm

We've been having these conversations since the dawn of the wineternet. The "track record" argument restricting things to Heitz, Ridge, etc. made a heck of a lot more sense in 1999/2000 than it does now. Wines such as Insignia or SHS now have the same 30 year (or longer) record of excellence the Heitz MV had back then.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Hoke » Thu Sep 05, 2013 1:12 pm

Mark Lipton wrote:Lou and Hoke,
Heitz Martha's should have come with an asterisk, as the phylloxera replanting obviously represented a major change that would take decades to overcome. I don't drink many of these wines with any regularity any more, so I'm really talking about their records 1968-1999 more than anything else. I could easily flip-flop Mondavi Reserve with Heitz Martha's in that period, as I think that Mondavi's record was quite consistent. Lou, Caymus SS has never been my cup of tea, but judging others' reactions to it, I'd say it has had a very consistent track record.

Mark Lipton


So you're admitting a case of "old fogeyism", eh? :D

Little harder keeping up these days? Find yourself telling your grad students about what things were like before Parker, when you actually had to go out and taste the wine to know whether you liked it or not? Easier to remember what happened thirty years ago than thirty minutes ago?

Join the club, boyo.

(I don't drink much of that stuff anymore either. I've tasted some, but drink very little of the cited producers in my dotage. Prefer other wines for one; can't afford these, for another.)
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby JC (NC) » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:58 pm

I would place Mondavi Reserve and Caymus Special Selection ahead of Dunn. Haven't had enough Shafer to judge for myself but would think it would qualify.
Larkmead? Maybe second growth?
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Mark Lipton » Thu Sep 05, 2013 4:20 pm

Hoke wrote:
So you're admitting a case of "old fogeyism", eh? :D

Little harder keeping up these days? Find yourself telling your grad students about what things were like before Parker, when you actually had to go out and taste the wine to know whether you liked it or not? Easier to remember what happened thirty years ago than thirty minutes ago?

Join the club, boyo.


Heh, too much Geritol this morning, Hoke? :twisted:

(I don't drink much of that stuff anymore either. I've tasted some, but drink very little of the cited producers in my dotage. Prefer other wines for one; can't afford these, for another.)


Yeah, it has to do with your other thread. For me, it's a function of increasing prices, decreasing consumption of red meat, stylistic changes and increasing numbers of attractive options that has curtailed my consumption of CalCab. I still have quite a few down in the cellar, but we don't often find ourselves reaching for them. Don't worry, though: we'll pull out a few the next time you and Roxi find yourselves in West Lafayette. :wink:

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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Jenise » Thu Sep 05, 2013 5:00 pm

Interesting to see the Mayacamas come up. It's not a winery I seem to hear much about anymore.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby James Dietz » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:21 pm

No track record yet, and it has become terribly expensive, but I think the Kapcsandy Grand Vin has a chance of being in that special group with the Monte Bello and the Montelena Estate.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Noel Ermitano » Sat Sep 07, 2013 11:41 pm

I've had various vintages of all the Cali cult wines, some repeatedly. Of them all, to my palate, only the Araujo qualifies as a "1st growth". Definitely Montelena is still my favorite cab, and Ridge Montebello is way up there as well. As regards Screaming Eagle, I've had it quite a few times (never my bottle), but could never see the allure.
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Re: California's First Growths?

Postby Patrick Martin » Sun Sep 08, 2013 4:55 pm

From what I've tried:
Montelena Estate,
Ridge Monte Bello,
Dunn Howell Mountain,
Togni,
Phelps Insignia.

I think that Phelps deserves to be on here. The 84, 85 and 86 Insignia's are all fantastic, and the 87 Phelps Eisele is the best New World wine I've ever had both times it was opened.
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