Napa Cab Sauv "First Growths"

I was doing some producer research in Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Guide and he remarked about a few producers that they were "First Growth" quality. He cited a few as such. I believe he mentioned Shafer and Harlan, among others.

I probably have about 100 bottles of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon in the cellar, but I can usually find stuff I like for under $60 (Pride, Altamura, Chappellet, Caymus, etc.). Much more of my cellar is focused on red Bordeaux and Burgundy, but always enjoy a good Napa Cab. I'm always hoping to learn more though.

I have a collector friend who 3000 bottle cellar stuffed with Lafite and Ausone and other treasures. I asked his opinion on this and he chases all over to auctions in pursuit of Shafer Hillside Select.

Regardless of price, who makes the very Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley? Who are the best five or six? Who would be the next five or six as your "Second Growths."
Original Post
My 5 Napa "First Growths," in no particular order:

- Bryant Family Vineyards
- Dunn Vineyards
- Shafer HSS
- Kapcsandy Family Winery
- Heitz "Martha's Vineyard"

"Second Growths:"

- Ridge Monte Bello (Not Napa, but I can't leave this one out!)
- Phelps "Insignia
- Phillip Togni
- Caymus SS
- Pahlmeyer

Based on my palate and year after year consistent quality, these are my favorite producers. I suppose some others like Harlan, Colgin, Scarecrow, etc. could make the list, but I have more experience with the producers above. As for Match & Stefania, I have zero experience, but they seem to have quite the fan base here.
to compare to first growths, I would say these must be estate grown and bottled wines, not just premium wines made from great vineyards, which would exclude schrader and some others. There are a million to kalon wines out there that are great that would lead me to say the to kalon is a first growth even if they don't produce their own wines
I've gotta toss production into my equation. Any overly rich aficionado can toss alot of cash at a 250 case run of wine and be well received.

However, looking at the 'real first growths'...

Mouton makes 200-300,000 bottle per year.

Latour 220,000 bottles.

Lafite, around 250,000 bottles.

Chateau Margaux 130,000 bottles.

Haut Brion 120-144,000 bottles.

Screaming Eagle is making only 5,000 to 9,000 bottles. Not gonna do it. They could but one of each real first growth, mix it all up, and sell it at a premium. Insufficient production. Too botiquey.

I imagine a Frenchman would fart in the general direction of our low production Cali "first growths."

Dominus makes the grade for production, somewhere in the region of 60,000 plus bottles.

So, put Dominus in.

Dunn makes 86,000 bottles of both wines combined, so in they go!

Diamon Creek's total output is 24,000 bottles, Lake vineyard is a tiny and infrequently made wine - tough call. But, I'm saying no.

Spottswode is 72,000 bottles, so they get in, too.

Shafer Hillsdie Select is 24,000 bottles, they are out, but close.

Opus One makes around 300,00 bottles, they are in.

I couldn't easily find a production number for Stag's Leap cask 23, but they would be a candidate if they make more than a dilettante's number of bottles.
quote:
Originally posted by indybob:
Where would anybody slot Mondavi Reserve? 2nd "Cali" growth?


I don't know. Mondavi Reserve probably qualifies in terms of the production numbers for Dr. Caligari's analysis (which I agree with, by the way--it's hard for me to put a "First Growth" label on a 500-case cuvee). Personally, from my experience, I would put Mondavi Reserve ahead of several wines mentioned already, including Opus One.

But that being said, compared to Bordeaux's First Growths, I would put most of Napa's iconic productions, including Mondavi Reserve, at Second Growth level, or lower (Opus, for example, has been mostly disappointing to me).
If you are talking quantity, I don't think there are any. Silver Oak, Mondavi, etc just are not in the same league.

As for quality, there are quite a few. We've only had two Bordeaux first growths that we think can compete. Latour and Margaux. The Cali wines they are in the same league with, Diamond Creek, Caymus Special Select, Shafer, Heitz Martha's Vineyard, Tor Beckstoffer To Kalon, Realm BTK, Carter BTK, Paul Hobbs BTK, Schrader, Scarecrow, Opus One, Maybach, Bond, Ovid. (These are all based on our four WS Grand Tasting events, and a few on personal experience who's wines were not poured at Grand Tastings.)

We've never tried Screaming Eagle or Bryant, and haven't had a Harlan that we would buy. Don't remember Arujo well enough to compare. There are a few others that may compete, but the quantities are even lower.
I personally doubt that anyone would seriuosly confuse a latour/margaux/lafite/haut brion/mouton with ANY To Kalons' Caymus SS, Shafer SS, Scarecrow, Maybach etc etc.

They really are just different wines.

Oh and if you disagree, I'll very happily trade you every single one of my Caymus SS, DC, Shafer, to Kalons, Maybach, Scarecrow etc etc with your bottles of first growth.
I never said you could confuse them with the first growths. I was just listing the first growths and the cali cabs that we were willing to get back in line for a re-visit. I too would trade my cali cabs for first growths, sell them, and triple or quadruple up on the cali cabs.
quote:
Originally posted by davec:
I never said you could confuse them with the first growths. I was just listing the first growths and the cali cabs that we were willing to get back in line for a re-visit. I too would trade my cali cabs for first growths, sell them, and triple or quadruple up on the cali cabs.


are you saying if they were worth the same you'd rather the cali ones?
quote:
Originally posted by g-man:
are you saying if they were worth the same you'd rather the cali ones?


It they cost them same, yes.

At the 2009 WS Grand Tasting, I was in a group of four, and the '06 Schrader Old Sparky (RP 100, WS 100) was clearly the best wine of the evening for all of us. We all wished we had tried the Schrader early in the evening, and then we would have re-visited as many times as they let us.

It may not have been a fair match, because the first growths were '03 Lafite, '95 Latour, '01 Margaux, '03 Haut-Brion, and '05 Mouton.

I've never tried an aged Bordeaux, which I'm sure are amazing, but I typically like my wines younger. I often prefer barrel samples when I visit Napa.

I would be happy to pass up most Cali Cabs for an opportunity to try an older or stellar first growth because I seldom get the chance to try one, but I tend to prefer Cali Cabs, and I can't afford Bordeaux in order to adjust my palate.
quote:
Originally posted by davec:
quote:
Originally posted by g-man:
are you saying if they were worth the same you'd rather the cali ones?


It they cost them same, yes.

At the 2009 WS Grand Tasting, I was in a group of four, and the '06 Schrader Old Sparky (RP 100, WS 100) was clearly the best wine of the evening for all of us. We all wished we had tried the Schrader early in the evening, and then we would have re-visited as many times as they let us.

It may not have been a fair match, because the first growths were '03 Lafite, '95 Latour, '01 Margaux, '03 Haut-Brion, and '05 Mouton.

I've never tried an aged Bordeaux, which I'm sure are amazing, but I typically like my wines younger. I often prefer barrel samples when I visit Napa.

I would be happy to pass up most Cali Cabs for an opportunity to try an older or stellar first growth because I seldom get the chance to try one, but I tend to prefer Cali Cabs, and I can't afford Bordeaux in order to adjust my palate.


no need to adjust your palate.

some people like em young, I've got a group of tasters in ny that if you opened an 86 Conseillante blind to them they'll tell me it's not fruity enough and sure enough, they rather enjoyed an 07 Ramey Cab.

to each his own i guess but I'll refer to my original point that i 'd doubt anyone would get these confused.
quote:
Originally posted by g-man:
I personally doubt that anyone would seriuosly confuse a latour/margaux/lafite/haut brion/mouton with ANY To Kalons' Caymus SS, Shafer SS, Scarecrow, Maybach etc etc.

They really are just different wines.

Oh and if you disagree, I'll very happily trade you every single one of my Caymus SS, DC, Shafer, to Kalons, Maybach, Scarecrow etc etc with your bottles of first growth.


Rather than first growths, aren't the Cali Cabs most listed here typically referred to as Cult?
quote:
Originally posted by WineMavenCA:
quote:
Originally posted by g-man:
I personally doubt that anyone would seriuosly confuse a latour/margaux/lafite/haut brion/mouton with ANY To Kalons' Caymus SS, Shafer SS, Scarecrow, Maybach etc etc.

They really are just different wines.

Oh and if you disagree, I'll very happily trade you every single one of my Caymus SS, DC, Shafer, to Kalons, Maybach, Scarecrow etc etc with your bottles of first growth.


Rather than firt growths, aren't the Cali Cabs most listed here typically referred to as Cult?


i'll accept the cult status

however i believe the OP meant it to be a direct comparison.

I feel it's apples to oranges. I truly don't think you can confuse a cault cali cab with a french first growth bordeaux no matter how much port one has to drink.
quote:
Originally posted by wine+art:
quote:
Originally posted by TPEwinedrinker:
I honestly thought the point of the thread was which Napa cabs are reminiscent of the first growth Bordeaux. Knowing now that it is what are your favorite Napa cabs, my list


Is that the question?

To be honest, I have no frickin clue. Not quite understanding the point of these threads.
Referring to Hugh Johnson's Pocket Guide for the exact context might be helpful (I do not have a copy).

I read swade's post and took it to mean what CA producers can be considered "first growth" as definied by having a history of producing consistently excellent wines. I did not think it meant to ask which California wines taste like Margaux, Lafite, etc. Shafer, as Swade indicated was referenced in the Pocket Guide, certainly fits that definition.

I think the Pinot thread takes the same position- not that is a comparison to Burgundy, only that CA is capable of producing excellent Pinot and that certain wineries and/or vineyards seem to have the most consistent result and would be deemed the "first growths of CA pinot."

I don't see why everyone is getting so worked up over these threads. In the end, you're entitled to your opinion, no matter how wrong you are. Wink
The question is which Napa Cabs do you think are the best or top tier? The reference to Bordeaux First Growths is really just context to suggest limiting the top rank to five or six producers. It is subjective, and most people probably haven't tried them all, but which do you think are the best?

It's always interesting to compare debate Bordeaux and Napa, but I was mostly interested in learning people's thoughts on the best Napa producers.

I thought the reference to To Kalon as a First Growth vineyard was insightful. As with the Burgundy Cru rankings, giving it to the land rather than the winery.

Thanks for sharing. Cheers!
quote:
Originally posted by TPEwinedrinker:
quote:
Originally posted by wine+art:
quote:
Originally posted by TPEwinedrinker:
I honestly thought the point of the thread was which Napa cabs are reminiscent of the first growth Bordeaux. Knowing now that it is what are your favorite Napa cabs, my list


Is that the question?

To be honest, I have no frickin clue. Not quite understanding the point of these threads.


So says the author of the "what are you wearing?" thread. Smile
quote:
Originally posted by snipes:
quote:
Originally posted by TPEwinedrinker:
quote:
Originally posted by wine+art:
quote:
Originally posted by TPEwinedrinker:
I honestly thought the point of the thread was which Napa cabs are reminiscent of the first growth Bordeaux. Knowing now that it is what are your favorite Napa cabs, my list


Is that the question?

To be honest, I have no frickin clue. Not quite understanding the point of these threads.


So says the author of the "what are you wearing?" thread. Smile

What are you wearing is pretty straight-forward. Asking who are the first growths of napa cab is incredibly esoteric.
yhn, don't let the Napa category preclude you from proposing a winery. If Bordeaux can include Haut Brion in theirs, you can propose an outlier in this thread.

I suggested Napa as a category because there are a lot of Cab Sauv producers to sort through. And personally, my collection tends to focus on this area. I'm always glad to learn more though, so fire away.
quote:
Originally posted by PD2K:
Not a fair comparison. I think this is another case of producer vs property. Lots of great Napa Cabs labels may not own the property where the grapes are grown, unlike the Bordeaux First Growths.


The top producers work hand in hand with the growers of those prized sites. For any big operation, it's not the winemaker doing the vineyard work. Either way the winemaker will inspect and direct what's going on in the vineyard. You don't charge top dollar in an ongoing relationship by providing something other than what is wanted.
shanet posted:
My 5 Napa "First Growths," in no particular order:

- Bryant Family Vineyards
- Dunn Vineyards
- Shafer HSS
- Kapcsandy Family Winery
- Heitz "Martha's Vineyard"

"Second Growths:"

- Ridge Monte Bello (Not Napa, but I can't leave this one out!)
- Phelps "Insignia
- Phillip Togni
- Caymus SS
- Pahlmeyer

Based on my palate and year after year consistent quality, these are my favorite producers. I suppose some others like Harlan, Colgin, Scarecrow, etc. could make the list, but I have more experience with the producers above. As for Match & Stefania, I have zero experience, but they seem to have quite the fan base here.

Not one person has mentioned Spottswoode....I don’t get it. 

Chris R posted:
shanet posted:
My 5 Napa "First Growths," in no particular order:

- Bryant Family Vineyards
- Dunn Vineyards
- Shafer HSS
- Kapcsandy Family Winery
- Heitz "Martha's Vineyard"

"Second Growths:"

- Ridge Monte Bello (Not Napa, but I can't leave this one out!)
- Phelps "Insignia
- Phillip Togni
- Caymus SS
- Pahlmeyer

Based on my palate and year after year consistent quality, these are my favorite producers. I suppose some others like Harlan, Colgin, Scarecrow, etc. could make the list, but I have more experience with the producers above. As for Match & Stefania, I have zero experience, but they seem to have quite the fan base here.

Not one person has mentioned Spottswoode....I don’t get it. 

Hot damn! 6 years, already?!

I don't think my list has changed much. Have had a lot more DC & Spottswoode since then, so sure - add them. Dominus makes the cut as well. If production isn't a factor, MacDonald wins hands down in the "cult cab" arena. Scarecrow is a close second.

 

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