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The Great California Cabernet Classification

It was only a matter of time before someone went ahead and classified California Cabernet along the lines of the 1855 Classification in Bordeaux, or the Langton's classification of Australian wine.

That someone, or at least the latest someone, is Simon Woods of Wine International. He has put together a tiered classification (First through Fifth growths, plus some additional classifications such as "Top Non-Napa Wines") based on wines that are below 1000 cases in production and which have been available on the market since 1999. Like the two classifications mentioned above, wines are ranked based on their historic ability to command consistently high prices.

Here's his list.

First Growths ($300 and higher):

  • Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • Bryant Family Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • Dalla Valle Maya, Napa Valley (also Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Grace Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • Colgin Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (also Tychson Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; Cariad)
  • Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (also The Maiden)
  • Blankiet Estate Paradise Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • Abreu Madrona Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

    Second growths ($175 " $300):

  • Barbour Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • Schrader Beckstoffer Cabernet, Napa Valley
  • David Arthur Elevation 1147 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, Napa Valley
  • Pride Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa Valley (also Claret Reserve)
  • Hourglass Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (also Altagracia)
  • Gemstone, Yountville, Napa Valley
  • Bond Vecina, Napa Valley (also St Eden; Melbury; The Matriarch)
  • Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon Les Pavots, Knight's Valley
  • Beringer Bancroft Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (also the Cabernets from Chabot Vineyard; St Helena Home Vineyard)

    Check out the full article for the rest of the listings.

    Comments (4)

    Geoff Smith wrote:
    08.31.05 at 3:51 PM

    Excellent article. An interesting selection, which I would adjust just a little. Switchback Ridge and Veraison are two notable wines which should be included.

    Cheers, Geoff

    Gerald wrote:
    09.01.05 at 7:14 PM

    Keep in mind a few points:

    In 1855 there was no means of instant communication and no wine letters telling consumers what wines they should buy and enjoy.

    The wines of Bordeaux which were the most costly were achieved higher prices because of demand for the wines. The market was much smaller, too.

    Many California wines are priced not based upon market demands, the cost of production, etc. Many are priced based upon high numerical scores awarded by critics with a wide "reach." Many are expensive due to the "ego factor" incorporated into the pricing structure. Many are costly thanks to the "scarcity tax" being levied by the producers and the market.

    We now have 150 years of perspective on the 1855 classification and see only a few estates have changed "position" in the market and in the glass.

    Many of the California vintners are so new, they have very little history and not much of a track record. Does a winery deserve "grand cru" status simply because the owner of the brand has the nerve to charge a ridiculously high price?

    As many tasters know, the difference between some great $30-$50 bottles of Cabernet and those costing two or three times as much often does not warrant the price differential. Further, of course, some "normally-priced" wines are superior to those "high roller" bottles if you're only tasting what's in the glass. Price is not a reliable indicator of wine quality these days.

    A few of the wines which made this fellow's list are truly a joke.

    Such a list would have more credibility if it were based upon some history of quality.

    Alder wrote:
    09.01.05 at 7:22 PM


    HA! I'm glad someone took the bait. I figured one of my regular readers would be the first to pull the legs out from under this one. Every one of your points are, of course, absolutely correct.

    I'm amazing to me to see wines some wines so high on this list simply because of what they've been able to convince some people to pay for their first three vintages.

    Thanks for your astute comments, as always.

    09.17.14 at 1:22 PM

    I was recommended this blog by my cousin. I'm not sure whether this post is
    written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my difficulty.

    You are wonderful! Thanks!

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