Wine Rating: 93
Some people know the stats for their favorite baseball players since ’59. I have a co-worker who, as a hobby, is a historian on all things Napoléon. Nearly everyone has their thing. Wine is mine. On Facebook, I post photos of my wine allocations and bottles I’m having at dinner. I read wine books about historic wineries and all sorts of varietals. I spend many hours online searching wine auctions, seeing what hidden gems I can find. I do about two weeks of research for every article I write. At every restaurant I go to, I find myself redoing their wine list in my head and I share, with whomever I’m dining with, what I believe they should be selling. All my friends refer to me as the Wine Geek. They ask me “What should I bring to a dinner party I’m attending?”
“Well” I say, “What kind of party is it? Do you know these people or what they like drinking?” My best and most common answer is, “Bring what you like. Don’t give them something you’ve never tried. It’s more personal that way and then you also get to share with them why you like it.”
I have another interest beyond wine, one that began when I was just a kid: books. When I was younger, it was comic books, and in my late teens it evolved into rare books. For the last 30 years I have amassed a beautiful collection. My living room is lined with over 3000 first editions, of which roughly 40% are signed. I have signed first editions of Charles Bukowski, Ayn Rand, Hunter S. Thompson, Langston Hughes, H.G. Wells… and the list goes on. These books are like my children, and when I walk into that living room I’m swept away like a proud parent. They all give me great pleasure, especially when I consider what it took to acquire them. Behind each book is the story of how I found it and when I purchased it. Those that were given as gifts have their histories also. Maybe one day I will write about my adventures in the book collecting world; it’s a fascinating one indeed.
I collect the wines I drink in the same way I collect my books: with deep passion. Wine is not a job; it’s a way of life, something I do for the love it. Pure and simple. In collecting both my wines and my books, I focus on obtaining scarce or unusual finds. For example, I have a lovely collection of highly sought after Aleister Crowley books. Only a few people in the world collect him, but of these rare gems, I have a few. A friend once said to me, “You collect the controversial, the oddities of life.” Perhaps that’s true. From the films I watch to the artworks in my home, my taste tends toward the diverse and the peculiar. Maybe this is why my wine collecting passion falls amid the “California Cults,” wines with ripe and more robust fruit, bigger expression and more concentrated flavors. These are most certainly my favorites and they bring with them higher alcohol and, as such, a continued controversy between old school wine drinkers and the people who, like me, love what California has done with wine over the last 20 years.
Old World wine drinkers, who enjoy and often prefer the European wines, which by their nature are really heavy in tannins, tend to not care for the new breed of wines. Many wine critics today remain a bit old fashioned (not in relation to age, but in their willingness to experiment) and they’ve chosen not to venture beyond the old world style wines and, as a result, they just seem not to get it. In my opinion, they are missing out. I also see this with sommeliers who have 20 or more years in the business. But don’t take my word for it. You can tell quite simply by virtue of what they carry or, in this case, what they don’t carry, on their menus. Just look for the complete absence of any specialty or cult wines in their offerings. The cult wines are very limited in production and cost a premium because of the high ratings by relevant wine critics. Many of these wines are only available through a small mailing list. You may wait 3 – 9 years before you can get an allocation.
In California there are a handful of wines that carry with them the cult status. The same goes for France, Italy, and other countries; almost every country has a few. What really makes a wine so special is the limited production, usually 600 cases or less, and of course they carry high marks in wine reviews across the board.
There is probably not a soul on the planet who has not experienced the feeling of wanting something they couldn’t have, and that, my friends, is the essence of Cult wines. The top California Cults are Bryant Family Vineyard, Colgin Cellars, Grace Family Vineyards, and Sine Qua Non. However, in my opinion, there are only two Cults that merit the supreme status of “Ultimate.” One is Screaming Eagle (which I will review very soon) and the other is Harlan Estates, called by Wikipedia “The ultimate of cult wines.”
In 1984, H. William Harlan purchased 230 acres of land in Napa on a steep hillside in Oakville and cleared 30 acres for vineyards. Before getting into wine, Will Harlan was a property developer and created Meadowood Resort
in Napa, a Four Seasons meets Ventana resort where fine dining, fine wine and even finer views create an atmosphere of luxury and pampering. The wife and I have a trip planned there in May of this year.
Over the last 30 years, Harlan has created phenomenal wines and a couple of other wine ventures, and one of them is Bond, a winery that produces wine from “grand crus” of Napa Valley. From small separate plots there is produced terroir-specific Cabernet Sauvignon wines, named Melbury from East of St. Helena, St. Eden from Northeast of Oakville, Vecina from Southwest of Oakville, Pluribus from west of St. Helena and the blended second wine Matriarch, each wine with the limited production of approximately 700 cases. (Source: Wikipedia)
There is Meadowood, Harlan Estates, and Bond Estates; there is also a very, very exclusive resort, started by William Harlan, called The Napa Valley Reserve. Situated on an 80 acre property in St. Helena, California. This is a members-only winery and vineyard project founded in 2004 and described as “the nation’s first wine country club,” and as “the wine world’s most elite fantasy camp.” Participants pay a $140,000 initiation fee and monthly dues of $80, commit to a minimum of 150 bottles, and may create up to 900 bottles for $45,000. With a client base that includes actors, sports stars, and affluent professional workers, the establishment is an invitation-only club. (Source: Wikipedia)
Within Harlan Estates there are two types of wines produced. One is their namesake, Harlan, their flagship wine which sells at auction for $600 – $2500 a bottle. Described by noted wine critic Robert Parker as having “…all the elements of greatness – individuality, power combined with elegance, extraordinary complexity, remarkable aging potential and compelling richness without ponderousness.“ But for this review we will be drinking their second and slightly less expensive selection, The Maiden.
Here is what Harlan says about The Maiden: The Maiden represents the second selection from the estate. It is a highly detailed and sumptuous wine, remarkably faithful to the vineyard’s pedigree. Accordingly, the resemblance to her “big sister” is unmistakable. First commercial vintage: 1995, released in 1999. Production averages 900 cases annually. (From their website)
As is true with any of the Harlan wines, when you first see one, you’ll notice at once its exquisite label. William Harlan said of his label, whose design was overseen by a retired U.S. Treasury engraver, “It was a label designed for a bottle that would sit on a table in candlelight, not on a store shelf.” The detail and care that goes into their labels is not lost on me and is undeniable in its classiness. This is one time you can certainly judge a bottle by its label.
Harlan is a wine family which keeps reinventing itself. As of October 2013, William Harlan’s son, the heir apparent Will Harlan, a former tech geek turned wine-entrepreneur, started his own small boutique, mailing-list-only wine allocation. I was fortunate enough to be invited after sharing with him a small essay I wrote on why I love wine and my genuine passion for it and why I’d love to be part of “The Mascot.” I was thrilled to be invited as a result. The Mascot is a wine grown from the younger vines at Harlan Estate and in my first allocation I purchased three bottles of the just released 2008 vintage. I have opened one and enjoyed it with my wife, and we agree that in 10 years this wine will be a rock star. The two remaining bottles will be opened at the 5-year and then the 10-year mark. Stay tuned … more to come.
The Maiden, 1997, Red Blend
Current Winemaker: Robert Levy
Winery: Harlan Estates
Region: Napa Valley
Varietal: Red Wine, Proprietary Red
Appearance (Color): Tarnish Ruby (that happens from 10+ year old wine)
Aroma (Complexity): Artichoke, Tobacco, Plum
Body (Texture and Weight): Heavy, slight tannin still present
Taste (Balance of Flavor): Bold and hits you with bubblegum and spice
Finish (What lingers): Forest floor and rhubarb
Food Pairing: Heavy meats, Strong cheese, Dark chocolates
Serving Temperature: 64°
When to Drink: The 1997 is very ready to drink now