The estate that brought California to the forefront of the wine world is not surprisingly one of the most collectible from the region. Even before the 1976 Judgment of Paris, when Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay was rated above all other wines (including four of Burgundy’s finest), this forward-thinking producer has been crafting classically styled, age-worthy wines.
Montelena is one of the most European-style wines, crafted in the image of the great wines of Bordeaux. In great vintages, it is one for the long haul, but when the tannins do soften out and yield, the elegance and grace of Montelena sets it apart.
Heitz is a legend that has helped shape the history and notoriety of Californian winemaking, including the introduction of Napa’s first vineyard-designated Cabernet Sauvignon, the globally celebrated Martha’s Vineyard.
It is arguably the single-most acclaimed vineyard in the Napa Valley, an icon since the first vintage in 1966. The wines produced at Heitz are truly individual in nature, with structure and character to age beautifully for decades.
From the slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ridge’s flagship Monte Bello is recognised as having helped to change the perception of Californian wine with the success of the 1971 vintage at the 1976 Judgment of Paris. It also took first place in the 30th-anniversary re-tasting.
Though Cabernet is a sure bet, the Zinfandel is equally impressive in terms of structure, length and age-ability. Its estate in Lytton Springs, Sonoma, is an exceptional piece of ground, and it consistently produce wines that are cellar-worthy yet understated and sophisticated.
It’s only fitting that Napa’s ‘First Growth’ should be one of the most collectible producers from the New World. From its Estate red to The Maiden, each vintage surpasses expectation in terms of balance and finesse.
Harlan’s prime location on some of the better elevations and soils in the Oakville region gives it one of the best expressions of a Californian Cabernet. It’s a truly impressive wine, often fetching 100-point scores and boundless praise. As far as a safe bet for longevity goes, Harlan is as good as it gets.
As the first major winery built in Napa post-Prohibition, Mondavi has a history that rivals its reputation. Older vintages can fetch a pretty penny at auction, and with a majority holding of the To Kalon Vineyard, Mondavi wines have that ‘old vine’ finesse that is unmistakable. Its Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a top collector’s item for any oenophile.
The realisation of the shared dream of Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Opus One is a staple in any serious collector’s cellar. Mixing elements of classical European and contemporary style, in winemaking and architecture, Opus One produces only two wines: Opus One and a second wine, Overture, made of the fruit that doesn’t quite make the cut. At the inaugural Napa Valley Wine Auction in 1981 a case sold for $24,000 — a price that was unheard of a the time, especially for a California wine.
Stag’s Leap put California Cabernet in the upper echelon of successful Cabs. The winery’s first release, the 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon, would go on to beat world-famous reds produced by châteaux such as Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion at the Judgement of Paris.
Proprietor Warren Winiarski held back some standout wine from his 1974 vintage, naming it Cask 23 after the ageing vessel from which it was pulled. To this day, the best grapes and best juice are held back from significant vintages and then released under the Cask 23 label.
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One of Napa’s most historic properties, Inglenook was transformed in 1975 by Oscar-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. But even before its modern-day accolades, Inglenook Vineyards won a gold medal at the 1889 Paris Exposition, and its wines were placed in all the first-class dining cars on the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
During Prohibition, the winery kept itself afloat by selling grapes and grape by-products. Following the repeal, Inglenook was the first to produce and bottle Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of the best bottles come from the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, when John Daniel Jr would mark specific, high-quality barrels with a special number.