So How Was that $1,000 Bottle of Wine?

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The occassion finally arose to enjoy that bottle of '97 Harlan I mentioned a while back.

I'm pleased to report the wine was in good shape. More than anything I'd have been disappointed if we suspected cork taint, the cork dissolved as we were opening it, or it just plain wasn't showing well.

It was showing very well and it was a great experience tasting an aged benchmark Napa Cab like Harlan.

How Do You Go About Enjoying an Expensive Bottle Like This?

I thought about this a bit. I didn't want to just knock it back in some plastic cups outdoors, but at the same time I didn't want to make such a big deal out of it that it dominated the evening.

We enjoyed it with dear friends we haven't gathered with indoors with since the pandemic began. They're wine enthusiasts as well so we were all interested in experiencing how the wine showed relative to other bottles we've enjoyed.

1997 Harlan Estate Napa Valley Cabernet
14.5% Alcohol

100% opaque and clinging to the glass, this bottle showed very well 24 years post-vintage with lively aromas and flavors, supporting structure, and a luscious finish.

Aromas of ripe blackberries backed by subtle supporting oak influence. Hits the palate with a satisfying mid-weight presence and finishes with fine silty tannins.

It's a near flawless wine that's aged brilliantly into a well-balanced textbook Napa Cab.

97/100 WWP: Classic

Wine Advocate (RP): 100
Wine Spectator (JL): 97

Reading the tasting notes from the pros at the time of release (on KL Wines) it seems that it has mellowed nicely with time. Parker notes how it is "enormously-endowed, profoundly rich" and Tanzer cited "distinctly port-like notes."

I wouldn't describe it along those lines at all at this point in time. Although it was formidable visually it presented itself as a medium-full bodied wine with appealing aromatics, good mouthfeel, and a finish that indicates it's still got a ways to go. It was a delight to drink.
How Do The Wine Access NDA Wines Compare to Harlan?

A lot of these Wine Access NDA Napa Cabs make big claims about being associated with producers or vineyards like Harlan. Like this one.

The '97 Harlan drank more elegantly, less brawny than the Wine Access Yesterday Cab - which I consider among the better offerings among Wine Access NDA wines.

I cracked a bottle of 2018 Radio Silence tonight to compare doubt the Harlan is superior. Which isn't surprising given that Harlan has 2nd labels they'd surely route to before dishing things off to an NDA wine.

But if I squint enough and look for it I can see Radio Silence being part of the same family. And more ready to go on release for sure.

If You Paid $1,000 For It, Would You Have Enjoyed It More? Less?

I'd say it was nice that we got it "for free" with credit card rewards. It wasn't really free since we passed on selecting on an assortment of wines totaling $600 for this one bottle worth $1,000.

But it was nice that there wasn't this pressure to "find $1,000 worth of enjoyment out of the bottle" and instead just enjoy the experience for what it was.

Would You Rather Have Ten $100 Bottles or One $1,000 Bottle?

Ten $100 bottles, no doubt. The cost per ounce on a $1,000 bottle of wine is just indefensible. This became strikingly evident since there was quite a bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle and I'm thinking, "That's $75 worth of wine down there." It's pretty ridiculous.

We followed up the bottle of Harlan with a $60 bottle of Quilceda Creek CVR (a $60 wine). You know what? That was pretty great too.

Does This Experience Make You More or Less Likely to Splurge on High End Bottles?

I still can't justify spending much more than $100/btl on wine. Maybe like $150 for a special occasion wine or a birthyear wine.

Like art or collectibles, you pay a lot more to be in that top 10% and it's almost impossible to consider the splurge a value play.

Can This Deal Be Replicated?

Not fully, because two things changed.

First, the welcome bonus on the credit card isn't as high as it was when I signed up (was 75,000 is now 50,000). And the per-point value for wines in "The Vault" are no longer any better than other wines (was 1 cpp is now 0.6 cpp).

Bottom Line

This was a fun opportunity to experience a high end bottle of wine with friends. It was a finishing touch on a great day with a good round of golf in the afternoon, conversation around a fire on a crisp autumn evening, and an amazing dinner.

I'd love it if I could sign up for more credit cards that kick off $1,000 bottles of wine, but alas opportunities like this don't come around very often.

As a guy who hasn't invested a lot of effort into aging wines, it gives me a datapoint for what Napa Cab can become. It makes me think I should lay a few more good bottles down like Ridge Monte Bello and the strong-showing Wine Access Yesterday NDA wines as well. But I don't think I'll be joining the Harlan mailing list any time soon.


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