Harlan County, USA

harlan-county-usaIts happened.

After 15 years as a wine lover, collector and purveyor I’ve finally gotten to taste a true California cult Cab.

Wine Spectator scored it a 90, Parker gave it a 95  (does he ever not like what it seems he should), and the estimable Steve Heimoff at The Enthusiast bestowed it a whopping 98.

I’m referring to a bottle of 2003 Harlan Estate Cabernet, lovingly shared by our best friends on the occasion of their anniversary (though as I remarked – it felt like mine!)

I’ve often lamented the whole nature of the cult wine world, with their wallet busting price points (this Harlan can currently be had for between $400-600.00 – actually not bad for this level of cultishness), their unchallenged pedigree and the standoffish attitude of these producers.

For those of you who recall Steve Martin’s attempt to get reservations at a swank eatery in, “LA Story” you get the idea of what it’s like to procure a spot on one of these coveted mailing lists.

So a day after we whined here in California that our winemaker, Ryan, was treated to an ’82 Petrus at a market visit in Michigan, we sat down to try and do him one better.

There is certainly an anticipatory moment before you take that first sip of something you suspect will be amazing. That deep purple color (especially next to the Burgundy we very much enjoyed for our second bottle of the evening), the trail the wine leaves along the side of the glass, that chocolately, truffeley nose.

Then, the sip.


Was it good?  Yes, it was.  Very good.  But as I’m not in the business of keeping score, I’ll simply say this – not many wines can compare to this level of structure, balance, and the knowledge that it’s a bottle bred for greatness.  It delivers.

But as I’ve commented on these pages before, I can’t honestly say it tasted five or six times better than any number of $100.00 Cabs I’ve had over the years.  I suppose it’s like asking if a Bentley is that much better than a Lexus.  For some it will be, based on quality and craftsmanship but at the end of the day, when both cars are sitting in their respective dark garages, you’ll notice each has four wheels, an engine, leather seats, good sound system and will both, providing there is enough gas in the tank, get you anywhere you want to go.

And yet prices and exclusivity keep it away from the many and in the hands of the few.

The good news, from what I hear, is that mailing lists are becoming easier to gain access to.  And Harlan themselves are now offering people behind their velvet rope the opportunity to buy just one bottle (previously I believe, you had to purchase six).

Yes, I’ve joined the wine equivalent of the mile high club, and soared near the top of the Cult Cab mountain. And the view from up here was good.

But as a bleeding heart, I’ll always take the coal miner’s side, the one that says, fairness for all is better than the best  for some.   So the next time I’m lucky enough to get my hands on something as rare as a Cult Cab, you’re all invited to my house to share it.

Published in: on September 3, 2009 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment