Hedging Bets With Cal Wine

With financial markets doing a crazy up-and-down dance around the globe these days, now might be a good time to invest in blue-chip California wines as a safe haven.

There’s definitely some upside potential and, even with a downturn, you can always drink your liquid assets.

 California Wine Month 

September is also California Wine Month, according to a proclamation from Gov. Jerry Brown that encourages citizens to pick up a glass and support the industry that rang up $18.4 billion in retail sales, employs more than 330,000 workers and drew 20.7 million tourists to the Golden State last year.

Here’s a list of special Wine Month activities, including several in or near the Bay Area.

Overseas Pricing Pressures

Globally,  more wealthy collectors in Asia are flexing their monetary muscle to acquire “trophy” wines from France like Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Le Pin and Ausone — all from Bordeaux.

When, not if, those collectors make a serious move on the California market, look out!

Hong Kong-based auctions — signaling the entry of “new money” from Asia — have pushed up prices for older vintages of top-ranked Bordeaux wines but haven’t helped light a fire underneath unreleased vintages of blue chip wines entering the sales pipeline.

The 2010 futures have been weak and the next vintage, from the 2011 harvest, is just now being picked or is still ripening in the vineyards.

The Wine Spectator Auction Index actually fell back a bit (3.6%) in the second quarter, after reaching a record high earlier this year. The index measures prices at auction of 32 blue chip wines from France, Italy, Portugal and California.

Blue Chip California Wines

All  California entries in the Wine Spectator index are cabernet-based wines from Napa that retail for more than $100, sometimes a lot more than $100. They include Araujo Eisele VineyardDominus EstateHarlan EstateHeitz Martha’s VineyardJoseph Phelps InsigniaOpus OneRobert Mondavi Napa Valley Reserve and Shafer Stags Leap District Hillside Select.

For most California cabernet producers, the latest vintages in retail distribution will be 2008 or 2009, depending on aging requirements.

On a lower price level, quality can be great from many Napa producers.

For example, I just tasted a really good bottle of 2008 Franciscan Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon ($27) sent to me by the winery for review. It had a lovely mocha backdrop with red berry fruit and finely integrated tannins. The wine improved overnight, with the flavors melding together nicely.

Mondavi will introduce its 2008 Napa Valley Reserve next Saturday (Sept. 17) with a special tasting from 2-5 p.m. at the winery in Oakville. Tickets are $75 in advance and visitors will be treated to the new release plus older vintages of reserve wines and a special tasting menu prepared by chef Jeff Mosher.

Screaming Deal

The highest priced Napa wine is usually Screaming Eagle, which can retail for $2000 (or more) per bottle after release.

The exclusive Napa winery’s sister winemaking operation, Jonata Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley near Buellton, offers a more “reasonably” priced selection of red wines from $50 to $125 per bottle.

The 2008 vintage from Jonata is due to be released next Wednesday (Sept. 14).


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