Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Ghost Horse Gallops Ahead
We all know that wines at auction can bring almost unbelievable prices, and we know that old wines in collections have high values. But have you ever wondered what the most expensive bottle of wine in the world is at the time of its release? Well, wonder no more, as we believe we have the answer, and we may be the first writers to actually write about it.
A few years ago Todd and Ronnie Anderson (of the well known and respected Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards) formed Ghost Horse, a winery dedicated to two things – the production of world class wines, and the education of the wine consumer. In fact, Todd is passionate about the latter, refusing, for example, to allow a distributor to represent him until the distributor has actually tasted, and been educated about, the wines. In that vein, no one at all may taste Ghost Horse unless s/he visits the winery to learn. Once that is accomplished, however, Todd and Ronnie are amazingly generous – given the asking price of each bottle - in allowing their coveted wine to be tasted.
Ghost Horse has four tiers of wines, with one barrel per tier. A bottle of “Cabernet” sells for $400; “Fantome Cabernet” for $1,000.00; “Apparition Cabernet” for $2,000.00; and, finally, the “Spectre Cabernet” at a hefty $3,500.00. Remember, now, this is per bottle. Lest you think no one is purchasing this wine, one vintage is sold out because a customer purchased the entire barrel (in such cases, the Andersons do not even keep any for themselves), and Todd recently returned from Tokyo where he personally delivered a case of the “Fantome” and taught a wine class as well. In fact, purchase a case from the first two tiers and Todd will deliver it himself and teach anywhere in the country. Buy from the upper two tiers and he will go anywhere in the world. Oh - the cost of a barrel (which usually yields about 23 cases, or 276 bottles)? From $95,000 to $1,000,000.
True to their word, Todd and Ronnie opened two bottles for our sampling – the 2003 “Cabernet” at $400.00, and the $2,000.00 2004 “Fantome.” The former was certainly excellent, just as you would expect it to be from the asking price, and definitely reminiscent of the best Cabs we have tasted in the Valley. As for the “Fantome,” we are happy to report it was indeed magnificent (we were afraid it wouldn’t be) - from the aromatics that seemed to waltz across the room, to fruit that covered the mouth with a deep blueberry flavor, to beautiful tannins and terroir that hinted at power and longevity, and to a finish that was with us 5 minutes later when we went after another sip.
The first question from each person to whom we have mentioned the winery is, understandably, “Are the wines really worth that price?” We can only answer by asking whether any wine is worth the price assigned to it. Worth to one person is of course different than to another. Suffice it to say that the experience can be extraordinary.
Look for Salon Tastings: It is understandable that wineries search for that elusive “hook” to bring people to their various tasting rooms. Sometimes the vehicle they choose is far beyond gimmickry, and actually offers an educational experience as well as a tasting opportunity.
One of the first wineries to adopt this sort of program was Swanson Vineyards, which now hosts the sessions in its classically beautiful Salon. For a reasonable fee, you may choose from one of two tastings – each named after a family dog. The experiences are different, so you want to inquire about each in depth when you make the necessary reservation, but both offer not only a selection of the outstanding Swanson wines, but a healthy dose of wine education taught by very qualified educators. We recently attended the larger of the two tastings where educator Sean took us through some Valley and winery history before analyzing the wines before us, which included the 2005 Salon Rosato ($20), 2005 Pinot Grigio ($21), 2003 Merlot ($36), 2003 Alexis ($64), and 1991 Late Harvest Semillon. These wines were paired with wonderful side treats - California Osetra caviar, Tomette de brebis cheese from France, Grana padano cheese from Italy, cave aged gruyere cheese from Switzerland, and the sinfully delectable Alexis estate bonbons. To learn about the winery and its other wines, go to swansonvineyards.com or call 707-967-3500.
Some other wineries that offer salon tastings:
Frazier (707-255-3444), which combines the salon experience with a tour of their hillside wine caves, a sampling of their unreleased wines from the barrel, and a tasting of four current releases paired alongside gourmet cheeses & accoutrements.
Patz & Hall (707-265-7700), where the experience includes tasting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay single vineyard designate wines, as well as seasonal food “complements" to enhance your tasting experience.
Luna (707-255-5862), which has recently announced its newest tasting encounter -“The Reserve Wine Pairing Experience.” Here you will taste limited production wines paired with artisan cheeses, pates, and chocolate truffles.
Call the Wineries for Pricing & More Information
Raymond 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Sets New Auction Record: As our readers know, we like to follow up on wines we have recommended (at least when they do well and justify our opinion). At the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition in November, where more than 1,200 wines competed, Raymond Vineyard & Cellars’ 2001 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon took top honors by being awarded the Grand Champion Best of Show. The winery was presented with a hand-tooled saddle (we have seen it on display – impressive). A 9 liter engraved bottle of the wine was the top Live Auction Lot at the event of approximately 1,300 attendees, with a winning bid of $200,000 - more than double the auction record of $86,000.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.