Reader John Glas commented on a recent post that he wanted sometime soon to find and try a Charles Smith Royal City Syrah.
As well he should, even though it’s quite spendy. I recently saw one in Nashville going – or not going – for $158.
It got me to thinking about how we set our self-imposed limits for spending on a single bottle of wine. I had a chance last spring to buy some of the Royal City for $125 and passed. Around that time, I paid almost that much for half a bottle of Shafer Hillside Select 2007 Cab. Both decisions spoke to my ever-evolving threshold.
The Shafer was wrapped in a wonderful memory. After spending a wondrous hour with patriarch John Shafer (left), my buddy Joe and I were escorted down to the winery, where Elias Fernandez was overseeing the bottling of the 2007 Hillside Select, which is about as good as California cabernet gets (and a fab vintage to boot).
Elias poured a full glass for each of us, and while Shafer media savant Andy Demsky said it was customary for all visitors during bottling time to get such an offering, it was hard not to feel seriously special. And the wine was beyond sublime, hardly needing the 15 months in bottle it was about to get. But what the heck do I know?
So once the small allotment hit the Twin Towns, we pounced. But I am loath to spend that much on any other wine. I have toyed with nabbing one of the spectacular Continuum blends at $150 but just … couldn’t. And besides the Royal City, I’ve balked at paying $125 for Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape at $125. Or any Burgundies around that price.
Beaucastel actually provided my first “threshold,” as the 1989, the first wine that I could call “transcendent,” was $30 during the Hennepin Lake sale. Any larger expenditure seemed silly in that context.
I stayed near there for a few years and started inching up, primarily because Beaucastel – which I had come to regard as the most consistently swell high-end wine — started rising quickly thanks to a certain Mr. Parker.
By the turn of the century I was looking at around $50, and a few years later, I started spending a bit more on mailing-list favorites. I blessedly had never caught Bordeaux fever, partly because truly great wines from Piedmont and Priorat and the Rhone and California (and, yes, Australia) could be had for $50 to$75.
So I’ve kinda been sitting on $75 or so for some time now. When my favorite wines shoot past that, I back off. A couple of years ago, Aubert’s best chardonnays rose to $85 — with a shipping fee of almost $10 per bottle. When I emailed them about the latter, I got a snotty response about the bottles being “treated like fine art.”
That was enough to prompt me to look elsewhere, even before Joe ended up with a corked bottle and the Aubert folks demanded that he send the offending cork even though he had been a longtime customer. (Guess who else no longer buys Aubert?) I don’t want to overpay for somebody’s new-oak addiction or fancy-bottle predilection or “fine art” ridiculousness
But I would have stopped buying Aubert anyway because I can find plenty enough great chardonnay in my financial wheelhouse. Mount Eden and Williams-Selyem and Ramey, for starters. Oh, and the ever-delicious Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch.