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Luxury Wines From California’s Central Coast

Good wines for a great price. That’s been the hallmark of California’s Central Coast ever since it was planted in the 1960s and ’70s. These wines often punch way above their weight class, and there are dozens of bottlings for around $35 that would TKO Napa Valley wines retailing for $100 or more.

But more and more Central Coast winemakers are confident enough to start charging more than $100 (in some cases, almost $300) for their top wines. This isn’t entirely new: Sine Qua Non, Sea Smoke and other cult estates tipped this scale long ago, but the tide is rising faster than ever.

Leading the pack is Patrimony, the $275 Cabernet Sauvignon about to be released by the Daou brothers of Paso Robles. Then, there are two $185 wines (a Cab and a blend called Relevant Red) by Crown Point in Happy Canyon, a project owned by entrepreneur Roger Bower and run by Harlan Estate alum Adam Henkel. Broadside’s $125 Ephemera, a Cab from Paso, is another, and there are certainly more to come.

The results are most noticeable in the density and depth of these wines, which will age for decades to come.

Aside from ego and the desire to compete directly with Napa’s knee-knocking prices, the higher price relates directly to the meticulous production regimes of each wine.

“I was hired to develop the land and plant [a] vineyard and build out a winery where we can make the best wine we can possibly make,” says Henkel. He’s planted exclusive clones, installed a range of top-shelf fermenters and barrels, uses hot and cold glycol lines to help with “polymerization of the tannic chain,” hand-picks grapes into tiny lugs, and ages Crown Point in barrel for 26 months.

Daniel Daou spent nine years selecting clones, isolating his own yeasts and studying phenolics, and he ages the wine in oak for 30 months. The barrels include one made from trees he picked out himself from a forest in France.

To me, the results are most noticeable in the density and depth of these wines, which will age with utmost grace for decades to come.

These price leaps don’t help the everyday consumer. But there remains a broad range of price points coming from the region, everything from decent under-$15 grocery store red blends and awesome $20 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays to plenty of amazing wines $35 and up. The high-priced trend shouldn’t have a direct impact on your wallet, unless you seek those luxury wines out.

So long as the wines compare favorably with those from points north and the Old World, these big-ticket wines will likely help the region compete on the global market. Like it or not, expensive wines grab the attention of tastemakers from Los Angeles to London, and they help shine light on an entire region. And maybe one day, this upward tick will get people to stop asking if Paso Robles or the Santa Ynez Valley is “near Napa.”

Budget Busters For The Cellar

Broadside 2013 Ephemera Cabernet Sauvignon (Paso Robles); $125, 95 points. Deep black spice and fruit, sexy chocolate and espresso notes; massages the palate with tannins. Drink 2017–2033.

Crown Point 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara); $185, 96 points. Black as night, elegant in structure, with olallieberry, baking and Asian spices, beef jerky, coffee foam and black plum reduction. Drink 2018–2033.

Patrimony 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Adelaida District); $275, 96 points. Soy, chocolate chips, coffee syrup and crushed lilacs lead into soft, oak-laced structure featuring blueberry, cocoa and pepper spice. Drink 2018–2033.

Note: After reviewing luxury-level wines that he can’t himself afford, Contributing Editor Matt Kettmann uses the extra heavy bottles for bicep curls in his Santa Barbara garage.