Like most wine consumers, the typical bottle we drink on any given week night is not expensive. It probably averages around $15. We get to the weekend and we may want to splurge a bit after a full week of work, so we will spend a bit more. On the holidays or a special occasion we may get up to the $30 or $40 range, and our guess is, most wine consumers have similar standards and patterns. In fact, the average retail price for a bottle of wine purchased in the United States just recently crossed the $10 threshold for the first time last year.
On very special occasions, though, we may get to the upper reaches of wine prices, those bottles $75 and above, the ultra-premium category. We often get the question, “Can you tell the difference between a $20 bottle and one that costs $100?” Most times yes, although there are always outliers on both ends that can skew one’s judgment. Where it gets tough for us at times, though, is telling the difference between a $100 bottle and one that is priced at $500 or even more. Once you get to the very high end like that, all wine is great but it becomes a bit nuanced at those levels. While most of us rarely drink at that level, if ever, here are some producers to look for in the ultra-premium category. Without selecting individual bottlings, these are winemakers that simply do a superior job!
Pride Mountain Vineyards is a wine we will always select when shopping in the very high end. Located on the Napa, Sonoma County line, high in the Mayacamas Mountains, Pride does an extraordinary job. The wines are delicious across the board, all made with meticulous care and attention to detail. We carry the wines in the shop, and while they’re expensive, averaging around $100 a bottle, they are worth every penny. They also dwell a bit below the radar, not all that well known. Their tasting room in Napa is by appointment only, but is stunningly beautiful.
Long Shadows Winery in Walla Walla is another excellent producer of ultra-premium wines. The tasting room and winery are stunning, and since they started, they have released wine after wine, vintage after vintage of some of the most sought-after wine made in the Northwest. The brain child of founder and CEO Allen Shoup, they are in a league of their own. One insider tip, though, is they also bottle wine under the Nine Hats label which are delicious and priced under $25 per bottle.
For decades, Jordan Winery in Sonoma County has been producing just two varietals, Chardonnay and Cabernet, and they are very good at it! While expensive, the wines show extraordinary balance and elegance that sets them apart in the big world of wine. While not as rich and opulent as some from California, the Jordan wines are extraordinary in an understated way that makes them worth the investment, every time.
Querciabella from the Marema area of Tuscany is and has been, for some 20 years, one of our favorites. While like Long Shadows their lower priced bottles are wonderful, their higher end bottlings are simply without compare. When you are looking for an ultra-premium bottling for a special occasion and your taste is for wonderful Sangiovese based wines, this is the winery to look for. Year in and year out they excel at all they produce.
The wines from Jean Louis Chave, located in the Rhone Valley of France, are delicious and again, worth every cent of what you pay for them. The Chave Estate bottled wines are some of the most difficult to get your hands on, our allocation each year is small by any standard. The Chave winery goes back more than 100 years, and both their white and red Rhone Valley estate productions are simply extraordinary.
For the first time this year we received an allocation of Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne Winery. Kosta Browne bottles from vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations in Sonoma County, an area revered for some of the best Pinot Noir grown on the planet. And the Kosta Browne Winery does that fruit justice at every turn, crafting Pinot Noir that is sleek and silky, and rich and powerful at the same time.
Whether it is for yourself to consume and celebrate the most special of occasions or as a special gift for someone that really loves great wine, this list is the place to start. There are more too that occupy this wine pantheon. Stop by the shop or consult with your favorite wine professional to discover all the possibilities when the time is right.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.