Top-quality Harlan Estate vintages impress even the most experienced and judicious of wine critics. Tasting six Harlan Estate wines in 2018, Master of Wine Jancis Robinson says many exceeded her expectations. “Only the prejudiced would reject them as too sweet and too alcoholic,” she adds. While the price of these bottles is quite high compared to most other examples of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Robinson says the extra cost is generally worth it. These wines are deeply fragrant, powerful, and age-worthy–a tempting combination.
If you’ve always wanted to taste wines from Harlan Estate or are looking to expand your existing Harlan collection, this article will guide you to the best Harlan Estate vintages in history. While all Harlan vintages are high in quality, a handful of years are particularly exceptional and valuable.
Harlan Estate: A Napa Wine of Legendary Status
Why are so many wine enthusiasts fascinated with this cult California producer? Many people covet Harlan wines because they are made with the same level of care as some of Bordeaux’s famous first growths. Founder Bill Harlan was inspired by the first-growth estates in the Médoc and wanted to create a blend that would equal the legendary wines from this region. In 1984, he planted the estate’s first vines: a traditional Bordelais mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot plantings.
The finest Harlan Estate vintages often taste very ripe in their youth, full of rich blackberry and gripping tannin.
Located in the Oakville appellation in the heart of California’s Napa Valley, the 36-acre Harlan Estate is in a prime winegrowing spot. The vines thrive in the rocky, fast-draining mix of volcanic soil and sedimentary bedrock. Because the estate is located at a high elevation on southeastern-facing hills, the fruit is exposed to ample sunlight during the summer, producing grapes that are fully ripe and deeply concentrated in flavor. The terroir, combined with careful winemaking, produces wines that are heavily perfumed, intense in flavor, and elegantly balanced. The finest Harlan Estate vintages often taste very ripe in their youth, full of rich blackberry and gripping tannin. As they mature, the flavors meld and the tannins soften to create one of the most refined and alluring wines in the world.
Harlan Estate wines are also rare and extremely valuable on the secondary market. Each year, the producer releases just between 1,200 to 2,000 cases of its flagship Harlan Estate wine. Demand often far outpaces supply. A limited number of collectors can buy these bottles directly from the estate’s exclusive mailing list, and, of these bottles, only a small number end up on the secondary market for resale. Getting your hands on these wines is difficult, but it’s also worth the time and effort, especially when you hold out for the very best Harlan Estate vintages.
The Greatest Harlan Estate Vintages in History
Harlan Estate is a relatively young winery. The first commercial vintage of its flagship wine was released in 1990, so the producer doesn’t have as much history as some Old-World estates. However, Harlan has accomplished a great deal in a short period of time. Although fewer than 30 flagship Harlan Estate vintages have ever been released, the majority of them received very high scores from renowned wine critics. According to average critic scores on Wine-Searcher, five vintages of Harlan’s flagship wine (these scores do not apply to the estate’s second label, The Maiden) received exceptionally high scores of 96 points or more. The highest-rated flagship Harlan Estate vintages are:
Wine critics have praised many other Harlan Estate vintages as well. While the following vintages aren’t rated as highly as the ones in the list above, they each received a score of 95 points, indicating extraordinary quality:
Any of the vintages above are excellent options for fans of cult California wines. Harlan Estate vintages made in the past ten years will age for at least 20 years, likely more. Vintages made between 2000 and 2010 are beginning to develop complex, mature flavors, but still have plenty of aging potential ahead of them. Many wines made in the 1990s have reached peak maturity already, so they’re a great option for those who don’t want to wait for their wines to mature or who want a glimpse into how well Harlan Estate wines can age.
How to Start a Collection of Harlan Estate Wines
The primary way to get your hands on a Harlan Estate bottle has typically been to join the producer’s exclusive mailing list (or make friends with someone on the list). This is easier said than done, as it often takes two or three years to clear the membership waitlist. Even if you manage to get on the coveted mailing list, there is no guarantee that you’ll get the bottles you want. The best Harlan Estate vintages always sell out quickly. To make things more complicated, if you take a break from buying allocations or are caught flipping bottles at auction immediately after buying them, you can be removed from the mailing list.
Buying older wines often costs more, but you’ll be able to enjoy the mature flavors of aged wine without putting in the time to age the wine yourself.
Today, you don’t necessarily have to join the mailing list to buy the best Harlan Estate vintages. Trustworthy online retailers have made it easier to find top-quality bottles on the secondary market. While Harlan wines usually still sell out quickly, if you know which vintages you’re looking for, you can ask your wine retailer to let you know when that vintage is in stock. Another benefit of buying Harlan Estate vintages from online sellers on the secondary market is that you can buy older vintages that aren’t available on the mailing list anymore. Buying older wines often costs more, but you’ll be able to enjoy the mature flavors of aged wine without putting in the time to age the wine yourself. Some online sellers also offer professional storage services, allowing you to keep your Harlan collection safe while it ages under strict environmental controls. With these tools, you can start a Harlan collection that any cult California wine fan would be proud to own.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.