Harlan Estate Vintage Advice

Hey guys,

I’m new to the forum and to wine in general. I’ve had the chance to get out to Napa/Sonoma a couple of times and taste and learn a lot, and started putting myself on some of the more selective allocation and wait lists. I was lucky enough to get off the wait list at Harlan and I was planning on picking up some wine. I was allocated 3 pack boxes of 2011 Maiden.

I was wondering: Has Harlan released their 2012 wines yet, and do I need to buy Maiden to get allocated the Estate?

If the answer to both was no, I was thinking of picking up a 2010 Estate on the secondary market, skipping the 2011 Maiden, and buying 2012 Maiden/Estate when it is released, since I know the 2010 and 2012 growing years were much kinder than 2011, and if I’m going to spend all that money I really want to buy a vintage showcasing what Harlan can do.

Basically, I’m trying to buy stuff that is very collectible and has cellaring potential for 10-20 years+. Not sure if the Maiden (in general) fits that, or if I would be better off just buying single bottles of Estate.

I would love to hear any thoughts you have, especially on the three different vintages and the differences between the Maiden and Estate.



Have you had a chance to try the Maiden previously? Do you know if you like that style?

I ask because I went down the same path you did - several years ago. I was new to wine, and signed up for like virtually every list I read about here on WB. Whether it was SQN, Harlan, Screagle, etc.

And like you, I was “lucky” enough to get off the wait list (though I didn’t count myself “lucky”, as my wait was only 3-6 months, which told me they were pricing their wines right at market value). I then tried to figure out if I wanted to buy something. Except those prices were very high for wine I’d never tried.

So I spent some time gathering as much info as I could on those wines and came to the conclusion that they probably did not fit my pallet in any way shape or form. Nor did most of the lists I’d signed up for.

Yeah I guess I wasn’t really lucky either, my wait was only about 3 months and I know there was a lot of controversy over the pricing.

I know I like the big bold California Cabs: Like I said I haven’t tasted Harlan but I’ve had Quintessa and more recently Ovid and Schafer Hillside select. So I’m pretty sure Harlan will fit my pallet, I’m just trying to figure out what is the best combination of stuff to buy since it is expensive. Mainly it’s: do I need to buy the 2011 Maiden to get the Estate allocation going forward or could instead buy some 2010 stuff since I haven’t been all that impressed by the 2011s I’ve tasted (Hillside being the big one).

My advice would be to taste the wine before you get on the list at that price level. I was on the Harlan list for a few years and dropped off for a couple of reasons (a great deal of it cost). . But, its a pretty big investment if you haven’t ever tasted the wine.

If you’re buying the wine to drink, I’d be very careful spending $700 on Harlan when you can get other great “cult” cabs like Scarecrow for $285 on their list. There are also many, many tremendous napa cabs out there for under $200, especially with 2012 and 2013 vintages available. I recently had a blind tasting of Screaming Eagle and Harlan, amongst 15-20 other great cabs that cost less (i.e. $125-$300). Screaming Eagle barely made the top 5 and Harlan was far down. My point is that if you want great, age worthy cabs to drink, you don’t need to pay $700. If you want to be a collector, and you have unlimited resources, that is a different story.

I’d suggest looking a '12-'13 Outpost True, '12-'13 Realm Dr. Crane & To Kalon, anything Schrader, '12-'13 Myriad GIII & Dr Crane (plus Elysian), '12-'13 Maybach Materium, anything Bevan Wildfoote & Tin Box and Scarecrow.


Hi Chris -

I agree with the above - there are so many amazing wines “even” at the price level of The Maiden. If you’re still looking for more after trying the names mentioned above (I’d add Kapcsandy, VHR too), then try a bottle of Harlan. If you like the Harlan style, toss in Promontory and the Bonds too. Harlan’s a great wine but given the price there’s the choice of getting say a three pack each of say Realm, VHR, and Bevan for the price of one Harlan threepack.

Harlan put out the 2013 offering last summer. The 2010s appear to be reasonably available on the secondary market at a price not too far from the new release price.

Hey Chris -
Welcome to the board!
As others have mentioned, Harlan is a pretty expensive place to start your wine collecting. Similar to what others have suggested, I would buy a bottle of Maiden and Harlan in the secondary market, with some age on it, and if you think it’s worth the money, then definitely get on the list.
However, I think that if you try some other big Napa cabs, such as Maybach, Corra, Scarecrow, Spottswoode, Myriad, Switchback ridge, Hourglass, Rivers-Marie, to name a few, you might find that you can spend a fraction of the cost of Harlan (say $95-150) and have some amazing wine that you enjoy just as much, if not more. That’s what happened to me, anyway. Check out commerce corner here as a great place to start.

Ok thanks for the advice everyone. Was definitely planning on hitting Schrader next time I’m out there, I’ll have to look into some of those other names as well.

Yeah I kind of wasn’t sold on the 2011s just because the price/value doesn’t seem there, especially at a top producer like Harlan. I tasted the 2011 Hillside Select which is in the same ballpark at the Maiden and it was very underwhelming to me.

I know that the $700+ for a bottle of Estate is kind of crazy, but let me ask, how much would that change depending on your age? I’m 22 in a week so I have the luxury of time, and my main focus has been building a cellar that will really come into its own around the time I’m 40. If I’m looking to put a bottle to bed for 20, 25 years plus, does it make sense to invest in a bottle or so of a Harlan or similar a year?

Assuming this is for you, and not for investment and resale, it’s just a subjective decision how much you want to spend today for 20 year old Harlan 20 years from now. I think the candid answer most people here would give you is no, it isn’t recommended.

(1) You don’t know if you like the wine, or how much more or less you’d like the wine with that amount of age. The answer will depend on the vintage, as well.

(2) You also don’t know what you are going to like 20 years from now. Most of us don’t, of course, but I think that’s more applicable to a 22 year old just getting into fine wine than it is a 50 year old who has been into it for a long time and tried everything. It is very common for people to get into wine liking certain styles, and then over time either evolving or discovering new things and finding they aren’t very fond of their favorites from their early days of journeying into wine.

(3) Current release pricing is quite a bit more than some good vintages from two decades ago cost, at retail or auction, today. 1999 Harlan can be had for $475, 1996 for $575. Those are probably better vintages of Harlan than 2011 or 2012 will be, and you have 20 years of time value of money plus storage costs saved.

(4) Unless you have a basement which stays at a good temperature all year, the cost of storing fine wines is pretty high, whether purchasing, powering and repairing/replacing cabinets in your house, or renting off site.

The sound advice would be to start exploring good wines of different grapes, parts of the world, price, style and age. Discover what you like, and see how that evolves as well. Don’t limit yourself all or mostly to the Harlan / Schrader / First Growth / Grand Cru type wines, find things that interest you at all kinds of price points.

Also, challenge yourself periodically to tasting wines blind. Do you really prefer $700 Harlan over $100 Switchback Ridge when you taste them without knowing which is which? Do you prefer it by a lot, or only slightly?

When you get an offer for a great wine like Harlan (and it is a superb wine, though the style is a bit polarizing and not everyone loves it), there is a tendency to feel as though you’ve got to get it and you can’t let it pass by. But you will always be able to buy great wines for $500+, that door isn’t closing in the next few years. Sure, some prices of this and that will go up and down, but the right to buy something like Harlan for $700 isn’t something you should feel like you have to jump on.

I hope that is helpful and you don’t take it as any sort of attack or scold. We all know what that feels like, that rush of excitement getting into wine and wanting to taste and to own the world’s great wines. But you can’t just rush to the top of K2 when you first decide to start climbing, you want to practice, learn, try some lower peaks, get some experience and knowledge, find out what you can do. K2 will still be there once you’re ready.

I personally don’t think Harlan will last 25 years but I’ve never had one of the modern Cali Hyper-Cabs at 25 years old…

What I will guarantee though is that if you’re 22 you palate will have drastically changed by the time you’re 40. Don’t lay down Harlan estate at 22, lay down La Chapelle, Hermitage, La’La’s, Ridge, Heitz, Dunn etc… If you want to buy a bottle a year to lay down that long at Harlan prices, get a Grange.

I recently had 2010 Harlan, and I think the winery may have figured that you shouldn’t be blowing everyone away. It was a dead ringer for Bordeaux.
Not sold that buying an older one may clue you in to newer vintages. Just my 2 cents.

If you’re looking for wines to cellar that will be mature and wonderful at age 20, then first taste a variety of wines that in fact are 20 years old to see what you like. Some people don’t really like twenty-year-old red wines; they prefer younger, bigger, riper wines. While something like a Harlan may “age” for 20 years, it may not necessarily improve for your palate past 4-5 years, for example.


All very fair points, and don’t worry I didn’t take that as attacking at all, I really appreciate having the chance to discuss/debate the merits.

I’m lucky that I have access to a large climate controlled cellar, so storage at this point is not an issue. I’ve also had a chance to taste some bottles with age on them, including a 2000 California Cabernet (can’t remember the winery but it was a Hundred Acre-type place), a 1998 Bordeaux, and a 2002 Domaine Jean-Louis Hermitage, so at this point I’m fairly sure that I like bottles with age on them, especially in a Cab/Bordeaux style. But there are times I do like a young, tannin-heavy cab.

I also should say that I’m not exclusively focused on the Harlan’s, Schraders, etc. I have a bunch of wine in my cellar right now under $150, including some really cool White Burgundies and Rieslings as well as Red Car Pinots that are among my favorite daily wines right now.

But I think several of you have made a very good point that it would be stupid to spend that kind of money on wine without knowing if I like the style. So HDH has a bottle of 2002 Maiden for $180 right now, and with my birthday next week I figured that would be a good opportunity to pick up a Harlan with some age on it and see how I like it.

I wouldn’t be buying any white Burgundy to age (and I’m not, despite really loving the wines when they’re mature). If you haven’t already, look into premature oxidation, aka premox.

For CA cab that will go the distance, I’d be buying Ridge Monte Bello, Diamond Creek, Corison Kronos, and maybe Dunn if you like the style. Those should all be available (Kronos not as widely), they’re a fraction of the cost of Harlan, and they can become really great wines as they age.

Yeah don’t worry I’m not trying to age White Burgundies or Rieslings more than a couple of years, just using use that as an example as to how I’m trying to build out my collection over a variety of price points, varietals, and regions.

Good German Riesling can age 20+ years easy, and you can get a case of it for the price of one Harlan.


Chris, If you are looking for age worthy CA Cabernet for your cellar, I would avoid wines like Maybach, Shrader, Myriad, Hourglass, Switchback Ridge, Rivers Marie and many more, and yes I would include Harlan as well. They are certainly all flamboyant wines, but not necessarily the best cellaring candidates. The best Napa Cabs for aging are indeed Corison, Dunn, Montelena Estate, and Forman to name a few, and all reasonably priced.

So, I’m a value guy.
And value comes at all price points. There’s good and bad value at $20 per bottle and there’s good and bad value at $1,000 per bottle and at $10,000 per value
Price tells you little about value.

Having said (or written) this, I think Harlan represents terrible value.

I got on the Harlan list in 1993 when it was like $40 or so (can’t even remember anymore), and I got on it because Harlan was highly recommended and the price for the score (yeah, I cared about scores in 1993!) was well under the 1st growth Bordeaux stuff. Calif represented value relative to Bordeaux. I got off the list after the 2005 vintage (really I should have dropped years earlier but got enticed with the offerings of mags, etc). because the price had become really excessive (maybe $500 at the time?) relative to other great wine regions. And also relative to other very similar great Calif wines.

So, as a value guy, looking at Harlan as a $700+ bottle, you have to ask yourself (or I’d ask myself), what can I buy with that $700 in Calif and also in other great wine regions. Northern Rhone. Can buy the best of Chave or Guigal at half or well less than half (and I like those better) or can buy these with real age on them for less or the same. Bordeaux. Can buy many of the 1st growths from lots of vintages (in auction) for the same and sometimes less. Burgundy. With the exception of the silly stuff, can buy some amazing $200 - $300 Burgs that will stand the test of time. Calif. wow. Some of the greatest of the Calif Cabs are out there for $200 - $300. Can buy ridge “monte bello” in '90, '91, '92 for like 1/3 this price. Can also buy Scarecrow, Schafer ‘hillside’, etc, for 1/3 to 1/2.

People seem to treat wine different than other consumer goods. You wouldn’t pay 2x more than equivalent substitutions in any other market, why this one?

Why pay up for a massively overpriced bottle of juice, except to taste once?

False. Have you had the 1994 Harlan recently? It’s one of the best domestic wines I’ve ever tasted (bottle last year, so just over 20 years old). I used to think like you, but at least in the case of Harlan (can’t speak for other cults) I was totally wrong about their age-worthiness.

The best Napa Cabs for aging are indeed Corison, Dunn, Montelena Estate, and Forman to name a few, and all reasonably priced.

Agree with all of these (don’t know Forman), but not to the exclusion of others.

Excellent post, thank you. I had thought that the Estate prices were on par with the first growth French stuff, but I didn’t realize it was that much more expensive. And when I honestly think about it, I should be buying wine for myself and what I want to drink, because it would be a waste to invest that kind of time and money to become a “collector”, and I very much doubt that even in my wine-tasting infancy I would enjoy an Estate 2-3x more than an Ovid or another excellent California Cab.

I did treat myself to a bottle of 2005 Maiden, just to see what the style is like with some age on it. If I like it, maybe I’ll pick up some Maiden in great vintages off the list or secondary markets (like 2010). But otherwise I’m just going to try and keep tasting as much as I can and finding wines I like and have good value.

I probably should start diversifying my cellar a bit anyways too (it’s 90% California at the moment), so I’m going to try and start learning more about Rhône, Bordeaux, and Burgundy.