A Perfectionist Fulfills His Dream

By Robert Parker In 1984, Bill Harlan was a successful real estate developer and Napa Valley resort owner who decided he wanted to produce the greatest wine in California, if not the world. He bought 240 acres in Oakville, planted 40 with Bordeaux varietals, and brought in top-drawer winemaker Bob Levy, as well as consultant Michel Rolland ("Parker on Wine," Sept. 3).

Harlan produced three vintages before he deemed one worthy of sale. Since that 1990 release, four vintages of Harlan Estate Proprietary Red have earned perfect ratings of 100. Using the search engine on, you can find merchants with Harlan for sale, but be prepared to pay up. Harlan has never produced more than 2,000 cases a year.

Harlan Estate Proprietary Red 1998

93 points. Harlan's first 100% cabernet sauvignon boasts an opaque plum/purple color as well as a sumptuous nose of espresso, mineral, blueberry, blackberry, tobacco, licorice, Asian spice, and roasted meat. In the mouth, it is seamless and full-bodied, with an unctuous texture, gorgeously sweet tannin, and layers of concentration. Anticipated maturity: now through 2030. $400-$700

Harlan Estate Proprietary Red 1995

99 points. This opaque purple wine, 80% cabernet sauvignon, offers up a nose of smoke, coffee beans, blue and black fruits, and roasted herbs. It is full-bodied, with an exquisite equilibrium. Anticipated maturity: now through 2027. $700-$1,200

Harlan Estate Proprietary Red 2001

100 points. It features an inky purple color and a bouquet of lead pencil shavings interwoven with coffee, new saddle leather, melted licorice, cedarwood, black currant liqueur, and violets. Its explosive richness, full-bodied texture, and fabulous purity are the stuff of legend. Anticipated maturity: 2009 to 2028+. $850-$1,400

Harlan Estate Proprietary Red 2002

100 points. This complex wine exhibits notes of cedar, black currant liqueur, smoke, and graphite. Full-bodied, opulent, and voluptuous, it has everything one could ever want in a great cabernet sauvignon-based wine. Already drinkable, it promises to evolve for 25 or 30 years. $975-$2,000

Harlan Estate Proprietary Red 1997

100 points. A blend of 80% cabernet sauvignon, with merlot and cabernet franc, this profoundly rich wine boasts aromatics of vanilla, minerals, coffee, blackberries, licorice, and cassis. In the mouth, layer after layer unfolds powerfully yet gently. Acidity, tannin, and alcohol are well-balanced. The finish exceeds one minute. Anticipated maturity: now through 2030. $1,100-$1,800

Wines rated from 96-100 are extraordinary; 90-95, excellent; 80-89, above average to very good.

Robert Parker is the world's most influential wine critic. Visit to see tens of thousands of tasting notes, buy his books, or subscribe to his newsletter, The Wine Advocate.

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