When it comes to success at being a person in the world, there's LeBron James, and then there's everybody else.
James exists on another level even during his downtime: The man gifts Ferrari Testarossas, goes on yacht vacations with his millionaire friends and gets advances from Kendrick Lamar and Drake with no embargo. The lone exception? His love of red wine. LeBron talks about wine during press conferences, uses it to settle bets and toasts with it to his All-Star buds. Sure, his vintages of choice run $300 to $500 a bottle, but that doesn't mean he's above posting them on Instagram.
"LeBron's got somebody really good in his corner telling him which wine to drink," says DLynn Proctor, who appeared in the 2012 documentary Somm and is currently an ambassador for Australia's Penfolds winery.
"He must love cabernets and cabernet-based blends—they're all from top producers," adds Dustin Wilson, a master sommelier who's worked in top restaurants around the country and is another Somm alum. Of the seven wines LeBron (and his wife, Savannah) have posted on Instagram, four are cabernet and five are from the Napa Valley—about an hour-and-a-half from the Golden State Warriors' Oracle Arena in Oakland.
"It's totally ironic," according to Cedric Nicaise, wine director at Eleven Madison Park (the New York City restaurant that currently claims the title of "best restaurant in the world"), that James has such an affinity for California wine.
"But there's no good wine coming out of Ohio."
Read below to learn what LeBron's taste in vino says about him and how you can get a sip of the high life with GOAT-worthy wines that don't require a black card.
The Well-Aged Classic
Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1988 ($350)
Dustin Wilson: Just a really fantastic wine, very ageable, and those vintages are both very, very good [LeBron has also tried the 1990 vintage]. They're different from the rest of the wines he's shared mostly because of the age—over time they'll become more mellow, soften up quite a bit. Dried fruits and dried leaves, tobacco, cedar. Spicy, leathery and smoky, but still very nuanced and beautiful in its aromatic profile.
Cedric Nicaise: The most classic, most important super-Tuscan. It's age that makes it an outlier in what he's drinking, so I would be interested to see if LeBron liked the way the wine showed itself with that much age. Younger cabernet tends to be more powerful, more fruit-dominant, whereas when you get to the stuff in the '80s, it shows the secondary characteristics—the leathery notes, tobacco—and becomes less powerful.
DLynn Proctor: Probably in my top five or 10 Italian wines ever produced. You can almost call it the most collected and heralded wine in all of Italy: It's a classic Bordeaux-style wine that shows LeBron is looking for some real-deal stuff. It lets me know that LeBron, having the rarefied air he does, drinks with a rarefied air too.
The Solid Standby
2013 Staglin Booth Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon ($200)
Dustin Wilson: Out of this group, this one would be the least interesting to me personally. It's a good, quality wine.
DLynn Proctor: Honestly I am a massive fan of it, maybe even more so than I am of their estate cabernet.
Cedric Nicaise: Staglin is a producer that was iconic and is now probably not as good as it used to be.
The A-List Go-To
2004 Opus One Napa Valley Proprietary Red ($300)
DLynn Proctor: I poured the 2010 Opus for Jay Z, and of course Mrs. Knowles-Carter as well, during Super Bowl 48. It's a legendary wine for California. Jay even raps about it [in "Show Me What You Got"—plus, it's reportedly on Mariah Carey's rider].
Cedric Nicaise: It was a joint project between the Rothschilds and Robert Mondavi that became like, the godfather of California cabernet—just exaggerating a little bit. It lent credence to cabernet. It's historic, it's amazing, but it's definitely a wine that has been "discovered."
Dustin Wilson: It was one of the early "cult" wines in Napa. Right out to the gate, it was expensive and highly sought after. It's a wine that's readily available, and it is high-quality. I personally think there are more interesting things out there, but it still has a really good name associated with it. Three hundred dollars is a little overpriced—I can think of other wines that I'd rather drink for $300.
The Critic's Darling
2009 Pontet-Canet, Pauillac ($300)
DLynn Proctor: I think the 2009 was the first Pontet-Canet to get 100 points—it's classic, classic Bordeaux. The score thing is neither here nor there, but their wines are always deserving of high acclaim. I'm glad he's drinking top-notch Bordeaux because it's really not in fashion anymore.
Cedric Nicaise: The 2009 vintage in Bordeaux is one of the most highly regarded—it got a lot of press and scored high. Drinking it young, you're definitely getting a more powerful, fruit-forward wine. I would say the common thread through all these wines is that they are very well-reviewed by wine publications. He's not in an inexpensive world of wine, but you can get much more expensive than what he's drinking. It seems like he's getting into wine and drinking some things that he thinks are really cool and interesting—it seems like genuine excitement.
Dustin Wilson: The '09 vintage was a really great vintage for Bordeaux, a really powerful, rich, ripe vintage that would definitely seem to fit his palate. If I could give him advice, which I wish I could, I would tell him to hold on to it a little longer. While it's a great wine, it needs a lot of time—it's kind of a young one to drink. He's cracking babies open.
The (Slightly) Adventurous Pick
2010 Colgin "IX Estate" Napa Valley Syrah ($395)
Dustin Wilson: I was really happy to see the Colgin on here. Colgin, I think, makes some of the top wines in all of Napa Valley. They do very small batches, so they're not the easiest wines to get your hands on.
Cedric Nicaise: One of my favorite producers in California—definitely one that gets high points every time.
DLynn Proctor: I wouldn't say syrah is unheard of in Napa, but obviously cabernet is king. This one is big, it's robust, it's from a classic 2010 vintage—a great year out here in Napa. It's a big meaty syrah; it's a cab drinker's syrah. I really wonder who put that on LeBron's radar, because it's almost unicorn-y in Napa to have a single vineyard syrah that's also small batch.
What Should Bron Try Next?
Cedric Nicaise: I would check out something from the To Kalon vineyard. It's one of the oldest continuously planted vineyards in Napa Valley. A producer I think he would really like is David Abreu.
Dustin Wilson: Something that's in the same realm of these cult-y, polished Napa-style wines: I'm a big fan of the Diamond Creek wines, or the Dalla Valle Maya. Levy & McClellan is another great winery—super, super small batch, very expensive but really good, and fits into that same profile.
How You Can Drink Like LeBron James
Dustin Wilson: It's like a baby Sassicaia—it's made at the same property, from the same estate. The blend is slightly different, but it's a really delicious wine, incredible value.
Cedric Nicaise: You can always look outside of Napa: Aglianico is a great varietal from Italy for people who like fuller-bodied wines.
Cedric Nicaise: A little-known wine that I think fits the bill.
Domaine Eden Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($40)
Cedric Nicaise: Mount Eden, just south of San Francisco in the Santa Cruz mountains, makes awesome cabernet for less money because you're not in Napa.
LeBron, if you're reading, you may be interested to know that all of these are available by the case.