Can we predict the next cult wine from Napa?

Napa Valley photo by  Malcolm Carlaw
Napa Valley photo by Malcolm Carlaw

Wine-Searcher recently reported on the exclusive Premier Napa Valley auction which is coming up in February – although not the biggest of its kind, the same event last year raised nearly $6 million (read the full article here ). It’s a great opportunity for fans of ‘cult’ Napa Cabernet Sauvignon based wines to attempt to purchase emerging superstar wines. Brands like Scarecrow and Shrader have emerged in recent years, firmly securing a place for their wines in the exclusive $1000+ per bottle club, often much more.

Big names and perfect scores

The biggest names in Napa include Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate, and their success is largely due to perfect scores from Robert Parker. Unfortunately this remains the only way to get one’s wines into the exclusive club. Parker’s review of barrel samples of the wines and consequent evaluation as ‘candidates for a perfect score’ is what defines them as cult wines.

Deep pockets

Harlan Estate (source: Wikipedia)
Harlan Estate

The allure of Napa Cabernets is quite different to that of a belting 100-point scoring Bordeaux First Growth though, and to experience it first-hand you’ll need to have a bit of inside knowledge, and deep pockets. These are wines made on a miniscule scale – their sheer scarcity makes them desirable to the collector. Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate have become household names, but similarly some of the breakthrough stars from last year’s Premiere auction are produced on such a tiny scale that they truly give new meaning to the phrase ‘boutique wine’.

Getting into the club

Ultimately appealing to Parker’s palate and being identified as a candidate for a perfect score is the first step towards gaining cult status. So while we can’t predict what wines Parker will identify as candidates for perfection next in order to secure an allocation before prices go stratospheric, we can learn a lot from the wines that he has identified so far. Once a wine is ‘in the club’ it will stay in the club – so even though Scarecrow and Shrader have not entered their wines for the auction this year, their fortunes are already secured.

Rare and special wines

Auctions like this one give us a glimpse of rare and special wines that are rarely seen here in Europe, and there is something very appealing about the very idea of an unknown wine that is produced in tiny quantities and sells for thousands a pounds a bottle. So few people will ever get to taste it, could it really be worth anywhere near what the collector paid? We’ll probably never know, but who wouldn’t love to find out?

One thought on “Can we predict the next cult wine from Napa?

  1. adeckervwe February 20, 2015 / 12:03 am

    Starting to see quite a few wines out here that would be classified as CULT wines with ABSOLUTELY NO RATINGS…100% word of mouth marketed…and they are DAMN GOOD. Look out for restaurant owners starting small production wineries. DEFINITELY look at the upcoming wave of 2nd, 3rd or 4thgeneration winemakers starting things up here. Some of Napa’s best winemakers have children that are fresh out of UC Davis, and their looking to make a name for themselves, free of family influence…not going to name any names, but I’m definitely seeing it in the works.

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