Rating And Collecting ‘Cult’ Wines

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - April 15, 2009
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Have you had a “cult wine” before? What is a cult wine? Are they spooky wines that have occult symbols on the labels? Do you have to say a prayer before opening it?

No, but you may have to pay a large sum of money.

To me, a cult wine must have a consistent 95-100 point rating from one or several of the most influential wine critics such as The Wine Advocate (Robert Parker), Wine Spectator orBurghound (Allen Meadows), Decanter and Vino Sense (yours truly, and just kidding). In our fast-paced world, people want to have some informed idea about the quality of the wine they are paying for. Despite the skeptical and negative attitudes many wine professionals and seasoned drinkers exhibit toward the rating system and opinions given in these publications, a subscription to any of these sources is money well spent in order for a neophyte to make a decent and informed choice. It’s easy for anyone to pick up one these newsletters and scan for ratings. It’s reasonable to think that if a wine gets a high score, it must be good. And when a wine gets HUGE ratings (read close to 100 points), it usually causes a frenzy.


Another character that cult wines share is a stellar reputation for quality and resale value among the cognoscenti or collector circles. This is not mutually exclusive from ratings, but the status of a wine can only increase if a particular circle of luminaries in the industry deem a wine as “collectable.”

Collectors also are prone to spreading the word around to friends about wines they have that are so good but are not easily accessible. When a collector is told he is not supposed to be able to get it, he will try even harder to obtain it. This rating and reputation creates a following that will stop at nothing to obtain a bottle - those who have a somewhat religious devotion to the wine. Wineries usually have a mailing list, and they also have waiting lists. Some cult wines have a waiting list for the waiting list.

A cult wine also is produced in minute quantities. Quantities range from a couple thousand cases to a couple of barrels for the whole world to sip up. The tiny supply combined with a huge demand results in pricing for the wine that is simply astronomical. This term is most often used in conjunction with but not limited to California wines. Wines such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, Colgin, Scarecrow, Hundred Acre, Bryant Family, Dalle Valle and Araujo are examples from California. But outside of California, there are plenty of others. Krug Clos du Mesnil, Romanee Conti, Marojallia, Petrus, Le Pin from France; Leonetti Cellars from Washington State; Mollydooker Velvet Glove and Chris Ringland Shiraz from Australia; Masseto and Messorio from Italy ... the list goes on.

I have had the good fortune to taste many of these gems with friends over the years, and I must say they were all extremely well-made wines. Whether or not I would spend the money to buy a bottle on my own is a different question. Are they worth it? That is up to you to decide. In my never-to-be-humble estimation, I would leave some to other devotees. And others I would gladly stand in line or say a prayer.

Recommendations: 2007 Condesa Eylo Rueda ($15) This Spanish white made from Verdejo has a lovely combination of sweet citrus and melons melded into a light body and exceedingly refreshing palate. It’s like a light Pinot Grigio, but better. 2006 Stolpman ‘l’Avion’ ($39) This wildly exotic blend of 98 percent Roussanne and 2 percent Viognier launches itself from the glass with a huge nose of sweet apricot, peaches and flowers. It is rich and mouth-coating with intense flavors of white peach and sweet pineapple. This is a very rich and decadent wine that you will not soon forget.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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