There is a lot of talk and rumors regarding whether or not the craze over cult wines has petered out or not. One argument for their declining popularity is of course the economy. Cult wines are typically purchased at auctions or online and when they are received they typically remain unopened in a cellar somewhere for notoriety not consumption. This sort of frivolous pastime is much less practical in this sort of economy and fewer people can afford such excess so creating these wines seems less tantalizing than it did in the 1990’s. Another argument for the decline is that in the face of all the recent national tragedies – who cares about wine? Many people feel that throwing away money on these valuable but relatively useless (unless you plan to drink them) wines, just does not make sense the way it used to.
Cult wines are one of those signs of money and they sort of scream luxury and decadence. Anyone who spends upwards of two thousand dollars on a single bottle of wine just to put into a collection must be crazy, right? You could equate it to stamp collecting or anything of that nature – it’s just much higher-end than typical hobbies, however, there are some stamps out there worth a lot of money. Hobby or not, people do seem to be growing a conscience when it comes to unnecessary expenses. Retailers are reporting a clear decline in their sales of cult wines but at the moment most causes are completely speculative. It will be interesting to see if this declining trend maintains itself when the next wave of Napa Valley cults hit the auction block.
At the moment there are arguably 8-12 wineries that are considered cult wineries – in that they are known for producing cult wines. All of these vineyards are in California’s Napa Valley and the majority of their cult wines are Cabernets. Most of the wines sell via mailing lists and in many cases these mailing lists have long waiting lists. Cult wines are always more expensive to purchase but it’s the limited amount of them that makes things so cut-throat. Getting your wine through one of these mailing lists may only run you $ 175 a bottle whereas purchasing from an auction can cost you 5 times that or better depending on the competition.
Cult wines are a symbol of prestige in many circles – especially upscale restaurants. The prestige of having a cult wine on the wine list is enormous, not to mention that restaurant markups allow them to sell certain bottles at auction prices for no good reason. If you can get on a mailing list, that’s the best way to get your cult wines but if not a restaurant may be more financially accessible than an auction but either way, you will be paying far more than what the wine is actually worth. Cult wines are a status symbol and as a layperson who enjoys drinking wine as opposed to collecting, getting your hands on a cult wine may be worth the cost gastronomically but for something so fleeting, can you really justify such a purchase?
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