Do You Agree With This Definition of "Cult Wine"?

Hello. It’s been a while since I posted at WB. However, I wanted to run something past this group in particular since many of you have been observing the wine biz for a very long time.

Do you find any fault with the following definition of “Cult Wine”?

For the past 25 years, American “Cult Wines” have generally been defined and understood as possessing the the following three qualities:

  1. They sell out quickly at prices far exceeding the average price for their category
  2. The total or large percentage of production is sold direct to the consumer
  3. They receive very high numerical ratings from Robert Parker, Jr.

“Cult Wines” do often possesses other qualities such as:

  1. Relatively small production
  2. Made or advised by a famous consulting winemaker
  3. High ratings in the Wine Spectator
  4. Flipped by consumers to make a profit

These last qualities, while common in some combination, are not necessary individually or in any combination for the wine to meet the “Cult Wine” definition.

Thanks for your feedback!

I think its a little bit subjective.

I do agree that WAS the definition of Cult wines. However I do not think you could develop a Cult brand today that met the majority of your criteria.

Just look at some of the wines that are popular around here and in bigger markets - Sandlands, Dirty & Rowdy, MacDonald, Ultramarine, among others. Other than selling out quickly and small production they have nothing in common with your your definition of cult wines.

I’d add that not all cult wines (the world over) stand the test of time. Tastes change, or maybe it was never that good in the first place, and the price escalates beyond all common sense.

I’d liken it to music, that styles change, but some acts survive the changes because they’ve established a firm enough fan base who think they have talent worth supporting. They might even be quite good at what they do.

I agree with everything except #1. Plenty of cult wines don’t sell out, at least not any more.

So a cult wine needs to have a high rating from parker?

Or at least they would of had a high rating once before that makes them sky rocket


I think your definition works for new world, particulary California, high end wines. For old world wines it does not work for numerous reasons. European wines that are considered “cult” wines are really geeky insider wines. Closer to the real definition of “cult” which are low production wines coveted by a small number of enthusiasts, like Valentino trebbiano or Pepe MdA.

Pretty much.


The original post really highlights the fact that there are different categories of cults. I think that was a pretty good definition for California cults (which mainly means cabs).

On the European side, I guess you can add Cappellano Pie Franco to the list. And Giacosa and Allemand.

I think it doesn’t matter.

The only true cult wine in the US is Scholium. There are 53 members of the cult, unless some have dropped out, which is permitted. If you do not know about the 53, then you do not deserve to be in the cult.

I guess I’m used to a much more limited usage of the term revolving around California Cabernet.

I think in this day of a much more active and broader internet, there are actually two definitions: the older “traditional” definition that Tom outlines, and the newer definition that can make a cult through internet geek social media (e.g., here), in which case the critics are behind the curve.

And also as Kelly mentions, there’s a real difference between New World cult, and Old World cult.

That’s a fair summary. The so-called Cali Cults of the Parker era are actually pretty easy to find. Try finding Juge these days. [cry.gif]

Only this one:

There is no shortage, except artificially induced ones, of certain Cult Cabs like Shafer HSS.

I wish I could disagree with Greg’s statement, but I’ve felt the pain in my wallet of a few perfect and near perfect scores for Lokoya. [cry.gif] Look at how their release prices have skyrocketed to over $300 after that run of ParkerPerfects for several years plus one of his tasting retrospectives.

I don’t think anybody would call Shafer HSS a “cult” wine and most definitely not Lokoya.

Basically the idea is that the wines are small production and are not generally available through “normal” retail channels in that you can’t just walk into a shop and buy one. Most of all, for one reason or another, demand is higher than supply. That is what made some of them so expensive - I don’t think any of them started out priced as they are today. And it applies to wines from all over the world.

The CA cult Cabs of the 1990s were created in part by high scores from Parker, but scores alone weren’t enough to make every one of them “cult” wines, although the scores did encourage many wineries to increase their prices.

As mentioned, many of the CA cult Cabs have fallen from fashion these days and are now available for the asking.

Most of all, I don’t think it’s so much a formula as it is a recital of things that the so-called “cult” wines have in common. People have tried to make small-production, high-priced wines perhaps in the hope of creating a new “cult” wine, but those efforts have rarely been successful. All that usually happens is that there’s another expensive, small production wine on the market.

I don’t think a wine needs a high rating from critics to considered a ‘cult’ wine. As an example off the top of my head, and I’m sure there are better examples, I will mention Clos Rougeard ‘Le Bourg’. That is quite a ‘culty’ wine per my own definition but only gets medium to high scores and isn’t tasted in every vintage, yet is very costly compared to other Loire Cab Franc’s and almost impossible to find - in most markets that I know of anyway

The Franco reference is a good one, John, but it brought an immediate smile to my face. Pie Franco? High Parker scores? Hell, no! It is a cult wine because people are foolishly tripping all over each other NOT to award it and its cantinamate, Pie Rupestris, scores of any stripe…

Then, of course, we have the separate AMERICAN criteria for New World and Old World cult wines, and the question as to whether America is the only country on earth that forms cults around wines. My suspicion is yes, but it would be interesting to try and cite examples of wines that the French, Italians or Germans fetish and try to hoard for themselves.

Tom, status-seeking and name-dropping are both part of your equation as well. Screaming Eagle has never been the best California Cabernet, nor are SQN’s Syrah and Grenache in the running for the world’s best. Rarity, status and bragging rights drive both to a significant degree, and that is true not only for those two producers, but many less rare and less expensive producers as well, as evidenced by the obsession with mailing-list releases on wine boards.

Lastly, I am not sure how you might want to factor in the point that several make above, which is that many former cult wines have priced themselves out of that status…

Pie Franco Cappellano = rare and coveted by a small number. Quality wise not even close to the Top 5 in Langa. I guess to be cult you need to be fairly toppish in your category. This is far from IT, IMHO
Giacosa = Low production ? Not sure. (Take a look at the bottle numbers on the labels) Coveted by a small number ? Not really.

Giacosa=small production on many of the older red labels and a few older white labels, typically 10,000-12,000 bottles (and as high as 22,000+ bottles) for most of the coveted wines beginning around 1990; coveted by EVERY Nebbiolo drinker, so the only question is whether the aggregate number of Nebbiolo drinkers is large or small!