Analyzing Dominus Wine Scores: How to Invest in This Legendary Producer

Dominus Wine Scores

Dominus wine scores are consistently high from vintage to vintage, which is why many collectors invest in these wines. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Dominic Lockyer

In the late 1990s, you could buy Dominus’ flagship wine directly from the estate for just $65 per bottle; today, many of these wines are worth anywhere from $250 to $500 apiece on the secondary market, sometimes more if the vintage is especially high in quality. However, it’s not just the ever-increasing market value that draws wine enthusiasts to this producer. Dominus wine scores are also among the highest in Napa year after year, and the estate’s offerings very frequently outrank other superb California wineries–even the famed Opus One. Critics and collectors alike adore Dominus’ small-scale, Bordeaux-style wines, and analyses like the one Liv-ex publishes project that these wines may continue to grow in value significantly over the next few years. Now is perhaps the best time to invest in wines from this high-quality estate, and by following this guide, you can learn how to make the most out of every bottle you purchase.

Why Is Dominus Worth Collecting?

When I attended a wine tasting party earlier this year, our group got into a lively discussion about our favorite California Cabernet. One of the attendees asked, “What are your favorite Napa Cabs that are actually worth the price?” Our answers varied wildly, but nearly all of us had at least one producer in common: Dominus. We all agreed that both Dominus and MacDonald make some of the most delicious wines in the region, and at a price point that is far below some of the most famous cult wine producers in Napa. In other words, Dominus isn’t overpriced or overhyped, and some wine enthusiasts even believe it’s a bit underrated. Here are a few other reasons why knowledgeable wine enthusiasts buy up Dominus by the case every year:

Marketability

This year, Dominus made it onto Liv-ex’s Power 100 (the organization’s annual list of the fine wine brands that dominated the market). This in itself isn’t necessarily news, as the estate often makes it onto Liv-ex’s list. However, this year, Liv-ex noted a massive jump in overall ranking for Dominus. Last year, the estate took 89th place on the list for overall rank, but in 2017, Dominus moved up in rank to the 33rd place, an enormous gain for the estate. This change occurred partially because these wines gained in market value and partially because more collectors bought bottles this year compared to the number they purchased last year. Moreover, Liv-ex found that the estate grew in overall price performance by nearly 20 percent in the past year, and if prices and value continue to grow at this rate, these wines will become much more popular among collectors in the know. Buying these wines now may prove fruitful, especially after they’ve matured for a decade or so in your cellar. If Dominus wines continue to increase in value as expected, then any bottles you buy now may turn a greater profit in the future.

Vineyard Location and Quality Winemaking

Part of Dominus’ appeal is that the wine is made in one of Napa’s most famous vineyards, and by one of France’s greatest winemakers. The Napanook vineyard from which Dominus is made was originally planted with grapevines in 1836, and went through a number of owners. But it wasn’t until John Daniel Jr. (one of the greatest winemakers in history) bought the estate in 1946 that the vineyard became truly famous. After Daniel’s death, his daughters took over the estate, and later partnered with Petrus’ head of production, French winemaker Christian Moueix, to create the iconic Dominus label. Today, Moueix still owns the estate, and he brings his artful French touch to all of Dominus’ wines.

Wine Quality

Dominus wine scores are so high year after year because the wines balance the boldness of Napa Cabernet with the more reserved personality of classic Bordeaux blends–these very concentrated wines still taste refined and elegant. You’ll find notes of rich, dark berries, just like any other Napa wine, but Dominus is more austere and aromatic compared to stereotypical California fruit bombs. In this sense, Dominus is the bridge between the Old World and the New World. If you prefer the boldness of California reds, then this estate may get you interested in some of the more subtle flavors that make up the backbone of French wines. If you only drink French wine, then Dominus may help you see the hedonistic value of concentrated New World flavors. It truly is a wine that will impress most palates.

Ageability

Adding to the collectibility of Dominus, these wines can easily age for 20 years, and vintages that were especially high in quality (that received an average score of at least 95 points) can last in a cellar for 30 years or more. How long you age these wines depends on what you’d like to do with them. If you want to drink them, then they should be kept in storage for at least ten years. If, however, you want to sell them for a profit, then you may want to store them for 15 or 20 years. By this time, the wines will be at peak maturity and at peak market value as well. Because these wines can be enjoyed after just ten years’ time and can be stored for longer periods as well, Dominus is a very popular wine among serious collectors who want the freedom to choose what to do with their bottles.

The Differences Between Dominus and Napanook

Once you’ve decided to invest in Dominus, you’ll need to decide which of Dominus’ two wine labels to seek out. The estate makes a flagship label (simply called “Dominus”) as well as a second wine under the label Napanook. The best wine for your collection depends on what you plan on doing with your bottles in the future. Although both of these labels are very high in quality, their market value and ideal drink dates differ significantly.

When to Buy the Flagship Dominus Label

What it is: A Bordeaux-style blend made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

Ageability: 20 years or more.

Price: $250 per bottle upon release, on average.

For the steeper price, you get a wine that is more collectible than the estate’s second wine, and that will last for a longer period of time in a cellar. Choose the Dominus label if you plan on storing the wine long-term, or if you hope to make a profit on the bottles later.

When to Buy the Second Napanook Label

What it is: The same blend as Dominus, but Napanook is usually more simple in structure than Dominus. Many wine enthusiasts drink Napanook while they wait for their flagship Dominus wines to mature.

Ageability: 10-15 years, sometimes more.

Price: $70 per bottle, on average.

Dominus wine scores for the Napanook label are typically a bit lower compared to its flagship label. In terms of taste, critics also find that the Napanook label is a bit more straightforward in flavor, while Dominus’ flagship wine is more nuanced and complex. Choose the Napanook label if you want a wine that you can drink while you wait for the flagship wine to mature. While it’s not as collectible as the Dominus label, this second label is still quite delicious.

Making the Most Out of Dominus Investments

Before you invest in Dominus, keep in mind that these wines tend to taste a little more French in style than Cabernets from other Napa producers. Most wine enthusiasts will enjoy this unique take on New World wines, but if you prefer a very bold, concentrated, fruit-forward wine, then you may not enjoy Dominus as much as you would a fruitier blend like Harlan. Another aspect that you’ll want to consider is whether you enjoy oak flavors or notes of Brettanomyces in your wine. Dominus tends to be heavily oaked, which improves the ageability of the wine considerably, but can taste overpowering to some sensitive palates. However, Moueix is careful not to go overboard with the oak–the wines still taste well-balanced, especially after aging. As for Brett, some vintages are more Brett-heavy than others. For instance, the 1994 vintage is known as one of the finest that Dominus ever produced, yet the wine does have more notes of Brett than usual. Rather than tasting like a barnyard, however, the Brett seems to add to the complexity and character of these wines, coming across as more of a truffle note than an overpoweringly funky scent. If you’re not a fan of Brett in your wine, then you may opt for Dominus vintages which had little or no Brett.

Dominus vs. Opus One

Dominus and Opus One often get compared to one another. They both craft Bordeaux-style blends in California vineyards; they’re both closely associated with Robert Mondavi (Mondavi helped found Opus One, and he encouraged Dominus’ Moueix to buy a vineyard in Napa); they both have famous winemakers who are originally from France; and they both are considered some of the best California cult wines on the market. But how does Opus One stack up against Dominus in terms of wine scores? You may be surprised to learn that Dominus almost always receives higher scores than Opus One, even though Opus One costs an average of 56 percent more. Looking at Dominus wine scores from the past ten vintages, Liv-ex found that only one vintage, the 2011, received a lower score compared to Opus One.

What this means for your collection is that Dominus wine may have a better price to quality ratio than Opus One. If you’re looking for a wine that tastes delicious and isn’t overpriced, then Dominus is a wise choice. It may also be your best choice if you plan on selling your wine later, as Liv-ex expects Dominus values to increase in the near future. However, if you simply prefer the taste of Opus One, or you’re looking for a wine that can turn a fast profit right now, then Opus One may be the better choice. It currently sells for a higher price and has more secondary market value, meaning that if you buy a bottle and store it for five years, you could make a higher profit than if you did the same with a bottle of Dominus. We recommend sampling offerings from both of these producers, as they represent some of the best Bordeaux blends that Napa has to offer. Many collectors choose to invest in both of these legendary labels.

The Highest Dominus Wine Scores by Vintage

Once you’ve decided to invest in Dominus wines, you’ll need to pick the top vintages for your collection. Thankfully, modern Dominus wine scores are consistently high, meaning that it’s difficult to pick a subpar vintage–just about any flagship wine that you buy will be high in quality. If you average wine scores across different wine publications, you’ll see that since 1991, the estate has received an average score of 90 points or higher every year. That said, some vintages are still slightly better than others. The list below shows which Dominus wines may be the most collectible:

The Top Five Vintages

Dominus Wine Scores

It’s important to note that the 2015 vintage is also receiving nearly perfect scores from reviewers at the moment. The wine is still a bit too young to rate accurately at this time, but you can expect this vintage to be among the top wines the estate has ever produced, especially as it matures.

Other High-Scoring Vintages

Dominus Wine Scores

While these wines aren’t quite as perfect as the top-scoring vintages, as you can see, they are still well above average in quality. I recommend saving wines from the top list until they reach maturity (wait at least 20 years to drink or sell them). As for the other high-scoring vintages in the second list, you may decide to drink them after just ten or 15 years in storage, however, they will only taste better with age and could be fairly valuable on the market later. You may want to buy multiple bottles so that you can drink a few of them early and save the rest for future profits.

Dominus Is a Reliable Investment

Whether you want to turn a profit from your wine collection or you just want to sip on a delicious, hedonistic bottle of fine Cabernet, you can’t really go wrong with Dominus. Dominus wine scores are extremely high every year, and the wines only seem to get better as the years wear on. Even if Dominus never reaches the astronomical price point of producers like Screaming Eagle or Sine Qua Non, the estate will probably always have a loyal following of wine enthusiasts who love its unique marriage of French and Californian winemaking styles.

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