No other New-World wine region is as famous as Napa Valley. With its warm climate and rolling hills, the picturesque northern California region is the ideal place to create wine of great quality and high value. With so many fine wines to choose from, you may be wondering, what are the best wines in Napa Valley for investors and collectors? The answer is simple: cult wines.
So, what is a cult wine? By definition, a cult wine receives high praise from critics and experienced wine enthusiasts and is made in extremely limited quantities. In other words, it’s a wine that has a demand significantly higher than its supply. This is important because it increases the rarity (and, over time, the price) of the wine, giving investors the best chance at making a return on the investment in the future. Rarity is also an important factor for collectors who don’t plan on reselling their wine, as it elevates the prestige of their collections. Moreover, the best cult wines in Napa are exceptionally high in quality. Wine enthusiasts looking to drink only the finest wines in the world would be very pleased with the elegant nuance of Cabernet from cult producers like Screaming Eagle, Harlan, or Schrader.
Cult wines from California’s Napa Valley producers are incredibly rare and thus very valuable. Whether you’re seeking out wines likely to grow in value over time so you can make a return on your investment or you’re a wine enthusiast looking to find some of the best and rarest wines in Napa, cult wines are a wise choice. However, there are dozens of top-rated cult wine labels, so it’s important to know which ones are the right choice for your needs. In this guide to the best cult wines in Napa, you’ll find expert advice on the producers, labels, and vintages that will add value to your portfolio and elevate your rare wine collection.
What is the Most Popular Wine in Napa?
Without question, the most popular wine in Napa Valley is Cabernet Sauvignon. The grape variety accounts for 55 percent of the region’s total wine production. For perspective, the second most popular grape, Chardonnay, accounts for just 14 percent. Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in Napa because, while the area’s microclimates are incredibly diverse, the region is typically warm and sunny. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes develop rich, concentrated flavors when exposed to Napa’s ample sunlight. However, what makes Napa Valley’s Cabernet truly special is its balance. Although the wine is often bold and concentrated, the best cult wines in Napa also have notable acidity and finely integrated tannins. This comes from the valley’s cool nights and overcast mornings. In Napa, Cabernet grows slowly and ripens fully, resulting in powerful wines that can age for 15 years or more when crafted with care.
However, not all Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is worth a long-term investment. Many wines are meant to be drunk young, and these tend to be more fruit-forward and less complex. This is why serious collectors and investors should pay special attention to cult wines.
And it’s not just Cabernet Sauvignon that attracts cult wine collectors to the region. Napa Valley is also known for producing cult bottles of varieties like Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc. Ultimately, Cabernet Sauvignon will always reign supreme in Napa, yet it’s well worth your time to look into some of these lesser-known cult wines, too.
To build a collection of the best cult wines in Napa, it’s important to understand which subregions, producers, labels, and vintages are the highest in quality and tend to perform well on the market. Below, you’ll find a list of specific wines to get started.
The Ten Best Cult Wines in Napa
If you’re on the hunt for the best cult wines in Napa, there are a few essential qualities the wine should have:
- A Sense of Place: The wine should ideally reflect the area in which it’s grown (the terroir). This is especially important in the world of cult wines because quality and reputation are so often tied to the specific AVA (American Viticultural Area) or subregion. Some of the most reputable cult wines are made in AVAs such as Oakville, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, St. Helena, Stags Leap, Rutherford, and Yountville, among others. If you see these AVAs listed on the label or in the wine’s description, it’s one of the first signs that the wine is of high quality.
- Limited Production: The best cult wines in Napa have a low production of fewer than 5,000 cases, on average. Some cult wine producers release more wine than this, but it’s not very common. The more limited the production, the rarer the wine generally is, and therefore, the more likely it will be to increase in value over time as bottles are consumed or lost. Most cult wine producers sell wines through their exclusive mailing lists, making them even more difficult to find. You need to be on the list or find retailers who can reliably source these wines.
- High Critic Scores: Just because a wine is rare doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth an investment if the quality is not also high. It’s important to research critic reviews, particularly from sources like Wine Advocate. The best cult wines in Napa will receive a perfect score, or at least a score in the high 90s (or, for reviewers like Jancis Robinson who use a different scoring system, a score in the 18 to 20 range).
- Aging Potential: The finest cult wines will have the capacity to age well for at least ten years after release, but ideally closer to 20 or 30. The longer the wine can age, the more likely it will be to increase slowly in value over time. Aging potential is also a benefit for collectors who want to drink their wines because the wine will develop more complex flavors over time.
- Historic Market Performance: Wines featured on Liv-ex’s top-traded lists are typically some of the best cult wines for investors because they have a proven performance record. For example, the seventh most-traded wine in the world in 2021 was made by a cult wine producer: Screaming Eagle.
- Vintage: Some vintages perform better than others on the market and are known for being particularly high in quality. Some of Napa Valley’s best recent vintages include 2018, 2016, 2013, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007.
Using these criteria, we’ve created two lists of the best cult wines in Napa, one for the finest Cabernet Sauvignon labels and one for other varieties such as Syrah or Sauvignon Blanc. The ten wines in the lists below are some of the best representations of fine cult wines on the market today:
The Five Best Cult Wines in Napa: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Blends
- 2019 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon
- 2013 Dominus
- 2009 Opus One
- 2007 Harlan Estate
- 1997 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville
The Five Best Cult Wines in Napa: Other Varieties
- 2017 Dana Estates Sauvignon Blanc Hershey Vineyard
- 2010 Kongsgaard Chardonnay The Judge
- 2014 Morlet Family Cabernet Franc Force de La Nature
- 2013 Colgin Syrah IX Estate
- 2012 Kapcsàndy Merlot State Lane Vineyard Roberta’s Reserve
There are many other cult wines worthy of investment, however, these wines are an excellent place to start if you’re looking to build a collection from scratch or you want to diversify your investment portfolio.
How to Invest in Cult Wines
Knowing which cult wines to buy right now is only the first step in the investment process. Whether you’re planning on reselling or drinking your wine, it’s important to protect your investments in the long term. This includes using proper storage to keep your bottles safe as they age. A professional storage system is often the best option for cult wine collectors, as the conditions in the storage warehouse are controlled and you can track your wine’s ideal drinking window using a barcode system connected to a cellar management app. Or, you can hire a cellar expert to organize and barcode the wine in your home cellar and ensure your investments are protected.
Meanwhile, if you plan on selling your bottles in the future, provenance is especially important for cult wines. The vast majority of cult wines sold on the marketplace are owned by other collectors, and each time the wine exchanges hands, its provenance becomes harder to assure. Questions that come up about the wine’s provenance could diminish its value. To get the best return on investment for your wine, it’s important to buy the wine as close to its source as possible. Experienced wine retailers like Vinfolio have access to some of the most sought-after cult wine mailing lists, and they can offer these exclusive allocations to investors. The wine is shipped directly from the producer to Vinfolio’s storage warehouse, and so it has a proven provenance.
Another option is to get in touch with one of Vinfolio’s Private Client Specialists who can help you track down some of the rarest cult wines that can be a struggle to find on the market without mailing list privileges or retail connections. Or, you might consider Vinfolio’s portfolio management services. After signing up, Vinfolio’s investment experts handle your entire portfolio of wine, from investments to storage and resale. You can invest in the best cult wines in Napa without having to learn which bottles perform well on the market or calculating exactly when it’s time to sell. With all of these expert resources available, you can start building a cult Napa Valley wine collection that any collector would be proud to call their own.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.