Cult wines form an integral aspect of Napa Valley’s identity. They are not about the long history of the valley, its diversity, or its origin in and potential for classicism. Rather, Napa cult wines are about power.
To challenge the dominance of Bordeaux was, unlike the standard narrative, not simply about besting first and second growths at the judgment of Paris. It was about up-ending a power-structure that had been dominated by the French for centuries. Adapting (and often stealing) French techniques, vineyard practices, and rootstock was just the beginning. California also took advantage of its potent untapped domestic market to develop stories and wine meant for the young and eventually middle aged upstart American consumer, replete with the disposable income bestowed upon them by a surging American super-power.
Soon, Napa Valley became the American beacon for global power in the wine world. Cult wines exist because the powerful want to tap into this prestige. Understanding that, there is nothing inherent about cult wines that makes them inferior from a qualitative perspective. They are wines built for the political times. They can just as easily adapt to the lower-alcohol style gaining dominance today than they could dominate the quest for utmost concentration and cocktail-ease that dominated 1990’s wine discourse. The idea is to produce the apex of a particular style in a manner that is economically infeasible (and impossible for any but the super rich and powerful). That is why cult wines feed on scarcity. The business model is under pressure not because of an interest in new styles, but rather because of power-saturation. It has become difficult to establish longevity in cult reputation with the endless new entrants.
Spotlight on Napa Valley: Cliff Lede Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Cliff Lede is a Canadian whose family gained wealth in the construction business – today at the apex of ‘power’ in Canada. His foray into Napa Valley brought him to the famed Stag’s Leap – home to many of the original cult wineries of Napa. Of course, he brought on famed and talented viticulturist David Abreu, who has managed vineyards for Blankiet, Colgin, Bryant Family, Araujo, and Harlan among many others. Winemaker Christopher Tynan was the assistant winemaker at Colgin before joining Cliff Lede.
Lede’s top wine, the Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon blend, is a superb cult wine that delivers most of everything many others do for about half the price. That doesn’t mean it is cheap. It just means Lede’s reputation hasn’t quite vaulted into the upper power echelons.
Today the wine has gained greater balance than before – it is immediately impressive and dense, but has sufficient tannic and acidic structure to make it a real wine. I appreciate that the Poetry does not devolve into the blue-fruit territory of so many Napa Cabs – this wine has tension and spice. No doubt the trend toward greater elegance will continue over the next vintages.
Excellent to Excellent+
$250 + tax at BCLDB