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Glass is half-empty for premium-priced Cabernets

February 2, 2010 | 11:45 am

Is the Cult Cab dead?

The current economy has created ominous rumblings in the market for Napa Valley wine. Demand for high-end super-premium Cabs, even so-called "cult" wines, has weakened considerably with the recession. Sales are stagnant, inventories are high, and direct-mail customers -- a vital piece of the high-end model -- are abandoning once-coveted positions on mailing lists, while those who have waited years for the opportunity to buy in are overwhelmed with offers.

And for those wineries whose flagship productions climb above 5,000 cases, the forecast is even more challenging. Such formerly untouchable wines as Rubicon Estate, Caymus "Special Select," Pine Ridge "Fortis" and Joseph Phelps "Insignia" have made appearances at "back-channel," quick-sale retail websites, such as Cinderella Wine and WTSO (Wines 'Til Sold Out), at substantial discounts. The law of supply and demand suggests that the days of stratospheric pricing for Napa Cabernet may be numbered.

-- Patrick Comiskey

Photo: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times