Buyers Look Beyond Napa Scores and Prices

Quintessentially Californian and yet undeniably European – Opus One is a global star.
© Opus One | Quintessentially Californian and yet undeniably European – Opus One is a global star.
When it comes to what actually sells, do scores really matter?
By Don Kavanagh | Posted Wednesday, 15-Sep-2021

Wine lovers know what they want from Napa and retailers are giving them plenty of it – but generous scores and high prices don't really come into the equation.

Despite a lot of recent chatter about the increasing interest in high-end Napa wine on the global market, that's not necessarily something that is being reflected through Wine-Searcher.

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A snapshot of which Napa wines are available across Wine-Searcher's database of more than 93,000 worldwide wine retailers offers a clear insight into what the retail trade thinks will sell – and it's a lot different to our usual lists of Napa wines. It's also in almost perfect alignment with what customers want, according to our search rankings. And what both retailers and consumers want is not necessarily big scores and the associated high prices.

It all comes down to the offers for different wines that our database stores. An offer, in Wine-Searcher terms, is basically a single bottle of a single vintage of a particular wine. The data is from a snapshot taken at the end of August.

Worldwide, the 10 most offered Napa wines are:

Beside that line-up, the list of the most searched-for wines looks very familiar:

Six wines are common to both lists, suggesting that retailers have a pretty good handle on what consumers want. However, a look at the list of "best" Napa wines (as ranked by aggregated critic score) suggests that critical opinion as to what Napa's best wines are is completely irrelevant to both consumers and retailers – only Eisele makes it into the top 10 highest-scoring wines.

A quick look at our most expensive Napa wines shows that price isn't a huge factor for consumers either – nor for retailers. Only Screaming Eagle is on the list of the most searched-for Napa wines and the most expensive.

A global view

Those are based on international figures, however, so let's take a closer look at the US market – the biggest wine market on earth. Within the US, the wines are the same but the order is different. Caymus, with 2321 offers in the US, comes out on top, pipping Opus One's 1913 offers and The Prisoner (1714) pushes Dominus (1695) into fourth place. Rombauer (1462) is fifth, followed by Silver Oak (1326), Joseph Phelps (1291), Duckhorn (1171), Shafer (921), and Eisele (791).

Another interesting slice from the snapshot is which wines have more penetration into global markets. Because the US market is so huge, there isn't the same export pressure on producers as there might be in other wine-producing countries – the domestic market is big enough to soak up a lot of wine.

Opus One is the big winner overseas, with way more than half its 4325 global offers coming from outside the US – 2412 of them, in fact. That makes it by far the most popular Napa wine globally, followed by Dominus, which has a global offer count of 2787, with 1092 offers outside the US. Joseph Phelps Insignia is third, with 1938 offers globally, of which 1291 are in the domestic market. The profusion of offers for Opus One and Dominus is a function of those wines' strong Bordeaux connections and the fact that they are traded in the Place de Bordeaux.

And the most American of all the wines? That would be Rombauer; of its 1504 global offers, a whopping 1462 are from the US. It's followed by The Prisoner (1714 out of 1771 offers are from the US) and Duckhorn, with 1171 of its 1286 global offers being US-based.

All of which suggests that what the rest of the world is really looking for are wines in a classically Bordeaux style – blended wines with an emphasis on structure and balance over power – rather than the archetypal blockbuster Napa Cab.

Food for thought for producers with an eye to a global impact.

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