A tale About Hubris & the Exclusive 100 Point Wine Club


Part 1

Last Wednesday, during my habitual walk through Costco’s wine department in Santa Rosa, I was blown away to see at the end of an aisle bottles of 2014 Le Dome offered at a discounted price of $69.99.

Surprised, stunned and maybe a little sad, I didn’t buy the wine. But did return to make sure I read the label correctly.

Ten years ago, one of the most famous, most sought-after wines in the world was this very same “Le Dome” from St. Emilion. The 2005 was a great wine and its reputation soared even higher when the 2009 was rated 99 points by Robert Parker.

Then, it went off the charts when Parker rated the 2010 a perfect 100 points. With that, Le Dome joined an exclusive club.

A website, Cult Wines for investors, provides ratings and prices from 1996 onward, if you are interested in all vintages.

Mere mortals could not buy a bottle of Le Dome even if they were willing to pay the $300 asking price.

Almost every bottle of “Le Dome” went to the UK market where it was as much of a national treasure as Judi Dench.  The British wine press could not hold back its praise for “Le Dome.”

Jonathan Maltus, the man behind Le Dome is British, and he was frequently introduced in wine circles as” the first English winemaker to make a 100 point wine.”

When living in the Bordeaux region, I was served Le Dome on several occasions, always by proud British friends. All vintages were extra-ordinary, unusually opulent. Jonathan was at 3 of the dinners and he was quite pleasant, quiet & easy-going. I later visited and tasted many more of his wines at Chateau Teyssier, his primary Chateau on the outskirts of St. Emilion.

Le Dome, made from a small 4-acre parcel, near Chateau Angelus in St. Emilion, was a strong player in the Garagiste movement that shocked the old guard in St. Emilion and rattled the Bordeaux wine trade. Many trace the small production, hands on garagiste movement to Château Le Pin. Others who joined it and Le Dome were Chateau Valandraux, Rol Valentin, and La Mondotte.

Le Dome is made from Cabernet Franc with a small percentage of Merlot, similar to the well-established Cheval Blanc.

Decanter Magazine and other British publications still closely follow Le Dome and gave high scores to the 3 most recent vintages, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Several of the online  wine retailers I follow have recently listed vintages of the previously impossible to find Le Dome. And http://www.wine.com lists the 2014 for $125 a bottle. Other sites have offered the 2012 at discounted prices.

About a month ago, when reviewing www.nakedwines.com, I noticed 2 St. Emilion wines made by Malthus for less than $30 a bottle. Neither was Le Dome, but there clearly is something going on.

Is the garagiste movement over in Bordeaux?

Or is Le Dome the only star that has crashed down to earth?

Around 2005, I heard from other wine writers that Malthus was launching a similar wine in Australia, and had shipped over those special sorting machines used for Le Dome. Located in the Barossa Valley, that project is known as The Colonial Estate.

Later, around 2008, Malthus launched another project, this time in Napa Valley. The brand is World’s End and the wine, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Syrah, is called “Wavelength.”

Invino, an excellent web retailer that secures great deals, recently offered the 2009 Wavelength for $59.99 and mentioned it had also picked up the 2010 from a broker handling the brand.

Wavelength wines were made from the Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa. A few months ago, Gallo purchased the entire vineyard. So, that’s probably the end of that project as we know it.

But going back to the excitement over joining Bordeaux’s exclusive 100-point club, one line from an article in the British press about Maltus struck me: “I remember seeing [Mr. Parker] after he gave the 100 point score,” recalls Mr. Maltus. “He just smiled and said: ‘Don’t worry, it’s all downhill from now.’ ”

Wow!  I bet Parker would like to take that comment back

That remark now seems somewhat prophetic, but the truth more likely is that the road has had a few major bumps in it.

I hope Jonathan bounces back.

It does seem as if he got caught up in his own hubris and way over-extended himself.

Any return to earth might be easier if he threw away all of the old press clippings about superstar status along with membership in the exclusive 100 point club.

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