Napa Valley vineyard — Photo courtesy of miss_millions
The two words are whispered in reverential tones by oenophiles, although very few have ever tasted the wine. Over 5,000 people are on the waiting list for its annual offerings. It is fought over by trophy collectors, and routinely fetches over a thousand dollars a bottle, even for lesser vintages.
Of all the legendary Napa Valley cult wines that came to prominence in the 1990s, based upon a combination of limited production, high prices and 100 point scores from influential critics like Robert Parker (and among names like Araujo, Caymus, Colgin, Dominus, Harlan and Opus One), only one stands head and shoulders above the rest. At high-end wine events in Northern California, where luxury selections such as first-growth Bordeaux and grand cru Burgundy were available, this producer easily generated the most excitement. And, that producer is Screaming Eagle.
Screaming Eagle is arguably the most famous of all California wines, at least among aficionados. It's certainly unmatched in terms of cachet, and in the prices it commands. Harlan is perhaps Screaming Eagle’s closest competitor, but even this benchmark producer doesn‘t fully measure up in terms of quality or prestige. The iconic winery was founded in 1986 by former real estate agent Jean Phillips, who teamed with winemaker extraordinaire Heidi Barrett to produce a succession of stunning Napa Cabs, beginning with their acclaimed 1992 vintage.
California's most iconic wine label — Photo courtesy of InterContinental Hong Kong
The small Oakville estate is planted with traditional Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and about 500 to 700 cases are produced every year. In 2006, Phillips sold the winery to Stan Kroenke and Charles Banks. Wine-making chores have been taken over by Nick Gislason, with consultation from "flying winemaker" Michel Rolland. Kroenke, owner of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and NFL’s St. Louis Rams, among other professional sports franchises, became sole proprietor of Screaming Eagle in 2009.
The golden age for Screaming Eagle stretched from 1992 to 2005, and included a virtually unbroken string of magnificent offerings from wine goddess Heidi Barrett. The best of these wines are from the 1995 and 1997 vintages. One could wax poetic about delicious notes of blackberry, black currant and cassis, but these notes are rather typical for Cabernets, and do little to suggest the power and elegance of these incredible wines.
Wine is a living thing and the degree of intensity, of exuberance, is often the difference between a commonplace, superior or truly unforgettable red wine. Most great California Cabernets reach their peak at about ten years of age. At a most recent tasting, the wines were 13 and 15 years old, respectively, an age at which they should have reached maturity or begun to fade, they retained an unparalleled vigor and vivacity. These glorious wines are currently hitting their peak, and are a prize for anyone who can find and afford them.
Although the waiting list for Screaming Eagle is longer than the Great Wall of China, it is possible to find bottles, and occasionally even cases available. Online wine marketplaces like Vinfolio, who specialize in the sale of premium wines, typically have listings for bottles of this cult favorite. The remarkable 1995 and 1997 vintages are currently selling for about $2,500 to $3,000 per bottle.