When hanging out with wine people, I am sometimes asked what is the best wine I’ve tasted. The answer is easy—Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2009. This announcement is usually met with smirks and side eyes. “I’m tired of over-priced, over-ripe, over oaked Napa cult wines. I’m more into finesse” is the typical response.
I smirk right back because it’s obvious the speaker has never tasted Screaming Eagle. It’s neither over-ripe nor over-oaked. Ethereal, transcendent in its weightlessness and finesse, yet rich and intense, it shares few similarities with Napa fruit bombs. (My tasting notes are here.) Whether it’s worth the price is of course a different question. (It’s now selling for $3200 per bottle)
I understand why so many are down on Screaming Eagle. It’s unaffordable and unavailable and it’s a human, all too human tendency to resent what you can’t have.
No less an authority than Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, agrees with my regard for Screaming Eagle.
A recent morning tasting Screaming Eagle has convinced me of one thing: it doesn’t scream. But it does soar with such an incredible lightness of being it hardly seems corporeal. I was more than impressed with the wine. I was moved by it.
Her description of the winery is telling:
Screaming Eagle is a small unadorned vineyard dotted by some dilapidated red barns. Not fancy new barns made to look old. Actual worn-down old barns with old pick-up trucks in front of them. And a couple of old black labs splayed out in the cool shade of the trucks. Until a simple crush pad and rectangle of a winery was built, the original owner Jean Phillips made wine in stone building smaller than a single car garage.
That doesn’t exactly scream Napa does it?
One could of course raise questions about why Screaming Eagle is so expensive. It is obviously rare and in high demand but is supply intentionally limited to maintain prices? Who knows. MacNeil doesn’t.
In the end, I don’t know why Screaming Eagle costs what it does any more than I know why Petrus or the DRC wines cost what they do. But I do know this: wines that emotionally move you are rare. They are wines one should listen to.
Fans of old world icons may be skeptical but to my mind Screaming Eagle is worthy of being mentioned with the likes of Petrus and DRC. I’ve had the opportunity to taste “the Eagle” twice (the other vintage was 2012) and it has never let me down unlike some top brands from Bordeaux and Burgundy.