Most people, if asked what is the most expensive, sought after wine in the world might point to the great “First Growth” wines of the Medoc region in Bordeaux, France. Iconic names like Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau Margaux have been gold standards among wine collectors for centuries. Others might look to Burgundy and the legendary Pinot Noirs from the Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte d’ Or. And still others might look to Italy and the great AOC regions of Piedmont and Tuscany.
Truth be told, the most expensive wine ever sold at auction currently belongs to a bottle of 73 year-old Burgundy from the famed estate of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC) that fetched $558,000 at auction in October 2018. Until then however, the most expensive wine ever sold at auction hailed from none other than Napa Valley. While this may come as a surprise to some, it likely will not to lovers of Napa wines who will put their beloved Cabernets up with the best of them. Wine critics and astute collectors will point out—and correctly so—that the bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon that was purchased for $500,000 at the Napa Valley Wine Auction in 2000 was for charity and thus its record-breaking price, at the time, should come with a caveat. Nevertheless it was the Screaming Eagle—not the French or Italian heavy weights—that bidders seemed most enamored by. Fast forward to 2019 and a rare vertical of Screaming Eagle— the wine that kick-started California’s Cult Cabernet phenomenon while remaining one of its scarcest and most collectible wines ever—will be going to auction on January 26th at the 19th annual Naples Winter Wine Festival at The Ritz-Carlton Resort in Naples, Florida.
Of course, not every vintage of Screaming Eagle is created equal. Yet while most new wineries attempting “cult” status take a few years to work out the kinks, it is the early vintages of Screaming Eagle that achieved the most accolades. Since its first bottling in 1992, Screaming Eagle achieved perfect and near-perfect reviews every year during the Nineties. Each wine featured in the vaunted “Lot #7” was produced while founder Jean Phillips owned the winery and was produced by her along with famed winemaker, Heidi Barrett making this a rare opportunity to bid on this collection. Adding to the allure, these Double Magnum bottles (3 Liters) are among only a handful of bottles of this size ever produced by Screaming Eagle; and for some of these vintages, may be the only bottles left in existence.
In describing “Lot #7,” Lisa Perotti Brown, wine critic for the acclaimed Wine Advocate, recalls the early vintages of Screaming Eagle and her boss Robert Parker’s first experience with the wine. Says Perotti, ‘Upon discovering Screaming Eagle, Robert Parker proclaimed in the December 1995 Issue of The Wine Advocate, “This operation’s debut vintage is the extraordinary 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the greatest young Cabernets I have ever tasted….Screaming Eagle’s Cabernet Sauvignons are going to create quite a stir among lovers of that varietal.” ‘
“His comment turned out to be an understatement,” says Perotti. “Screaming Eagle is now one of the most sought-after wines on the planet. This is partly because of supply and demand: Screaming Eagle is produced in minuscule quantities. Just 175 cases were made in 1992, 130 cases in 1993, 175 cases in 1994 and 225 cases in 1995, going up to 500 cases produced per annum from 1996-1999. Also, the extraordinary quality and singular character of the fruit coming off this very special little vineyard located in Napa Valley’s Oakville tenderloin was revealed from these very first releases. In fact, five of the 23 vintages produced and rated to date by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate have received perfect, 100-point scores. And so, Screaming Eagle has become one of the rarest, most highly prized and subsequently expensive wines in the world today.”
Also worth noting: for the first time in the history of the event, the Naples Winter Wine Festival is opening up phone bidding to collectors world-wide—a signal that speaks to how monumental this lot of wine—donated by collector and NCEF Honorary Trustee Ron Kuhn—really is.
It will be interesting to see who lands this rare vertical but one thing is for sure—it’s all for a good cause, as all the money raised goes to charity. The Naples Children & Education Foundation, the founding organization of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, helps improve the educational, emotional and health outcomes of underprivileged and at-risk children. Through its annual grants and strategic initiatives, NCEF has impacted over 45 of the most effective nonprofits in the community, providing 275,000 children with the services and resources they need to excel.