I can remember when $100 for a California Cabernet seemed excessive. This year, though, if you're on the list for Screaming Eagle, the poster child for cult Cabernet, you'll pay $850 a bottle, including tax and shipping. And Harlan Estate is now released at $800 a bottle.
But that seems like chump change compared with the prices top wines fetched at the Napa Valley Vintners' 18th annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel tasting and auction last week. According to a story by W. Blake Gray on wine-searcher.com, "last weekend, a dozen different 60-bottle lots of Napa wines sold for more than $1,000 a bottle, most of them to retailers and restaurateurs that plan to mark them up and sell them for more."
Keep in mind, though, that the average wholesale price per bottle sold was $283 — high, but a long way from $1,000. The wines are made solely for this event, and sold to single bidders in lots of 60 to 240 bottles.
Some of those wines breaking the $1,000 barrier had special emotional selling points, writes Gray, "such as a solera-style wine of 21 vintages from ZD Wines at $1,667 a bottle. But some were relatively new on the scene and their high prices were more stunning for it."
Glen Knight, domestic wine buyer for the Wine House in Los Angeles, paid a whopping $4,333 a bottle for 60 bottles of the 2012 Scarecrow Toto's Opium Dream: Scene III Cabernet, "making it probably the most expensive current-release wine ever sold in the U.S."
In fact, that same wine, made from grapes from 70-year-old vines, is already listed by the Wine House on wine-searcher.com at a crushing pre-arrival price of $5,400 a bottle. Or you can splurge on a case of 3 bottles from $13,500.
Knight's brother, Jim, explains that his father, Bill, and brother go to Premiere Napa Valley every year. "Our customers love those private auction labels, with each bottle individually numbered, and we usually buy three to six auction lots every year."
Glen told me that they were the under-bidder for a similar lot of 2010 two years ago that went for $125,000 for 60 bottles, a record-breaker at the time. This year Scarecrow's owners Bret Lopez and Mimi DeBlasio invited the two of them up to see the property and taste the wine a couple of days before the event. "When we saw that old vine Cabernet that J.J. Cohn, a producer of "The Wizard of Oz," planted in 1945, we were in awe." The Premiere Napa Valley bottling is made only from that block.
"That afternoon we fell in love with the family and the wine and had to have it. We did go a little over our budget," says Glen Knight, laughing. "But this year we really didn't want to go home from the auction having lost the wine again."
As of Friday, the Wine House has sold five 3-packs — in other words, 15 out of the 60 bottles, at $13,500. "There's definitely a demographic out there that wants to have a great trophy for their cellars. They can tell their friends that they can't find this wine anywhere. The entire production was 60 bottles out of one barrel."
With the exception of one 2013 and one non-vintage solera-system wine, all of the wines that went for more than a thousand dollars a bottle at Premiere Napa Valley were from the 2012 vintage.
Just so you can keep an eye out on your next trip to the wine merchant, they included 2012 Brand Double Horseshoes Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Pritchard Hill at $1,167 a bottle, 2012 Joseph Phelps Backus Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon at $1,250 a bottle, 2012 Odette Estate Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon (the first vintage from a PlumpJack Group venture) at $1,000 a bottle, and 2012 Schrader Double Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon at $1,667 a bottle.
I can only say "wow." For that same money, I could buy a small cellar's worth of stunning wines not only from Napa Valley but other appellations around the world. Even if I limited my choices to $50 a bottle, that would be more than 20 bottles of some very good stuff. And at $20 a bottle, I'd have 50 bottles to drink over 50 evenings.
For anybody spilling tears that they didn't get the chance to bid in this year's auction, next year's Premiere Napa Valley will be held on Valentine's Day.