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Top 9 Most Expensive California Wines

Screaming Eagle Wine LabelCalifornia is justifiably famous for its fine wines. So, is California wine expensive? Well, it turns out that some of the Golden State’s most sought after wines are also made in limited quantities. These are the so-called California cult wines, the most famous – and most expensive – of which is Napa Valley’s Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, and yes, they are expensive.

Almost all of California’s cult wines are Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons. A couple of notable exceptions are Sine Qua Non – which sources its grapes from Santa Barbara County – and Paso Robles’ Saxum Vineyards, both of which mainly produce Rhone style wines, and neither of which are as pricey as the Napa Cabs.

But the fact that these Napa wines are expensive is not really surprising given that, arguably, the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the world is made in Napa Valley. Also, you’ll notice that the majority of these cabs are from the 2007 vintage. The reason for that is 2007 was a truly extraordinary year for California Cabernet Sauvignon.

Alright then, let’s get down to brass tacks. How much will these puppies set you back? Well, the following wines are all current releases and are, as far as I can tell, the 9 most expensive California wines:

  • No.  9: I’ll start out easy with a couple of white wines. The most affordable wine on this list is the 2007 Kistler Cuvee Cathleen Chardonnay, a bottle of which can be yours for a mere $200.00. Kistler produces about 3,500 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, released semi-annually. Both varietals are made in the traditional Burgundian style.
  • No. 8: ’05 Marcassin Estate Chardonnay, $300.00. Marcassin was one of the first cult wineries and is the personal winery of the legendary Helen Turley, and her husband John Wetlaufer.
  • No. 7: ’08 Hundred Acre ARK Vineyard Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, $350.00. Now we’re getting to the Cabs. Howell Mountain is located in the northeast of Napa Valley, and was actually the first sub-appellation in the Napa Valley AVA. The winemaker is rising star Jayson Woodbridge. The Wine Advocate gave this rich and intense red a rating of 97-99.
  • No. 6: ’08 Grace Family Cabernet Sauvignon, $350.00. Grace Family Vineyards makes their wines in very limited quantities and, as is true of most cult wines, you have to be on their mailing list if you want to purchase their wines.
  • No. 5:  ’07 Colgin IX Proprietary Estate Napa Valley Red, $450.00. The very influential Robert Parker gave this wine a full rating of 100 points, which fact of course drives up the price. 1,400 cases of this consistently excellent wine were made in 2007.
  • No. 4:  ’07 Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, $500.00. The prices just keep edging up don’t they? Helen Turley, the owner of the aforementioned Marcassin, was the consulting winemaker at Bryant until 2002. She and her husband were largely responsible for making Bryant Family Vineyard one of the top cult wineries, but the relationship ended messily. The couple ended up suing Don Bryant for “breach of written and oral contract; fraud – promise made without intent to perform; fraud and deceit; and negligent misrepresentation.” Anyway, the wine is still good.
  • No. 3: ’07 Sloan Proprietary Red, $600.00. Even for a cult wine maker, Sloan Estate Winery sets itself apart by its exclusivity. The winery is not open to the public for tours or tastings, and it’s nearly impossible to get on their mailing list. But if you can get your hands on a bottle of this wine, you’ll be able to sample a great Bordeaux blend made in Napa Valley.
  • No. 2:  ’08 Harlan Estate Napa Valley Red Wine, $800.00. No, that’s not a typo, nor is it the case price. $800.00 is the release price for a single bottle of this wine. The total output of this winery is 1,800 cases per year. This is the flagship wine of this uncontroversial winery. “Uncontroversial” because their wine is universally loved.
  • No. 1:  Topping of the list of the most expensive wines in California, naturally, is the Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, 2007, the release price of which is a whopping $1,500. But seeing as Robert Parker gave the ’07 a 100 point rating, and only 800 cases of this stuff were made, you’d be lucky to get your hands on a bottle for twice that price.

As far as I’m concerned, a discussion of the 9 most expensive California wines is purely an academic exercise. I’ve never spent even as much as $200.00 on a bottle of wine. I will occasionally spend over $100.00 for a really good bottle of Champagne, but I rarely spend more than $50.00 on anything else. There are so many excellent wines available in the $25.00 to $40.00 range that I don’t generally find it necessary to spend any more than that even when I’m buying wine for a special occasion. Of course, some people see buying rare and uber-expensive wines as being an investment. Actually, the prices we’ve been discussing here are not that high compared to those that rare vintage wines can command at auction.

The most expensive bottle of wine every sold was a 1787 vintage Chateau Lafite, from Thomas Jefferson’s collection. The gavel finally came down on it to the tune of $160,000 at Christie’s London salesroom in 1985. It’s of course undrinkable now, as it was in 1985, but it does have Thomas Jefferson’s initials etched into its two-and-a-quarter-century-old glass. As for expensive and still drinkable wine, the dearest bottle ever sold was a 1978 Romanee-Conti, auctioned off in 2001 for the very estimable sum of $24,000.

But, as I was saying, wine doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to be good. The Santa Barbara Wine Country, with its beautiful scenery, many excellent wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms is a great place to taste lots of world class wines, and it’s only cost you a few dollars. For tips on which are the best wineries to visit on a wine tasting tour in the Santa Barbara Wine Country, just click on the link.

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