1996 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon
Last Friday’s birthday celebration with Steve Maxood was my first opportunity to taste a truly cult wine, a 1996 Screaming Eagle.
The question that I’ve been asked the most: What did the ’96 Screaming Eagle taste like and was it worth the money? First off, it really needed decanting early in the evening and straight from the bottle, it was tight and subtle on the nose with some ripe cherry and blackberry aromas later as it opened up. Color was very deep ruby throughout and showed no signs of age. The taste and aroma improved over the next half hour with lots of swirling in the glass. On the palette, it was a complex wine with subtle floral and concentrated berry and spice flavors. A very long pleasantly smooth finish with a slight grip of tannins and some final notes of black olive and licorice.
Being slightly inebriated, keeping tasting notes of this particular wine at that point in time was rather difficult. It was a shame that it was served so late in the tasting after palettes were less than receptive. Although I love their food, my preference for wine pairing would not have been the spicy Asian cuisine of Wild Ginger. Wine of this caliber calls for red meat to enhance the characteristic of the wine and not alter them. The best wine we drank that night suitable for spicy stir-fried food was the Austrian Riesling. That’s not just my opinion but also the opinion of the Food and Wine Pairing web site.
So to answer the second part of the question; was it worth it? Well, since I didn’t pay for it, it’s always worth it. All kidding aside, it’s hard to say because the food plays such an important role in the enjoyment of most wine. This isn’t an indictment of the wine or of the host, but rather the venue. When compared side-by-side with all the other wines of that evening, I truly don’t think it’s worth all the hype. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great wine and I would certainly never turn down the opportunity to taste another one. However, for someone like me who is on a much tighter wine budget, I’ve had very good wine in the $50 to $70 range. It doesn’t have cult-wine status, but in the new economy, it’s certainly a better value. To be honest, of the wine poured last Friday, I liked the ’97 Harlan Estate better at half the cost and liked the 2000 Domaine de la Mordorée Chateauneuf du Pape the best at one-tenth the cost.
People on the Internet who rave about this wine are simply perpetuating its pretentiousness and justifying its inflated cost, even if only to themselves. I’m fairly certain that in a blind tasting of other California Cabs, while it probably wouldn’t be ranked last, the Screaming Eagle would not come out on top for me. But don’t just take my word for it, check out some of the other comments made on the web. Even Stephen Tanzer gave it 93 points.
Update: A good friend suggested that I was overly critical in this post because it sounded like I didn’t appreciate the wine. On the contrary, I did appreciate the wine because I know its reputation and how rare the opportunity to taste one. The criticism about the wine would not be justified if not for the hype surrounding this brand. The criticism about the food is entirely justified and shouldn’t reflect on our host, Steve, who was overwhelmingly gracious for supplying most of the wines and bringing everyone together, but rather the sommelier and chef at Wild Ginger who were primarily responsible for the less than ideal food pairings. If I offended anyone who attended the party, I apologize.