Screaming Eagle phenomenon “not healthy”

25th October, 2012 by Lucy Shaw

Robert Parker’s California critic Antonio Galloni has spoken out about the trading of cult wine Screaming Eagle on the secondary market, dubbing it  “unhealthy”.

Screaming Eagle continues to command incredibly high prices at auction

Speaking exclusively to the drinks business, Galloni, who rates Californian wines for Parker’s bi-monthly publication The Wine Advocate, said: “The Screaming Eagle phenomenon is not healthy.

“Very few people buy Screaming Eagle to drink it. It has become a pure instrument of speculation, which is sad, as it’s a great wine.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s wine critic Jon Bonné agrees that the wine, made in Oakville in the Napa Valley, has become too mythical for its own good

“Screaming Eagle has become a unicorn that isn’t worth chasing anymore,” he told db.

First released in 1995, Screaming Eagle continues to command high prices at auction, with a 75cl bottle of the 1997 vintage selling for £2,267 at Christie’s New York this April.

New releases of the wine quickly double on resale – is has been estimated that at least a third of Screaming Eagle’s mailing list customers immediately “flip” their bottles on the secondary market.

Bonné is cynical about the pricing of Screaming Eagle and California’s other so-called “cult” wines.

“To justify stratospheric pricing based on points and scarcity, and to claim that California is a bargain by Bordeaux standards is a big dose of hubris that doesn’t do anyone any good,” he said.

Despite or perhaps because of their high price tags, both Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate are doing well in China, favoured in wealthy circles for their rarity.

“The combination of money and early curve interest that drives cult wines has migrated to Asia.

“China wants Screaming Eagle, Harlan and Colgin as much as they once wanted Lafite and Latour,” Bonné told db.

Sine Qua Non founder Manfred Krankl. Credit Dave Lauridsen

While Chinese consumers are catching on to California Cabernet, there are signs that other grape varieties are being welcomed into the cult wine fold.

“It’s not all about Cabernet anymore. Californian Syrah is starting to have its moment in the spotlight through the likes of Sine Qua Non and Saxum,” Mark Andrew of London fine wine merchant Roberson told db.

Londoners are developing a thirst for Sine Qua Non, small parcels of which are selling well at Wolfgang Puck’s Park Lane steak venture CUT, and at auction.

Though despite this interest, competition is becoming increasingly tough at California’s top end.

“Consumers have become much more discerning and value-conscious as a result of the financial meltdown. There will always be room for niche, high-end wines, but the competition is fierce,” Galloni told db.

Bonné agrees: “Look at wines that have traded hands, like Sloan or Merus; Napa just isn’t big enough for all the rich folk hoping to create the next must-have wine.

“It was a ludicrous model from the outset, and it’s just playing through the endgame now,” he said.

The lifespan of a cult wine is decreasing, as access to the wines via Facebook, Twitter, blogs and bulletin boards is speeding up their democratisation.

“The days of cult wines are just getting started, but the journey from embryonic cult to washed up has-been is getting shorter,” said Roberson’s Andrew.

A full analysis of California cult wines will appear in the November issue of the drinks business.

4 Responses to “Screaming Eagle phenomenon “not healthy””

  1. I’m one of the few fortunate enough to have tasted most of the so-called cult wines from California. For those looking for an extraordinary tasting experience, these wines, in general, deliver. Does rarity and price add to the mystique and thrill of popping a bottle of Harlan or Screaming Eagle? Probably. But one can hardly fault collectors who have made it on to the mailing lists of these wineries for the vagaries of supply and demand economics.

  2. david says:

    If there is such a lifespan of “cult” wines, and it is supposedly shrinking, name one true cult wine that has died in the last 10 years.

  3. David, it can be argued that the “cult” California wines of the 1980s (Groth, Dunn, Far Niente, Matanzas Creek, Cakebread, etc…) are no longer cult wines today. Not to say that those producers aren’t making any good wines; more that their wines are no longer so highly allocated and sought after as to qualify for cult status.

  4. Gareth says:

    Of course there’s no connection between these wines becoming ‘cult’, wine critics who use a spurious points system and those who blindly follow that system.

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