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Top 10 100-point Napa Cabernets

Cult wines and Cabernet Sauvignon, the two go hand in hand and may even be practically synonymous to most people.

Harlan Estate label

But while there are technical and theoretical arguments that Lafite, Penfolds or Ornellaia are cult* (Saint-Emilion’s micro-châteaux don’t count in this instance because they’re predominantly Merlot), it is in California’s Napa Valley that the original cult Cabernet wines belong.

Nearly all of the wines on this list require you to sign up to a mailing list for years before you even get a sniff of the wine.

These are wines produced in miniscule quantities. Lafite is mainstream, Penfolds accessible. Wines like Screaming Eagle and Schrader produce wines in hundreds of cases not thousands.

Critic Robert Parker invariably scores these wines in the high-90s to the “perfect” 100 and this adds to the controversy surrounding cult Cabernets.

There’s no denying that they are big wines, full of fruit – Parker’s famous “gobs” – oak and high alcohol.

Muscular powerhouses, super-sized Cabernet as opposed to the stereotype of refined elegance in Left Bank Bordeaux.

Larry Walker in his book The Wines of the Napa Valley, wonders how a political analyst would equate the rise of these wines in the 1990s to the prevailing “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” attitude of the time.

Walker is rather critical of the worship of cult wines, dismissing the attention they receive as being about “bragging rights” for the final buyer, all style over substance and questioning their ageing potential.

This argument can be extrapolated further to those who believe that Parker’s love of these blockbusters has led to the bastardisation of their favourite European wines, as winemakers go bigger and more extracted to get higher points.

But to dismiss these wines or the wineries that produce them as being solely for the acolytes of Parker, misses the point that even the very different palate of Jancis Robinson MW has given some of these wines 18 or 19 points.

She even described the 1996 Screaming Eagle as “vindication of the property’s relatively subtle style”, while the 2001 she was convinced was Haut-Brion at one tasting a couple of years ago.

There is also no denying the winemaking expertise behind these wines and many of the various winemakers and consultants that have come and gone are elsewhere praised for making “classic”, “restrained” and “elegant” wines on other estates – sometimes their own.

So are they “relatively subtle” and well balanced despite their supersized flavours or are they massively overblown and overhyped? The jury may still be out but there is no denying that these wines – despite their price – remain popular and sought after.

Limited supply, fantastic reputation and a liberal dose of excellent ratings go a long way to making these wines “must haves” for collectors.

Many of the estates listed here have gained many 100 points for various vintages but to provide a sense of order, these are the top 10 most expensive of 100-pointers.

Their release prices compared to their (approximate) prices today if you were to try and purchase them in the open market and the number of cases produced is given where known.


*For an added spanner in the works one could argue that the “official” definition of cult for popular works of film, fiction, music etc, requires the object to be slated upon release and forgotten about for years except by a few die-hard supporters. After years in the wilderness it is then rediscovered and hailed as a true original – whereupon it ceases to be cult anymore but perhaps becomes a “classic”. Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude is a good example of this but I digress

10. Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon CCS 2008

l-r: Winemaker Thomas Brown and Fred Schrader

Release price: $150

Current price: $850

Owner/winemaker: Frederick Schrader/Thomas Brown

Owned by Fred and Carol Schrader, the estate pursues what it terms “no holds barred” winemaking – no doubt encouraged by the love of fast cars that is shared by Fred and his winemaker Thomas Brown.

The estate has a range of Cabernet Sauvignons, which are either single site or blends of different clones. The chief vineyards are the To-Kalon in Oakville and Georges III in Rutherford.

This is a product of the To-Kalon vineyard and predominantly uses only clone 4 (but occasionally 337).

The 2008 vintage was superb across North America but particularly for Cabernet Sauvignons and so where better than Napa Valley?

The growing season was marked by a cool summer followed by a heatwave just before harvest, which led to excellent flavour development and excellent ripeness.

Wine Advocate #192 Dec 2010

What did Parker say: “This is the third straight vintage of this cuvee to merit a perfect score, which must be the first of its kind in 32 years of critiquing wines. Blueberry pie intermixed with crème de cassis, liquorice, subtle oak and forest floor notes are followed by an extraordinary wine of staggering richness, luxurious fruit and seamlessness.”

9. Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Tychson Hill Vineyard 2002  

Release Price: $250

Current price: $895-998

Production: 150

Owner/winemaker: Ann Colgin/Allison Tauziet

Tucked away in St Helena, Colgin Cellars has not been producing wine from its one and a half acre Tychson Hill site for very long. In fact, 2002 was only the third vintage and the first to be made in the state of the art winery that had just been installed, complete with gravity-fed press etc.

The vineyard’s soil is described by the winery as “unique” and is a mix of volcanic rock and shallow gravel.

It was the estate’s first 100-point wine and at a recent re-taste of back vintages the winery described it as “ageing beautifully” and while approachable now added it would last until 2028.

Wine Advocate #157 Feb 2005

What did Parker say: “The amazing 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Tychson Hill Vineyard offers up a fabulously fragrant perfume of chocolate, barbecue smoke, crème de cassis, crushed rocks, and spring flowers. A wine of enormous concentration, multiple dimensions, layers of flavour, and a sensational one minute plus finish, its purity, harmony and symmetry are prodigious.”

8. Harlan Estate 1994

Release price: $100

Current price: $899+

Owner/winemaker: Bill Harlan/Bob Levy

Founded in 1984, Harlan Estates sits in the heart of Oakville at an elevation of between 225 feet and 1,225ft above sea level. Bill Harlan started the estate with the stated intent of producing a “Californian first growth”.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the main grape variety with 70% of the total vineyard area. Merlot (20%) and Cabernet Franc (8%) follow with a small 2% allocated to Petit Verdot. However, since 1998 the first wine has been 100% Cabernet.

1994 often ranks as one of the best vintages in the Napa Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon. Levy described the vintage at Harlan: “Average winter rainfall, cool daytime temperatures with evening and early morning marine fog. Light showers lingered into late May, and spring temperatures were moderate.

“Budbreak began the second week of April, setting the stage for a late harvest. Temperatures in the early summer stayed mostly below 80°, then heated up in August and September. Harvest began in late September and finished up on 23 October, yielding around 2.4 tons per acre.

“1994 rightfully ranks as one of California’s greatest modern-day vintages and the 1994 Harlan estate is clearly one of our best. Very classic, with lots of detail and energy,” the report concluded.

Wine Advocate #114 Dec 1997

What did Parker say: “I have tasted the wine for three consecutive years, and each time it satisfied all of my requirements for perfection. The opaque purple colour is followed by spectacular aromatics that soar from the glass, offering up celestial levels of black currants, minerals, smoked herbs, cedar wood, coffee, and pain grille.”

7. Bryant Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Release price: $120

Current price: $900+

Production: 1,100

Owner/winemaker: Don Bryant/Helen Turley

Michel Rolland makes his first of many appearances as travelling consultant and that famous Napa native David Abreu (another 100-point winemaker) tends the 13-acres of vineyards on Pritchard Hill above Lake Hennessy.

The current winemaker is Helen Keplinger who worked at Paradigm Winery under another recurring name in this winemaking circle, Heidi Barrett.

Keplinger has previously worked in Australia and Spain and held numerous winemaking and consulting positions across California before joining Bryant in February last year.

One former, very famous and occasionally divisive, winemaker was Helen Turley, who many credit with creating the “in your face” style of the cult Cabernets, which combined high levels of extraction and very often no filtering.

1997 was an excellent but difficult vintage in California. An incredibly hot summer was interrupted by rainstorms in mid-August, which caused rot to set in for thinner-skinned grapes such as Chardonnay and Zinfandel.

Cabernets were left relatively unmolested and once the canopies dried out, ripening continued through September and even into October, leaving fruit that was, in the best cases, the equal of 1994.

Wine Advocate #132 Dec 2000

What did Parker say: “One of the most awesome young reds I have ever tasted, it possesses a black/purple colour, a seamless texture, and freakishly high levels of intensity (cassis, black and blueberries infused with espresso, chocolate, and liquorice) that are flawlessly presented in a full-bodied, massive yet elegant wine. It is not too much to suggest that in the future, Bryant’s Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon might well be one of the wines that redefines greatness in Cabernet Sauvignon.”

6. Harlan Estate 1997

Release price: $150

Current price: $915+

Parker once labelled Harlan’s wines: “Perhaps the single most profound red wine made in the world.”

And before anyone spills their claret or Burgundy in disgust please note that Robinson’s first impression was also: “Why doesn’t all wine taste like this?”

If Harlan is one of the greatest reds in the world, then 1997 was possibly its crowning achievement.

Wine Advocate #132 Dec 2000

What did Parker say: “The 1997 Harlan Estate is one of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines I have ever tasted. This enormously endowed, profoundly rich wine must be tasted to be believed. Opaque purple-coloured, it boasts spectacular, soaring aromatics of vanilla, minerals, coffee, blackberries, liquorice, and cassis. In the mouth, layer after layer unfold powerfully yet gently.”

5. Bond Vecina Proprietary Red Wine 2007

Release price: $275

Current price: $1,000

Production: 700

Owner/winemaker: Bill Harlan/Bob Levy

A pet project of Harlan Estate owner Bill Harlan, Bond is a collection of five vineyard sites dotted round the Napa Valley that have been picked out by Harlan and his winemaker Bob Levy for their excellence.

From these vineyards, the team then produce 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines that are meant to express the terroir of what they have dubbed Napa’s “grands crus”.

The sites include:

  • Melbury north of Lake Hennessy near Rutherford, a seven-acre site comprised of clay and compressed slate.
  • The Pluribus from Spring Mountain, at an elevation of over 1,000 feet it is the most northerly site. Another seven-acre vineyard on pure volcanic tufa.
  • Vecina is an 11-acre vineyard near Oakville at a height of 200-330 feet. It has volcanic bedrock covered in alluvial wash and an eastern exposure
  • St Eden has a northern exposure and is also 11 acres. Situated near Oakville, it has iron-rich soil and volcanic bedrock.
  • The Quella vineyard is 9 acres on the eastern foothills of St Helena on an old alluvial riverbed mixed with white tufa.

Wine Advocate #192 Dec 2010

What did Parker say: “A perfect wine, the 2007 Vecina provides a prodigious display of blackberries, charcoal, black currants, burning embers and a La Mission-Haut-Brion-like hot rock/gravelly character.”

4. Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon CCS 2007

Schrader 100-pointers, CCs on left: photo courtesy of Zachy's

Release price: $150

Current price: $1,400

Schrader does it again, with arguably its most successful range. The wines from this series have received three successive 100 points from Parker, leading him to remark: “There doesn’t appear to be a hotter Cabernet Sauvignon producer in the New World than this small boutique winery.”

Wine Advocate #186 Dec 2009

What did Parker say: “There is something about the inky/purple-hued 2007 CCS that blows me away. The most opulent, perfumed, and accessible of these wines, it exhibits an opaque purple colour as well as an extraordinary density and richness in addition to copious crème de cassis, cedar, ink, and spice box characteristics.”

3. Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon Old Sparky 2007

Release price: $500

Current price: $1,750

With its distinctive dragon label, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer To-Kalon Vineyard Old Sparky (take a breath) is one of the clonal experiments from Schrader’s Beckstoffer To-Kalon block.

The 2007 is a blend of clones 4, 6 and 337 and the wine is released in magnums and larger formats only. The wine generally receives 20 months of oak ageing in Darnajou and Taransaud barrels

Wine Advocate #186 Dec 2009

What did Parker say: “Ridiculous levels of concentration, without heaviness, extraordinary opulence, and amazing exuberance and flamboyance are found in this beauty along with abundant notes of crème de cassis, cedarwood, spring flowers, lead pencil shavings, and a hint of hot pebbles. It also displays outstanding purity, depth, and full-bodied power.”

2. Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Release price: $750

Current price: $2,295+

Production: 800 cases

Owner/winemaker: Stan Kroenke and Charles Banks/Andy Erickson

In 2006, founder Jean Philips announced in a letter to The Wine Spectator that she had received “an offer she couldn’t refuse” and was selling possibly the most famous and certainly one of the best named Napa wineries; Screaming Eagle.

The new owners, Charles Banks and Stan Kroenke, installed new winemaking equipment and replanted the nearly 50-acre vineyard. Banks left the partnership in 2009 leaving Kroenke as the sole owner.

Michel Rolland consults at the winery and vineyard manager is the ubiquitous Abreu. Original winemaker Heidi Barrett left in 2004 and was replaced by Andy Erickson who in turn left to focus on his own wines in 2010. The winemaker today is Nick Gislason.

Whatever it cost to buy such a vaunted property and then renovate it was rewarded with the 2007 vintage, widely regarded as an exceptional year throughout the region, one which yielded Cabernets with excellent structure and fruit.

 Wine Advocate #192 Dec 2010

What did Parker say: “The most profound Screaming Eagle since the 2002 and 1997, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon offers up a prodigiously pure, complex nose of cassis, spring flowers, liquorice and black currants, the latter component being so intense and lingering that it makes this cuvee stand apart from other Napa Valley wines.”

1. Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Release price: $125

Current price: $4,195+

Production: 500 cases

Owner/winemaker: Jean Philips/Heidi Barrett

Surprise, surprise, the winner is Screaming Eagle. It is arguably the cult wine and the 1997 vintage harks back to the founding days of the winery under Philips and Barrett.

Founded in 1986 by Jean Philips, the 57 acres of vineyard were originally planted with a mix of varieties for selling off to other producers.

However, Philips had her eye on one plot of just 80 vines, which she had reviewed by the team at the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Convinced of its potential, she hired Richard Peterson as a consultant and met in doing so met Peterson’s daughter Heidi Barrett who came on board as winemaker.

The 1992 was the first vintage. Released in 1995 its tiny production and a positive review from Robert Parker (99 points) catapulted the winery into the big time.

Wine Advocate #126 Jan 2000

What did Parker say: “It doesn’t get any better than 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, a perfect wine. Representing the essence of cassis liqueur intermixed with blackberries, minerals, liquorice and toast, this full-bodied, multi-dimensional classic is fabulous, with extraordinary purity, symmetry and a finish that lasts for nearly a minute.”





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