Our list of the 5 most expensive California wines is dominated by one region and one type of grape. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon continues to fetch the highest sale price per bottle. This should come as no surprise. Some of the most valuable vineyard land in the world is found in Napa region. The mix of climate and soil is almost perfect for growing cab grapes. Combine that with the history and talent of the local winemakers and the conditions are right for a very desirable bottle of wine.
That’s not to say the list is only made up of big Cabs, there are other regions and winemakers in California that are carving their own niches in the world of high priced wine. California’s central coast is gaining prestige and attracting winemakers that have the talent to produce world class wine.
Here are the top 5 most expensive California wines and the wineries that make them:
Since the mid 90s this is the winery that defines a California “Cult” wine. The 1992 vintage, that was released in 1995, received 99 points from Robert Parker. If you can find a bottle of that vintage today, expect to pay over $7,000 for a single bottle. For newer releases, you can expect to pay $2,500 on average. This winery doesn’t offer tastings and it’s almost impossible to buy wine directly from them. If expensive California wines are your thing and you want to get on the waiting list, you can add your name here.
Order a bottle: Screaming Eagle 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon - 3,129
From The Wine Advocate - "Utter perfection, the 2010 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon (a 610-case blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 9% Cabernet Franc; 14.5% natural alcohol) boasts a dense ruby/purple color along with a staggering bouquet of spring flowers, graphite, creme de cassis, kirsch, licorice and subtle toast in the background. Opulent and full-bodied with a multidimensional personality, gorgeous purity and a stunning, flawless texture, this spectacular wine is among the wines of the vintage."
Interesting fact: In a traditionally male dominated profession, Screaming Eagle, one of the most important California wineries of the past twenty years, was founded by a woman and had a female winemaker during its initial run of success.
Sister Winery: Try Screaming Eagle's sister winery Jonata if you want an amazing wine at a fraction of the cost. Jonata may not qualify as one of the most expensive California wines today, but it could in the future. Jonata is focused on Central Coast offerings, but the quality of Screaming Eagle is there.
Order a bottle: Jonata Todos Proprietary Red Wine 2010
Here is an immediate departure from Napa and from the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal. Sine Qua Non helped to put the Rhone Varietals of the California Central Coast on the international wine map. Since the early 90s, SQN has bucked convention with its unique bottling, labeling and naming of their wines. Each wine label is hand created by the winery owner, Manfred Krankl. Another of the Cult producers, SQN carefully manages their production and distribution. You have to wait patiently for five to seven years for the honor of ordering wine directly from them!
Order a bottle: Sine Qua Non Patine Syrah 2011 - 1,569
The Wine Advocate - "A wine that needs to be forgotten in the cellar for 5-6 years, the 2011 Syrah Patine checks in as a blend of roughly 97% Syrah and the balance Roussanne and Viognier. It too comes all from the estate's Eleven Confessions Vineyard and saw 39 months in 63% new French oak. Backward, tight, concentrated and structured, with full-bodied richness and depth, it gives up Guigal La Landonne like aromas and flavors of graphite, sweet oak, smoked meats, pepper and black raspberry and cassis-like fruit. While it shows the vintage's cooler nature, it has a stacked mid-palate and will evolve gracefully for 15-20 years."
Interesting fact: SQN owner Manfred Frankl has a strong connection to the Los Angeles food scene. He co-founded the groundbreaking restaurant Campanile and the LA mecca for bread, La Brea Bakery.
And now we quickly return to the Napa Valley with Schrader Cellars and their sublime Cabernet Sauvignon. Schrader is in very rare company due to the quality and consistency of their wine. This, along with limited production, has pushed them into the world of cult status wines. Schrader is the only winery with 17 perfect 100 point scores from the Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. Yet another winery with an insanely long wait list, they estimate that there are 7,000 to 8,000 people on the list just waiting for a chance to order their wine.
Order a bottle: Schrader Old Sparky Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon - 1,699
The Wine Advocate - "The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Old Sparky (which is only available in magnums) is a wine of great intensity as well. More similar than dissimilar to its two siblings, it seems to be backward. If I did not know its age, I would have guessed it had just been bottled. Stunningly pure notes of graphite, blueberries, creme de cassis, and a hint of toasty oak soar from the glass as if propelled by jet propulsion. In the mouth, the wine is full-bodied with high tannins, but nothing is out of balance. Tasting from magnum makes for a slightly younger showing of the wine, but this is unquestionably a brilliant wine. It, too, needs to be forgotten for 7-10 years, and drunk over the following 25. "
Interesting fact: The amazing Schrader wines count on one of the first vineyards planted in the Napa Valley. The "To Kalon" vineyard was established in 1868 by Hamilton Crabb (one of the all-time great names in wine)
There is clearly something magical about Cabernet wines from Napa. Harlan Estate is the focus of another one of the wine cults that popped up in the 1990s. H. William Harlan, unlike some of the other winery owners on the list, set out with the intention of finding the ideal growing conditions in the valley. Lucky for us, he found a wooded hillside that he felt would produce grapes of exceptional quality. Based on the success of his wines and the reviews they receive; it appears he was right. The winery produces approximately 1,800 cases of each year. And like the other wineries we've discussed, Harlan has a mailing list that you will probably never be on!
Order a bottle: Harlan Estate 2012 - 899.00
The Wine Advocate - "The 2012 Harlan Estate is reminiscent of their 2002. Probably a candidate for perfection with another 4-5 years of bottle age, the wine is inky plum/purple to the rim and offers a gorgeous nose of scorched earth, blackberry and cassis, forest floor, and a floral, lavender-like component followed by deep, opulent, majestic flavors that caress the palate with high but sweet tannin. This is relatively evolved, and supple and voluptuous for a young Harlan estate – hence the comparison with their compelling 2002. This wine can be drunk in several years and is likely another candidate for 30-50 years of cellaring. Range: 99+ "
Interesting fact: One "lot" of 10 magnum bottles from Harlan Estate sold for $700,000 at the Napa wine auction in 2000.
Another Napa Cab producer on our list of most expensive California wines. Does four out of five make this a trend? Bryant Family Vineyards started production in the early 1990s and attained cult status quickly. With wines highly regarded by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and a very limited number of bottles available, they had the right combination to create a rabid following. As you can see from the current wait list, not much has changed. They are currently moving wine lovers on to their active list who first joined the mailing list in 2010!
Order a bottle: Bryant Family CabernetSauvignon 2012 - 699.00
The Wine Advocate - "Bryant’s flagship wine, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate vineyard on Pritchard Hill offers a rare but magnificent forest floor/floral aromatic profile with lavishly rich, ripe notes of crème de cassis, blueberry and black raspberry liqueur. Fleshy, opulent, full-bodied and multidimensional, it conceals some significant tannins behind its wealth of extract and fruit. From a first-growth quality, hillside vineyard (13 acres), this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is gorgeously pure as well as impeccably well-balanced with a seamless integration of tannin, acidity, alcohol and wood. In fact, the new oak component, which is significant, is largely obliterated by the wine’s stunning fruit. This majestic Cabernet Sauvignon should age effortlessly for 25-30 years."
Interesting fact: Donald Bryant didn’t have any intention of starting a winery when he bought the property used for the Bryant Family vineyard. He was buying the property to build his home, but soon learned that the land was well suited to growing grapes. Well suited may be an understatement!
Interested in finding more of the most expensive California wines? Here are some more wineries you should know about:
Maybe the most expensive California wines fall outside of your budget. Don't worry! There are many premiums that are far more attainable. There are even a few of these produces of the most expensive wines that have side projects making excellent wines that don't require you to mortgage your house.
Here are a few to check out.
Highest Wine Auction Prices
Chateau Lafite 1787 |$156,450
Chateau Lafite’s 1869 | $230,000
Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck | $275,000
1947 Cheval-Blanc | $304,375
Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 | $500,000
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