Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Screaming Eagle vintages 2005, 2001 and 1996

The Eagle, that’s the cult wine of all cult wines. Not the best, but the one most sought after. And the one with the most extreme price tag – 750 dollar from the winery for the few chosen ones who are on the magic list, and 1 500 to 3 000 dollars per bottle for the people who buys it on the second hand market. I could easily write a book on this estate and its wine (only one wine made), and perhaps I will in the future. For now, I’d like to focus on these wines, all made by the legendary wine maker Heidi Peterson-Barrett, since the new ownership at Screaming Eagle not longer in there. (New winemaker is the new superstar Andy Erickson.)
The 23.85 hectare big vineyard, in the eastern part of Oakville, has a unique combination of soil (a red, iron rich volcanic soil) and exposure, and talking to Andy and on site winemaker Massimo di Costanzo (kudos to him) it’s really something special out there. “We’ve tried to polish the winemaking practices, only to find that the terroir always beat us”, says Andy. I guess that’s the great thing about Screaming Eagle.
The wine is made from somewhere between 83 to 88 per cent of Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 to 15 percent of Merlot and a splash of Cabernet Franc. After some days of cold soak, fermentation is carried out in small stainless steel tanks and two small open top fermenters in French oak (since 2007 also in small cement tanks), and the wine is then transferred into French oak barrels, of which 60-65 per cent are new. Some 18-20 months later, the wine is bottled. Then the big war starts! Whoever get the bottles at release price, is the winner!

2005 Screaming Eagle / 97 p
It’s still so young, and densely concentrated – and based on previous impressions of young Screaming Eagle, I found it to be a bit more powerful and rich, and also closed, than expected. I took almost one hour in the decanter for the more common cassis aromas to be expressed. At first, it was a bit closed, almost shy, although the sommelier decanted it one hour before I tasted it, but during the next hour, it really opened up! From a red fruit nose, then the roast of the lightly toasted French barrels, then the dark purple fruit explosion – wow, it’s so much going on here. Talking about fruits, there’s more blueberries than cassis in this vintage, perhaps that’s a vintage thing, or a new style. Anyhow, the overall impression is the same as in all vintages I have tasted of this extremely rare wine – the sensual and silky texture, which I believe derives from the soil, the terroir. It’s like a body builder in a silk costume. To get the best out of this beauty, I would give it some more years of bottle age, or at least two hours in a decanter. If at all you get your hand of a bottle.
Drink it 2012-2025.

2001 Screaming Eagle / 96 p
I’ve had this wine a few times, and the last time, it didn’t show as well as in previous tastings. No wonder why, it was poured next to Sloan, Araujo, Abreu, Bond and Harlan wines, all of 2001 vintage. In a tasting like this, Screaming Eagle is always one of the most elegant wines. It’s never built on power and concentration, and its tannins are silky and smooth, remember this is a valley floor vineyard, although on a gentle slope with a great soil. The fruit leans more towards black currants with some grassy notes, rather than dark berries, and it’s lighter and more aromatic than it it’s fellow cult wines. It took and hour for the wine to open up and show more complex qualities, but all the way through the taste, it’s a lovely, elegant and fine tuned wine with a delicious mineral note in elegant and lingering aftertaste. If served today, decanting a good hour ahead is recommended – then you’ll get more of the elegant Bordeaux like notes.
Drink it 2010-2020.

1996 Screaming Eagle / 95 p
This is a somehow ignored vintage, which is quite normal since it came between the greater vintages of 1994 and 1997, and even the very good 1995. Nevertheless, many of the 1996s are lovely to drink today, and the Screaming Eagle is one of them. It one of the lighter and even more elegant vintages of this wine, still with the typical cassis aromatics, smoothness and fine tannins, today with small but complex notes of secondary aromas – earth, tobacco and cedar. It’s a delicious and elegant rather than great wine.
Drink it over the next 5-8 years.

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