Tuesday, November 30, 2010

2004 Screaming Eagle

Talking or writing about ”the eagle” is always controversial. Within a second or two, words and opinions about taste verses quality and price will come up, no matter you like it or not. The answer to that adequate and most welcome question is; will the wines of Napa Valley stand up to the competition and reputation of the finest wines from Bordeaux, and will they ever be worth the price?
In one way, it’s quite easy to answer that question, but then it always comes down to personal taste and expectation, if you can and are willing to spend that much money on a bottle of wine, and for what reason you want to buy particular wine.

To start with, yes, with no doubt the best cabernets of Napa Valley are very much up to the competition with the very finest of Bordeaux, whatever reasons the Francophiles give you to reject that idea. (Or fact!) They’re not likely to enjoy these wines anyway, since most Francophiles believes that Roussillon is this world most southern wine region, and Bordeaux is the only region able to produce great cabernet wines.

Quality is not only about taste, since taste is foremost a personal thing. Quality is numerous factors such as ripeness, level and maturity of tannins, overall aromatic profile, level of acidity, cleanliness, oak flavor (oh, yes, the oak is also very forward in young wines from Bordeaux), balance, the way the aftertaste lingers or not, also how well the wine corresponds to its grape varieties and origin. These factors all play an important role in what makes a great wine. In that sense, Napa Valley is as good as Bordeaux, but to be honest more even over vintages – which may be considered as a great advantage.
I fully understand that prices on so called cult wines of Napa Valley sometimes are crazy, still there’s enough people to buy them at the mailing list (at full prices) and even on the second hand market (at silly prices). So, what’s so fuzzy about that?
Even though some of these wines are truly great – Harlan Estate, Araujo Eisele Vineyard, Dalla Valle Maya, Bryant Family, Grace Family, et al – they are not wines for everyone. Nobody complains about the price of a fabulous car or a fantastic villa for several million dollars, since we all know they’re not for us. Still we make loud noise about certain wines we no longer can afford to buy.
Screaming Eagle is one of those wines. And it is a very, very delicious wine. It’s never powerful or overly ripe or alcoholic, its build on finesse and the sense of its birthplace, the reddish volcanic soil in the eastern section of Oakville.

I once asked winemakers Andy Erickson and Massimo di Costanzo how much they have made experiments since they came aboard at Screaming Eagle in 2006, and what these experiments resulted in. “First of all, we have full respect for what Jean Phillips and her winemaker Heidi Peterson-Barrett have achieved over the years, still we wanted to see if we could make the wine even better – but almost whatever experiments we did regarding maceration and extraction, the personality of the vineyard stood out”, they replied. It’s really a great terroir, just as at any château with a great reputation in Médoc.
After tasting their first vintages 2006 and 2007, I’ve noticed that the style has not changed, although the wines seem to be a bit more intense, still not ripe and heave – at least at this young stage. Perhaps that’s just the vintages?

2004 Screaming Eagle / 95-96 p
There’s always around 10-15 percent Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the blend, and some cold soak before the fermentation starts. Fermentation takes place in small stainless steel tanks with a capacity of 15 hectoliters, and the winemaker (in this vintage Heidi Peterson-Barrett) works with a combination of pigeage and remontage, and always very gentle. There should never be any sharp edges in the eagle. While almost all cult wines are raised in brand new French oak barrels, Screaming Eagle only sees 60-65 percent of new oak. The ageing is around 18-20 months, and there’s no filtration or clarification prior to bottling.
I decanted this wine four hours before serving it, which was needed. At first it was quite closed although slightly sweet on the nose, after all – this is the 2004 vintage, which was warm and gave the wines a riper and slightly more sweetish fruit. After a couple of hours, the wine opened up to be more intense and perfumed with is typical cassis notes. We tasted it with other cult wines this time, and as always the Screaming Eagle is the most elegant and silky (unless you pour it next to the Grace Family wine). The oak is extremely well integrated – nowhere in my tasting notes there’s a work of oak. I rather describe the texture as seamless as velvet. If one needs to complain on a small detail, the acidity may be a bit low (typical for the 2004 vintage), but not to that extent it makes the wine unbalanced.
What’s really interesting is to see how much the wine evolves during the five hours the wine spent in the decanter, and our glasses. If you look for pure power, this is not the wine for you. If you prefer balance and finesse, and a fine tuned flavor profile with great intensity, this is something to look for. Well, if you find it, and if you can afford it!
It was $300 on the mailing list – the 2005 vintage was $500 – but on the second hand market you have to be prepared to pay anything from $1200 to $1800, unfortunately.
Drink it 2010-2024.

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