The World's Most Expensive Napa Cabernets

Cabernet retains its pull on the affections of wine lovers – and their wallets.
© NVV | Cabernet retains its pull on the affections of wine lovers – and their wallets.
It's full steam ahead for America's favorite grape, but one high flier has had its wings clipped.
By Don Kavanagh | Posted Friday, 23-Jul-2021

There's only one place on earth where it would be possible for a horse to outpace an eagle and that's Napa.

Yes, folks, the unthinkable has happened – Screaming Eagle is no longer Napa's most expensive Cab. After a great run at the head of the pack, the byword for wallet-draining Cabernet has settled for second place, handing over the metaphorical yellow jersey to an unheralded successor. But before we reveal which wine now sits on top of the heap, let's take a closer look at the background.

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Cabernet and Napa go together like politicians and cliches and it's hard to think of a more natural-sounding pairing; it can often be quite hard not to follow the word "Napa" with the word "Cab", even in general conversation. That's not abnormal, though – after all, Cabernet Sauvignon has been the foundation of Napa's reputation and, even when it is blended, it is Cabernet that forms the basis of Napa's best wines.

That's fortuitous for Napa, in a way. Cabernet is still the world's favorite grape, despite the increasing attraction of Pinot Noir, so being a region that produces great Cabernet is always going to be a popular quality. As a result, ever-increasing prices for Napa wines were seen as a natural phenomenon, as normal and unstoppable as night following day.

When we looked at this list last year – or at least a version of it – we did notice a couple of anomalies, however. One was the unchanging nature of the wines on the list (the only change from the previous year was two wines swapping places), and the other was a relatively sudden stagnation in price. Whereas previous years had seen double-digit rises in the average price of the top wines, the lists for 2019 and 2020 only showed modest rises in the low single figures. Well, what a difference a year makes.

The list below presents the opposite picture. There are many different wines, including some new ones, and the prices are shooting up again.

The difference in the actual wines making this list can partially be put down to some different criteria. For a start, we are only looking at Cabernets this time out, while previously we looked at Napa wines from any grape variety or blend. That means no Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc, Harlan or Realm, but even in terms of Cabernets this list is refreshingly different, with six wines that have never featured before.

Pricing is very different, too. While last year's top 10 had an average increase in average global retail price of just 3.5 percent each, this year the figure is 12.5 percent. It's also interesting to note that last year there were four wines on this list with average prices below $800. This year there are none.

The World's Most Expensive Napa Cabernets on Wine-Searcher:

Let's talk horses for a moment. Ghost Horse began in 2000 when, not satisfied with running Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards, Todd Anderson decided to concentrate on super-premium Cabernet under another label. The Spectre has nudged Screaming Eagle off its perch by simply being more available. In previous years, there simply hasn't been enough of it about to register on these lists. And it's not even the most expensive wine in Ghost Horse's portfolio – the Premonition Cabernet sits at an average price of $6000 a bottle, but there isn't enough around to warrant inclusion.

It's also interesting to note that all the wines on this list have gone up in price in the past 12 months, even if in the case of the Amici wine that was by less than 1 percent. Tusk "only" managed a 2.12 percent rise, but all the rest saw much healthier rises, with the top two wines seeing average price increases of 20 and 16.5 percent, respectively.

King of the price rises, though, was Schrader's Old Sparky, which enjoyed a massive upswing of 38.9 percent on last year – that's a $230-a-bottle price hike in 12 months.

There might be more diversity in this year's list but the pricing proves that, whatever else changes in Napa, high prices never go out of style.

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