“Screaming Eagle Wines are not for mere mortals” was my answer to a query, but this question actually arises in the middle of one of my greatest wine stories. Some of my friends may be tired of this story, but I do enjoy retelling it.
First a little background for mere mortals like me. Screaming Eagle is one of the legendary cult wines of California. You cannot visit the winery, there is no tasting room and the wines are sold by subscription. There is even a waiting list to get onto the subscription list. What a terrible situation for a business to be in, the wine is pre-sold each vintage. The winery does donate some wine for the big Napa charity auctions, because the proceeds go back to the area. From all conversations I have had, there is a little cottage industry of people who have been on the subscription list, pay for the wine and then proceed to give their allotment to the prestigious auction houses. They make a profit on their purchase, wait for the following year and repeat the cycle. Through the auction houses are how most restaurants (from what I gather) get the wine to proudly place on their wine list. I am sure that most restaurants like the honor of having the wine on the list, and price it, so that they don’t have to go through the rigors of getting more.
The story that I am going to relate has been sanitized to protect everyone. My Bride and I were on holidays in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. This community is a quaint, charming community known for their artists, restaurants and wineries. It may be the only quaint community that has a Tiffany’s on the main drag. You may see celebrities there, and celebrities own businesses there as well. I do digress.
I resume; my Bride and I like to dress for dinner when we are on holidays to make it even more festive and memorable. I tend to make dinner reservations months in advance of our trips, because there are certain restaurants that are imperative that we visit. We were at such a hallowed institution. I remember ordering my customary vermouth cocktail, while I studied the menu and the wine list, one cannot be hasty. We finally decided on all of the courses, and ordered two wonderful splits of Carmel wines to go with some of the courses. We started off with a Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay and then would finish off with a Marinus Meritage. We were looking forward to a great meal.
Immediately after our waiter left with all of our requests, two gentlemen were seated at the next table. They called for the sommelier, and he went to their table, soon after an argument ensued and the sommelier left the table. The wait staff came to our table to start setting the different wine glasses for the different wines that we had ordered. Just before our first course, one of the two men looked at our table of stemware and asked if I knew anything about wine. I replied that I knew a little, and then he proceeded to interview me as if I was in a courtroom, this continued through the first course and the salad course. During this conversation the men were drinking cocktails. I guess he was satisfied with my grilling, because all of this was a prelude to what was occurred next.
These two gentlemen were business partners and had around $3000.00 of company money that had to be spent by the end of the trip, or they would lose the amount to spend. We presumed it had more to do with business expenses; my Bride and I were both appalled, but we could not chastise them (it wasn’t our business). They wanted to order the bottle of Screaming Eagle for dinner, and the sommelier did not want to serve it. I told the two men, that the sommelier was probably doing them a favor, because I felt that the wine was much too young to be poured. I explained that a bottle of this quality was made to be cellared, to mature and to become more complex. I said that many of the wines on the list would be perfect to drink this evening. The other man, looked at me, and said that is what the sommelier had told him. That is when he asked me, if I had ever had Screaming Eagle, and that is when I gave him my reply (from above).
This went on through our entrée, and while we were waiting for our dessert, some vintage port and a cognac, the gentlemen asked if I could talk to the sommelier, as he wasn’t returning to their table. I asked our server, to ask if the sommelier would come to our table, when he did, I recounted all that had occurred during our dinner. I spoke loud enough that there would be no question at the next table about my discussion. I said that I concurred with the sommelier that they were wasting good money on an immature body of wine (albeit a stellar one). I also said that because of my years in retailing, if I did my due diligence and told a customer the negative aspects of an item and they still wanted the item, that I had no choice but to honor the request. I repeated the old adage,” that a bird in the hand, is worth two in the bush.”
We had finally come to the end of a great meal, in spite of the two gentlemen who kept us from our own private conversation and good company. As I was calling for our bill, the sommelier was walking to our table with a tray with a single, most perfectly shaped wine glass with the longest stem I had ever seen. I told the sommelier that we had received everything that we had ordered for the night. He looked at me and smiled, and told me the gentlemen thought that I should have the honor of having the first glass and taste of the wine after it had been decanted. I gamely accepted, asked if I could have a piece of bread and a fresh glass of water to cleanse my palate after a wonderful dinner.
I felt like every eye in the restaurant was watching this event unfold, though I am sure that this was not the case. I asked my Bride if she would like the first taste, and she said that I had spoiled her taste buds enough and this was all for me. As I swirled the wine in the glass, marveled at the rich color, inhaled the nose that was for me, I finally placed the first sip on my tongue, almost slurping as I whistled in that last breath of air for the wine, and chewed that first taste, then swallowed. I waited for and studied the after taste or kiss of the wine and smiled. I looked at my Bride, the sommelier and the two gentlemen and said that the wine was delicious, but it would have been monumental and awe-inspiring in about ten years.
I did nurse that glass of wine, and realized that this was one of the great wine stories in my life. As they used to say on Dragnet, the names and places have been changed to protect the innocent.