2 Cult Wine Junkie

The late-twenty version of myself would have flipped out at my sixteen-year-old self chugging Caymus in a bathroom from the bottle with three other partners in crime. 

Not because I was drinking underage (I think alcohol laws are dumb) but at the waste of decadent grape juice known as Caymus. 

Caymus, like some other Cabernet-based wines from Napa Valley, has a certain pedigree amongst its peers.  It stands with Stags Leap, Chateau Montelena, Quintessa, and (dare-I-say) Opus One.  While these wines are considered the “big boys” of the Valley, a higher tier of wines exist beyond them. 

This higher level of wines are known as “Cult Wines.”  They sell for prices that us mere mortals can never afford.  Cult wines are like the illusive Unicorn… you’ve heard about them, you know their magical, but you probably will never see one (or taste one) in real life.  Just so you know the names of a few, should you be in a conversation where the topic is raised, the following are considered Napa Cult Wines:  Bryant, Bond, Dalle Valle, Harlan, and of course, Screaming Eagle.  There are more, of course, but its too subjective to list them all here.  All you really need to know about these Cult Wines is that they are Unicorns.  That is, unless you run into a Cult Wine Junkie.

I encountered my first Cult Wine Junkie at the ripe-old age of 22.  I ended up in a wine tasting group where the next-youngest person was 20 years my senior.  That was fine by me, because they could afford the “Big Boys” and I could afford the cheese and crackers.  One of the members of the group was a quirky-but-kind gentleman who was probably nearing age 55, we’ll call him Fred. 

It was “Napa Cab” night, and Fred had sent an email around bragging that he was going to bring a 1997 Dalle Valle Cab… and the excitement that ensued on that email chain had a hint of awe and a stench of bullshit. 

As the group began unveiling their contributions for that nights tasting, Fred meticulously unwrapped the Dalle Valle from a clothe he’d hidden it in.  As he gently presented it to the table, it was like angles sung and a light from heaven shined down on the bottle.  Then Fred’s Cult addiction became apparent.  “This is highly allocated, and a very special treat I’d like to share with you, my closest friends.”  I’d talked to Fred all of 15 minutes in my entire life. 

I was usually the go-to wine opener, since I waited tables at a local steak house, but I was not allowed to touch the Dalle Valle, because of the remote chance that I may crumble the cork, spill some, or just not handle it with the kit-gloves it deserved.  Fred stood to complete his presentation and delicately pressed the corkscrew into the middle of the soft cork.  It seemed he was turning the screw for about 10 minutes, and pulling on the cork for another 5 before the delicate release from the bottle.   He grabbed the balloon, glass decanter and dribbled the sweet nectar into the neck of the container.

For 30 minutes we waited while the wine “opened up” in the decanter.  I was thinking to myself, “My God, I’m thirsty, when are we going to drink this shit?”  A thought, if voiced, that would certainly have me exiled from this semi-religious event. 

Finally, Fred poured a one ounce pour for his “closest friends” while properly filling his own glass.   And I have to admit, it was killer wine.  The color was still rich and almost purpley.  The smell danced with dark blackberries, currant, and toast.  And the taste was as smooth as velvet.  The congratulations that erupted after everyone had enjoyed the wine made Fred the proudest person in the room.  That’s when I got it… the Cult Wine addiction was not for the wine itself.  For Christ’ sake, the wine cost as much as my rent did back then.  The addiction was about the praise and adoration of your peers.  A thing many people spend thousands of dollars on everyday to achieve.   And if it can be accomplished while drinking great wine… wine not?