Only 30 miles long and 5 miles across, Napa Valley isn’t what one would consider a large wine region. Yet, it’s one of the country’s (and the world’s) most famous. Located only 50 miles northeast of San Francisco, the region has just over 44,000 acres under cultivation. It’s home to more than 400 wineries and produces 4% of California’s wine.
Napa Valley has a reputation for producing high-quality wines, Cabernet Sauvignon in particular. The best vintages are incredible and can be hard to get your hands on - which adds to their allure and, in some cases, their high price tag. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most expensive Napa wines ever sold.
What Makes Some Napa Wines So Expensive?
Napa Valley may be small, but it has a near-perfect environment for grape growing. The region features a Mediterranean-like climate with warm summers and mild winters. Temperatures shift drastically from day to evening, supporting the development of complex flavors and structure in the grapes as they grow. Add to that the region’s rich soil and varied terrain, and you’ve got ideal conditions for producing some of the best and some of the most expensive wines in the world.
It also helps that the wineries in Napa Valley (95% of which are family-owned) put exceptional care into the production of their wines. They pour their hearts into their work, and it shows.
5 Of the Most Expensive Napa Wines Ever Sold
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the most expensive bottles of Napa Valley wine people have ever purchased:
1. Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 1941 — $27,000
Inglenook Winery is one of the oldest in the US. Gustave Niebaum purchased the property (and an adjoining farm) in 1871 and celebrated the first vintage in 1882. The winery gained a global reputation over the years, but it was the 1941 Cabernet Sauvignon that became one of Inglenook’s most famous wines. Known as one of the best wines ever made, it earned a perfect 100 in 1990 as judged by Wine Spectator. A single bottle of this incredible wine was sold at an auction in 2004 for just over $27,000.
2. Setting Wines Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon — $350,000
The Setting Wines (established in 2014) is a collection of luxury wines created by three friends, including celebrity winemaker Jesse Katz. Katz, who was the first winemaker to make Forbes’ “30 under 30” list, has nearly two decades of experience with some of the top wineries in the country.
Over the years, The Setting Wines has collaborated with philanthropic organizations, sports organizations, corporations, celebrities, and other individuals to create something unique. Their 2015 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was a collaboration created for talent manager Shep Gordon to share with guests in his home.
Rather than drinking the wine, however, Gordon donated it to the Emeril Lagasse Foundation to auction at the 2017 Carnivale du Vin. The bottle fetched $350,000 from a private wine collector, breaking the record at the time for the most expensive (750ml) bottle of wine ever sold.
3. Harlan Estate Vertical Selection of 10 Vintage Bottles — $700,000
H. William Harlan had a mission to find the ideal growing conditions in the Napa Valley region. After locating a wooded hillside that he believed would produce exceptional grapes, he established Harlan Estate.
Over the years, the wines produced by Harlan have received high praise. The winery produces approximately 1,800 bottles a year, and many sell for over $1,000 each. However, in 2000, a “lot” of ten magnum bottles sold for $700,000 at a Napa wine auction. While the price was for ten bottles, that’s still $70,000 per bottle. While that’s less than most of the other wines on this list, it’s still pretty impressive.
4. Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 — $500,000
Founded in 1986 by Jean Phillips (a former real estate agent), Screaming Eagle is a small winery with an annual production of fewer than 500 cases. It’s also the winery responsible for some of the most expensive wines in America. Its Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines often fetch several thousand dollars on the secondary market.
The wine that held the record for most expensive — up until recently — was an imperial (6L bottle) of Screaming Eagle’s 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine, which earned a 99 out of 100 rating, sold for $500,000 at an auction held in 2000.
5. Setting Wines Glass Slipper Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 — $1 Million
As if The Setting Wines hadn’t already proved themselves with their $350,000 750ml 2015 Alexander Valley Cab Sav... A few years later, a six-liter bottle of their 2019 Glass Slipper Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $1 million at the Emeril Lagasse Foundation’s 2021 Carnivale du Vin. It was the only six-liter bottle of the 100% Cabernet Sauvignon produced. During the auction, the Foundation raised a record-setting $3.75 million total.
Find (More Reasonably Priced) Napa Wines
Napa Valley may be home to some pretty expensive wines, but that doesn’t mean every bottle will set you back tens of thousands of dollars or more. Here are a few tips that might help you find a more reasonably priced bottle:
Do a Little Digging
While plenty of wineries in Napa produce pricy wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, in particular), some wineries in the region have made it their mission to price their bottles so that they are accessible to more people.
Cabernet Sauvignon may be Napa’s most popular wine. It’s far from your only option, though. The region makes some other incredible wines worth investigating, too. Consider trying a few different varieties find the ones you like best.
Look Just Past the Borders of Napa
Napa Valley isn’t the only region in California that makes incredible wines. If you look just beyond its borders, you’ll find some fantastic wineries making more affordable California wines that people across the country love.
Find Affordable California Wines at JJ Buckley
Are you looking for an incredible, high-quality Napa Valley wine that won’t cost you over $1,000 or more? JJ Buckley is here to help. We offer a variety of affordable California wines, including bottles from Napa Valley wineries that make great options for dinners, parties, or just enjoying on your own. We're here to help you find the perfect bottle for any occasion. Check out our selection today!