Screaming Eagle is a cult cabernet sauvignon, one of the most expensive wines produced in California’s Napa Valley. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

“Are you insane?” I asked.

My friend had just said he was thinking about buying a single bottle of Screaming Eagle, a Napa Valley cult cabernet sauvignon that typically sells in the four digits. And he wanted to share it with me. As a wine writer and his friend, I could validate the wine’s worth.

“Are you insane??” I repeated.

He assured me he wasn’t, muttering something like, “We’re all terminal. We just don’t know when.” A week or so later, he e-mailed me a photo of the prized bottle, set beneath a portrait of the Virgin Mary in prayer.

On the appointed evening, my wife and I arrived at our friend’s downtown club to join him and another friend for dinner. For comparison, I brought along a bottle of RdV Vineyards 2009 Lost Mountain, the closest thing Virginia has to a cult wine. It sells for $95. As the club’s sommelier decanted the wines, our host explained his fascination with Screaming Eagle.

“Even if this isn’t the Holy Grail of cabernet, at least we can say we tasted it,” he said. His interest had been piqued by news reports about a diner at an Atlantic City restaurant ordering a bottle of Screaming Eagle after the server who recommended it said it cost “thirty-seven fifty.” Decimal placement is important when talking about cult cabs. (The restaurant reportedly insisted there had been no misunderstanding but agreed to charge the patrons $2,200 instead.)

“A few weeks after that story broke, I was at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle downtown with a couple of lady friends,” my friend said, “and the server tried to upsell me to Screaming Eagle at a similar price,” my friend said. “I didn’t buy it, of course, but I wondered why this wine is so special. Why all the hype?”

He went online and found a New York purveyor offering three bottles of Screaming Eagle for “somewhere just south of half” of that restaurant’s markup. One of those bottles was now our dinner wine. (My friend, in case you’re wondering, encouraged me to write about this evening, though he asked me not to identify him. Because, after all, people might think he’s insane.)

Our Screaming Eagle was a 2011, a rainy and difficult vintage for California. Yet this wine was lush and beautiful, with velvety texture and bright fruit and seamless tannins. Though opulent at 14.8 percent alcohol, according to the label, the wine did not taste hot. It was sweet as blackberry jam, with a hint of sage and the essence of orange oil, like the scent that comes off the grater while you’re zesting the fruit.

“I’m not hallucinating. This is really good cabernet,” my friend said. “But if you put it next to a good-year Opus One or Silver Oak” — two famous Napa cabs that are much less expensive, though by no means cheap — “I’d have trouble telling them apart.”

The Virginia wine also was delicious, but tasted side by side with the Screaming Eagle it seemed clumsy and shy at first, a country bumpkin at a society ball. Still, its fruit and structure kept drawing us back. It was quiet, yet we sensed it had something to say.

As we finished our steaks, we raised several glasses to friendship and to the memory of my friend’s father, who had died recently after a two-year battle with cancer. Suffused with warmth from the wines, I realized that my friend’s life-is-short attitude about his expensive purchase had been fueled by his sense of loss. He wasn’t crazy. He was mourning, and appreciating life’s opportunities — the opportunities his immigrant father had made possible through a lifetime of hard work. Living the good life was not an extravagance, but a testament and a thank-you.

Our dinners were done, but the wines were not. As we swirled and savored the last of the two reds, the Screaming Eagle was, well, what it was. It hadn’t changed, and it was even getting a bit boring. The RdV, in contrast, had exchanged its initial reticence for oratory. The upstart Virginia wine was now singing, its voice resplendent in our glasses. And we could buy a case and a half for the price of a single bottle of the Screaming Eagle.

As we gathered our coats, I asked my friend whether his extravagance had been worth it. “Absolutely,” he said. “I tasted one of Napa’s most exclusive wines and shared it with friends. What more is there to ask?”

Would his father have appreciated the Screaming Eagle, I wondered. He shook his head and smiled, then said: “He’d have thought I was insane.”

McIntyre blogs at On Twitter: @dmwine.