Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How well does Stags Leap District wine age? Thoughts on a 25-year blind vertical tasting

Digital art by Daniel Eskridge
Earlier this month I attended an interesting blind tasting held by Stags Leap District Winegrowers. We tried 18 Cabernet Sauvignons from 13 vintages dating back to 1991. It was an unusual setup because the wines were from 18 different wineries.

Even so, it was easy to track the progression in ripeness in Napa. The wines from 2003 on were mostly made with different intentions than the earlier wines. Most had more up-front fruit that tastes darker, and I wonder how they will age. That's not the goal of most of Napa Valley anymore -- or for that matter, of most wineries in the world -- and I'm not here to pretend that it should be.

The older wines in this tasting were cherry-picked because the wineries think they're still tasting good. It's very different from going to a winery and tasting 10 vintages in a row. The two oldest wines in the tasting were two of my favorites, but that doesn't mean those wineries consistently make age-worthy wines. Once in New Mexico I tasted a 10-year-old Pinot Noir that was fabulous and I wondered why the winery had stopped making still wines. "That was the only good one we made," the winemaker told me. So you never know.

But that said, here were the highlights, some lowlights, and random thoughts from the tasting.

★ Steltzner Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 1991: This lovely wine was my favorite of all, with nice mature dried cherry and pomegranate fruit yet still a liveliness on the palate. Elegant, with a long finish. This is what we hope for when we put a bottle away for 25 years.

★ Clos du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 1992: Clos du Val never followed the fashion for extreme ripeness and I often like its wines in blind tastings. On the simple side, but the tannins are now nice and gentle.

★ Silverado Vineyards Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2002: The best of several wines from the first part of that decade. Lively with bright fruit, and only the softening of the formidable tannins signals the palate that this is an older wine. This might be a star of the same tasting in the year 2025. You can actually buy this vintage of this wine here!

★ Malk Family Vineyards Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: This is the second time I've picked a wine from this tiny winery out of a blind tasting. The winery is owned by South African Brian Malk, who bought the vineyard next to the famous Fay Vineyard. It has good freshness and some minerality that was lacking in most of the wines from the latter part of the tasting. Malk, whose real business is commercial real estate, only makes 400 cases of wine per year.


Stag's Leap Wine Cellars vs. Stags' Leap Winery: There was a famous copyright infringement lawsuit between these two under previous owners, who were people. Both have been sold and now relations between the new owners, who are corporations, are frosty over a wine called The Stag that Treasury Wine Estates, which owns Stags' Leap (the apostrophe matters), wants to introduce with grapes from outside Stags Leap Wine District. Neither wanted to talk to me about a rumored lawsuit. I tried the Stag's Leap from 1995 and the Stags' Leap from 2009. The '95 Stag's Leap was too old; the '09 Stags' Leap was too dense and rich for me. So for me, hold the apostrophe please.

There was a winery where the PR people kept interrupting me from other interviews to meet the winemaker but I really hated his 2009 wine -- one of the most recent -- so I kept brushing them off. I don't want to name this winery because the wine was awful, but it rhymes with the essential accessory in the photo at right (which is a clickable nice Christmas gift for apartment-dwelling wine lovers.)

Shafer Vineyards Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2004: Doug Shafer always says Shafer makes wines to drink now. Believe him. After tasting this, I urge you to go drink the Shafer wines in your cellar. This is not to say I disagree with Shafer's philosophy: I like Shafer's wines. Just not this old.

Of the 18 wines I tasted, I gave 90-plus scores to just four, the first four listed above. Is that good or bad? For current-release wines it would be pretty good, but in theory these wines should have been chosen for their current drinkability. I think Doug Shafer might just be right in general. If you're a California wine fan and want to avoid disappointment down the road, drink now and don't forever hold your piece. Put that piece down.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Aaron said...

So, not quite on topic, but since you linked to it, how do you find AKDY vs VinoTemp? And is it like VinoTemp in that the "standard bottle" is the narrowish Bordeaux style so basically any other bottle is a PITA to fit in? Why the heck isn't there a wine fridge that can fit, say, a Burgundy bottle and be done with it!

That'd be a good rant article, I think, for you. Or maybe I'll ask the HoseMaster to write about it :)

Caroline said...

Lol pine ridge

W. Blake Gray said...

Aaron: I don't own either brand. I did spend more time than you'd think reading consumer reviews of the products on Amazon because I didn't want to link to a bad one. If you read reviews and compare, the one I link to seems well-liked. But I can't speak from personal experience.

The lack of flexibility for bottle types is a problem for all these wine fridges. That said, I also hate wineries that put their wines in unnecessarily large bottles, and this is one of the reasons.

Chad said...

I wanted to buy a case of wine for my daughter born in 2015 to enjoy over decades of upcoming milestones. Had my heart set on a Napa winery that specialized in bottling a specific Cabernet clone. Found a 1991 and 1998 vintage, but after tasting, I immediately decided on something from Bordeaux. Hoping this is the right direction.

W. Blake Gray said...

Chad: Assuming your daughter won't even be able to drink the wine until 2036 and probably won't really dig it until 2045 or later, it's hard for me to recommend most wine from California. There are a few -- there's probably a good blog post in that. You want something with high acidity, and I'm not sure you want a 2015 that tastes ready to drink now, though I know some will debate that.

Not sure I'd go with Bordeaux either, frankly. Many of the wines are not as different from California wines as they used to be. But I get the idea. You want to buy something with a track record of aging.

It's not too late to supplement, especially if it's not too expensive. Consider Alsace Riesling or Gewurztraminer. German Riesling. Whatever you do, I hope you have many great evenings with your daughter.