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MORE CALIFORNIA CABERNETS

 
STAGLIN FAMILY VINEYARD
2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (list $180)  SALE $159.99
 
This Rutherford vineyard was, at one time, said to be incorporated into the Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve wine.   The Staglins own some 50 acres and have sold fruit and made a small quantity of good wine.  

The wines started out pretty good, with the initial release of 1991 and have gotten better.  Production is growing and the Staglins seem to prefer selling their wine in dining establishments rather than wine shops.  When you live in a world of such lofty prices, you may become a bit disconnected to the realities of the wine market and what the average consumer spends for a bottle of wine.

The Staglins employ organic farming methods to produce their wines.  The 2006 vintage displays lots of French oak, along with notes of black fruit and cassis-like aromas and flavors.  The tannic structure of this wine suggests it ought to have 5-10+ years of life ahead of it.  Maybe more.  Drinking it now, however, is not out of the question.

Shari and Garen Staglin appeared in the film "Mondovino," graciously inviting the film crew to lunch at their palatial estate overlooking the Napa Valley.   The family has mentioned its participation in fund-raising efforts for charity and they spoke about this briefly in the film.  They often speak about the "lifestyle" of the wine business and this is mentioned (by them) in the film, as it has been in various print write-ups on Staglin.   I would imagine, though, they'd change how they are seen on camera were they able to have a "Take Two."

 
 
 
 
 





STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS
2016 Napa Valley "Artemis" Cabernet Sauvignon  List $70  SALE $59.99 
2010 "Cask 23" (List $290)  SALE $259.99
2012  "SLV" Cabernet Sauvignon  (list $152)  SALE $126.99

2012 "FAY" Cabernet Sauvignon SALE $126.99
 
The Winiarski family founded  this now-famous property.  Warren and Barbara Winiarski found a nice parcel of land next to that of a long-time Napa tractor salesman, Nathan Fay.  
Fay cultivated various fruit trees, but mostly sold farm equipment.  He decided to try his hand a growing grapes in the early 1960s and planted some vines in 1961.  

The Winiarskis bought a neighboring site and in 1970 planted some Cabernet Sauvignon.  Despite being planted right next to the Fay Vineyard, the soils at the Stag's Leap Vineyard are quite different, being volcanic.  Fay's parcel is alluvial.  The wines are quite different as a result of this.

Warren had tasted a Cabernet made by Fay from the 1968 vintage and this enticed him to buy the neighboring property and plant grapes.  But while both vineyards produce really good Cabernet, the wines can be rather different 

The first vintage for Winiarski was 1972.  Big, rich wine for such young vines and a rainy, wet vintage.  


The 1973 was the wine that shocked the French in the now-famous 1976 Paris tasting, where Stag's Leap aced out top Bordeaux as wine merchant Steven Spurrier assembled a panel of French tasters to judge Bordeaux and California Cabernets.

I remember calling to order a few more cases of wine and I was told the price had been increased from $5.75 a bottle to $6.25 or so.  I flippantly asked "How's Warren's new Mercedes?" and less than an hour later, there he was on the phone demanding to know how I knew he had a new car!  

In the early days, there were few wineries in the Napa Valley.  Everyone knew everyone.  Winemakers were making their way, for the most part, in this new environment.

The so-called "dean of winemakers," Andre Tchelistcheff, visited the new little winery and in tasting wines-in-progress out of the cooperage being employed by Winiarski, suggested one vat be kept separate and bottled on its own.
 
 
As you can see, this was a vat numbered "23" and thus, the wine called "Cask 23" was born.  Stag's Leap uses it at their most profound, killer-of-a-wine each vintage and it's their web site address.
 
They made wine from Nathan Fay's grapes for a number of years (the original bottlings of Cask 23 were predominantly from the Fay Vineyard) and in 1996 Mr. Fay cashed out, selling his historic property to the Winiarskis.

In 2000 they finally finished a project of constructing caves and building a number of tunnels for cellaring their wines.  The project began in the mid-1990s and, as Rome wasn't built in a day, neither was Stag's Leap's  wine cellars!

The new cellars can accommodate 6000 barrels and there's a Foucault Pendulum in the center of the maze of tunnels.  There are maybe 50 of these in the world and the one at Stag's Leap is said to mark the passage of time and the aging of wine.
 


The winery has grown considerably and these days it's part of the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in partnership with Italy's Antinori family.  That transaction took place in 2007.

They're still making some compelling Cabernets and we'd suggest that the Cask 23 bottling is one of California's "grand cru" level wines.  
The single vineyard bottlings from FAY and SLV (Stags Leap Vineyard) have maintained a high level of quality and consistency.

If you taste those wines from the challenging 2011 vintage, you will see they've done good work in a year when numerous vintners didn't make the grade.



Don't confuse this brand with Stags' Leap Winery...that's a different producer.  
Carl Doumani started Stags Leap Winery back in the 1970s at relatively the same time the Winiarskis started Stags Leap Wine Cellars.
The two fought a long legal battle in the courts over who had the rights to the name Stags Leap.  Both sides won and both sides lost.   It ended up being a battle over an apostrophe, which both sides probably considered more of a catastrophe.  

Winiarski's winery would be called "Stag's Leap Wine Cellars" with the apostrophe after the letter "g," while Doumani's brand would have its apostrophe after the "s' as in "Stags' Leap Winery."

But many restaurants would simply print their wine list with "Stags Leap" and offer whichever wine was less costly at the time in hopes of padding the margins.  

The big liquor distributor selling the Stags' Leap Winery wines was effective at, essentially, picking the pocket of the Winiarski distributor, as few restaurateurs cared to know the difference and most consumers were clueless, as well.

Since most consumers have little wine expertise, Stags Leap, to them, is Stag's Leap.  As noted previously, distributors had taken advantage of this over the years.  Even wine guru Robert Parker, in one issue of his Wine Advocate periodical, had trouble telling them apart!  In a review of Cabernets one year he wrote how poorly the new Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet fared in his tasting, but his contact information and stats on the winery were NOT for the Winiarski's Stag's Leap, but for the then-Beringer Blass' Stags Leap Winery!

Of course, keep in mind that Winiarski had long held to the notion that if you want to highlight the "terroir" of a wine, picking the grapes at shamefully high levels of sugar and making 15% alcohol brain-busters was the wrong way to do it.  Warren knew to make a wine of elegance, the fruit should be picked at maturity, not super-maturity as is done by so many these days.
We can argue that Robert Parker has a long track record of rewarding these high-octane wines with higher scores than less potent wines, so perhaps we should not be surprised by his less-than-stellar review of the wines in that era.

Eventually, Winiarski changed the label of its entry-level Cabernet to have the name "Artemis" on the label in hopes of more significantly differentiating the wines from his competitor.  

Back in the 1980s Winiarski and Doumani buried the hatchet and, in fact, became friendly when they teamed up to fight neighboring wineries from petitioning the government to create a Stags Leap appellation.  They lost that battle, too.

And in the 1985 vintage the pair collaborated in making a Cabernet Sauvignon called "Accord" to make light of the end of their Hatfield and McCoy battle.

Warren Winiarski's fingerprints remain on current vintages of Stag's Leap Wine Cellars wines.  They remain wines that are relatively elegant and less bombastic than much of what comes out of California's premium wine regions these days.  Still, the alcohol levels have crept up and the current vintage of their Artemis Cabernet is listed as 14.5%.

 


A couple of enologists running grapes from vineyard sample pickings through a hand-cranked crusher/stemmer to measure sugar levels, acid levels, etc. to make an informed decision as to when to send the pickers to harvest various blocks of vineyards.







 






PHILIP TOGNI VINEYARD
Please inquire.  
togni.gif (9411 bytes)A tiny 10 acre vineyard on Spring Mountain, Mr. Togni has some great credentials.   He was associated with Mayacamas, Chalone, Chappellet and Cuvaison and launched his own brand many years ago.

His wines, way back when, were some of the most tannic and backwards Cabernets of their day.  Togni made wine with the idea that people would be buying his wines upon release when the wines were young and that they'd set the bottles away for a decade, or so, until the wines came to maturity.  

Needless to say, the wines were not for everyone.

And Mr. Togni still makes wines with the idea the bottles need some aging.  This, despite the fact that he's a graybeard himself.

Still, there's something wonderful about this sort of winemaking as it's a rarity in the Napa Valley these days.

 












VIADER VINEYARDS
1999 Napa "Cabernets" SOLD OUT

viader.gif (13607 bytes)This little property turns out one of our favorite Napa Valley reds.  It's owned by Argentinean-born Delia Viader and she's enlisted the services of Tony Soter to craft this delicious and polished red wine.  A high percentage of Cabernet Franc graces the blend and you'll find a wonderfully sweet bit of cedary oak in a typical vintage.  

The vineyard is planted in a controversial configuration. The rows of vines are planted up and down the hillside, rather than along the contours of the mountain.  They vines are quite densely planted, something like 2,000 vines  per acre.  Viader employs organic farming techniques.  

The wine is matured in a combination of Russian and French oak cooperage.  About two-thirds of the barrels are new.  Outstanding wine! 

There are some bottles of 1999 in stock presently.  It's a big, deep, full-bodied Napa red.  Now that it has almost a decade in the bottle, it's at its peak and should remain on this plateau for a while.  There are 6 bottles in stock as of July, 2010.
 

 



Z and D

 



ZD WINES
2015  Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon SALE $67.99
The DeLeuze family operates this modest little winery, now located along the Silverado Trail neighboring the Mumm-Napa facility.

I recall visiting the original ZD winery on Burndale Road in the Carneros region.   The Zepponi and DeLeuze families made really intriguing Pinot Noir back in those days (not that they don't make a good one now, it's just that back then the wine was quite striking).  I can't recall any great "old" vintages of Cabernet.  Some were a bit vegetal, for example.

Recent vintages of Napa Cabernet have been solid and styled along the lines of Silver Oak's Cabernet but with a tad more red fruit.  

They also make a hugely costly bottle of Cabernet, an opportunity for those who insist on extravagant wines.  We don't carry their $375 bottling of a "solera" styled Cabernet called "Abacus." 
In fact, we had a customer request a bottle.  I called the distributor who had more than 30 bottles "available" for sale with a special "okay" required from the brand manager or sales rep.  We could not obtain the wine.

Later, the winery marketing representative called to tell us it would have been "better" had we simply been told the wine was "unavailable."  

She also claimed the wine was being warehoused for customers who've purchased them, but don't have sufficient storage space for a 3-pack of this wine!  Uh huh.

There may be a position available at the White House for this individual.

The 2015 Napa Cabernet is a beautifully showy bottle of wine.  We tasted it in a Sonoma wine judging in May of 2018...it was in the finals or Sweepstakes tasting and got our vote...
Seriously good wine.  Lots of Cabernet fruit and lavishly oaked.  Maybe too much wood for some people, but with a well-grilled steak, this is stellar!
It's drinkable now and can be held for a decade, or so, if you like.
Oh!   And it won "Best of Show" in that wine judging...best red wine out of nearly a thousand reds.




 

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