Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa County

by Stevie on June 8, 2010

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welcome to Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

A few of the weirdcombos crew headed up to Napa for wine tasting recently. The weather here in Northern California has been unseasonably wet but we were blessed with a gorgeous sun-shiny day and pleasant temperatures in the low-70’s: perfect for exploring the region and enjoying some cabernet.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is famous in Napa, mostly because it won the much-touted 1976 Paris Tasting where professional French tasters named it the premier wine above such world-wide powerhouses like Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion. I’ve read the George Taber book, Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine. If you haven’t, you really should! It’s a really thrilling story of how the then unknown Napa wine region took on the Establishment and came out victorious. That always makes for a lively tale.

The winery tasting room had a big poster by the bathrooms proclaiming its ’76 victory. I wonder about that, especially in light of the recent article in the New York Times: Eric Asimov’s “Bordeaux Loses Prestige Among Younger Wine Lovers.” If we young’ns are cooling on Bordeaux, is it really such a brilliant idea to situate your product as one better in a failing market? Wouldn’t it be more advantageous to distance yourself as much as possible? I don’t know. Besides, the Seventies where a while back; what have you done lately, SLWC?

outside the elegantly understated Stag's Leap Wine Cellars tasting room

The winery web site answers that last sour question with their interactive timeline featuring highlights for the place year by year. Turns out in 2007 Warren Winiarski sold it to some investors, though he remains in an official capacity as winemaker. Actually, the sweet older gentleman who poured our wine tastings for us (He said that he was old. We would never dream of making any comment about someone’s age, especially at a business establishment where we are the patrons!) said that the visionary founder himself strolled into the tasting room just a few weeks ago. Wow! Can you imagine!?! Unfortunately we didn’t have the foresight to go then. All sarcasm aside, I’d have loved to have met him. And as a final aside, did you know that “Winiarski” means “son of a vintner” in Polish. Was it destiny or what?

I really liked their web site. It was incredibly detailed, with everything from photos and info on the founder to crop management, the historical timeline already mentioned, beautiful pictures of the winery and Napa in that area, an interactive map of the Stag’s Leap and FAY vineyards, and a lot more. It’s one of the few winery sites that I’ve ever been to that seemed simply sublime.

look at all the stemware!

The wines themselves were really good, too. Though, strangely, at least for the asking price, they all seemed to miss something in the wow-factor department. Perhaps we don’t drink cabernet sauvignon enough? Well, that, at least, is easily fixed.

We tried both the “Napa Valley Collection Tasting Flight” for $15 and the “Estate Collection Tasting Flight” for $30. We shared all wines between the three of us so only ended up spending $15 each. Not too bad, especially in the-sky’s-the-limit Napa Valley.

Of course, Stag’s Leap produces more than cabernet sauvignon. They’re just rightly famous for that wine. I’ll list the whites first then the reds without regard to the tasting flight at the vineyard. That’s how we tried them, at least. They served us at a small round table in the middle of the poorly lit tasting room. Maybe that’s why all of the reds looked purple black? Eight glasses were poured at once, so we could mix and match. That was nice. Remember, it’s always better to try these yourselves. Our notes are only to increase your excitement!

2007 Sauvignon Blanc: This was pale yellow with a hard-to-define fruity aroma. We tasted mineral and green apple with a pleasing peppery finish.

2007 KARIA Chardonnay: This chard had some malolactic fermentation. It was buttery yellow with medium body. Hegui dismissed it saying that it tasted like “cough syrup.”

2007 ARCADIA VINEYARD Chardonnay: Our tasting room guide announced that this wine was “made in a French Bordeaux style.” I suppose that he must have meant no malolactic fermentation? We all know that chardonnay is quintessentially Burgundy.

The wine was pale yellow with apple on the nose. It was lighter than KARIA and we liked it better.

2006 Merlot: This had a tiny bit of cabernet sauvignon added to the mix. It was a purple black color that smelled of “rotten veggies and green pepper.” The medium body had leather, tar and a bit of fruit. It was just “O.K.”

2006 ARTEMIS Cabernet Sauvignon: I remember this wine from a few years ago when we visited this place. I was completely enchanted then. This time, it was fine. It’s a blend of 40% estate cab with other cabs from … I didn’t write it down! Darn it!

Like the merlot, it was a purple black. It had medium body with black plum and a tarry finish. Actually, I didn’t like it nearly as much as the next few.

cask23 is the premiere wine at Stag's Leap

2006 FAY Cabernet Sauvignon: This was purplish black with “barnyard” and “chicken pooh” on the nose (Could Hegui be getting drunk by now?) Initially it seemed closed off but it opened well over about twenty minutes in the glass. It was very smooth and opulent. The actual flavor was hard to tell somehow. This wine was all about the structure. Hegui didn’t like it.

2006 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon: This was a dark purple black, too! Hegui thought that “it stings the roof of your mouth” though he was alone in this opinion. This was very rich with a long finish. I noted stone fruit and a bit of pepper. Carey didn’t like it (but she was nursing a hangover that day!) I thought that it was marvelous.

2006 CASK23 Cabernet Sauvignon: This is a blend of cabs from FAY and S.L.V. parcels, which the winemaker thinks are best. It’s not produced every year.

It was dark purple, full bodied with fruit and black pepper and spice on the finish. We preferred FAY and S.L.V. over this far more expensive offering. $195 is a lot!

Price is an issue at Stag’s Leap. The two wines that we liked best: FAY and S.L.V. were $95 and $125 per bottle respectively at the winery. Obviously that’s way beyond my price range right now. On the following Monday, while “sightseeing” at K and L Wine Merchants in San Francisco on my lunch break, I saw the same bottles (on sale) for $50 and $70 per bottle. They’re still expensive but that’s a huge mark up at the winery!

While tasting, I was urged to consider joining the most exclusive of the Stag’s Leap wine clubs, the “Club Connoisseur.” They send you a case of wine quarterly of the most exclusive, hard-to-find Stag’s Leap wines imaginable. It’s a mere $1050 per quarter. It’ll have to wait until I strike gold somewhere. But that’s Napa: expensive, ridiculous glamour. You gotta love it!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

mike June 8, 2010 at 9:31 am

Wow I agree with your comment about Bordeaux. Nobody drinks Bordeaux anymore because they are expensive and never ready. The ones that are are even more expensive. Too bad for Bordeaux because younger generation will eventually lose the taste for it. I think that is happening with Napa wines too. It is becoming aged… perhaps too aged already. Though I wouldn’t mind tasting expensive Bordeux or Bordeaux style wines more often provided that someone is actually paying the bill. LOL
There are so many fantastic Rhône and Zins out there ….Bordeaux and Napa are losing something here….
Great article!

Professor Martin June 11, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Who is that hot blonde? I love the anti work shirt with all that stemware. Nice job…….

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