I know what you’re thinking. The photo on the left is looking especially bad, even by the low photography standards of the blog, and for that I apologize. However, there’s a good reason for that, and it’s that the bottle pictured is in an Enomatic. No, it’s not a shield designed to obscure bottle shots to the point that they can barely be recognized, though it obviously does a good job at that. So even if you can barely make out that the photo is of a bottle of wine, please take my word that it is the Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2006.
But before I say anything about the wine, a few words about the Enomatic. It looks like a glass fronted wine display case. For each bottle there’s a control panel with a spout for dispensing the wine. Inside the case, each bottle is hooked up to a series of tubes which draw out wine while replacing it with nitrogen, allowing the wine to be served without exposing the remaining contents of the bottle to oxygen. The control panel allows a serving size to be selected, typically a taste, a half glass or a full glass. In conjunction with this, there can also be a magnetic card reader, enabling self-service for people to use cards to pay for their drinks (typically on a pre- or post-paid model, not with actual credit cards). I’ve seen wine bars with dozens of bottles in a series of Enomatics for self-service, others where they use them to keep by the glass bottles fresh, and the tasting today is brought to you from a bottle shop that has an ever changing selection of 8 bottles available for tasting.
Right, back to the badly pictured Stags’ Leap, and the inevitable explanation of which winery produces this wine, as there are two similarly named wineries. This is Stags’ Leap Winery, founded by Carl Doumani, known for (among other things) Petite Sirah, and it has its apostrophe after the second “s” in “Stags’”. The other winery is Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, founded by Warren Winiarski, known for (among other things) Cabernet Sauvignon and the Judgement of Paris, and it has its apostrophe between the “g” and the “s” in “Stag’s”. In addition to names, the two wineries were both founded in the early 1970s in a corner of the Napa Valley in California which is now the Stags Leap District American Viticultural Area (AVA). Yes, it’s confusing, and being California, the issue had to be resolved with a lawsuit that determined both producers were entitled to use the name of the region. Apparently upon resolution the two producers were on such good terms they co-produced a wine called “Accord”.
The estate itself is fairly old (by California standards) and grapes were first grown there in the 1880s. The property was built up with a manor house in the 1890s and served as a country retreat in the 1920s. While Prohibition put an end to wine production, grapes continued to be grown though were largely sold to other producers until the property was purchased and improved by the aforementioned Carl Doumani in the early 1970s. It is now part of Treasury Wine Estates, which I described when I wrote about the Heemskerk Abel’s Tempest. While some of the vines were planted as recently as 2000, there is a block called Ne Cede Malis that dates back to the 1930s. Largely Petite Sirah, that block is a field blend planting containing fifteen other varieties, and it used to make a wine that bears its name.
Stags (no apostrophe) Leap District AVA is a small region within the Napa Valley AVA, one of 16 such sub-AVAs. Named for the original estate, it is six miles north of the town of Napa and home to twenty wineries. It was established as an AVA in 1989 based on specific characters of the soil which sets it apart from the rest of Napa. While it shares the loam and clay sediments with the rest of the river valley, it is supplemented by volcanic soil erosion from the Vaca Mountains, in particular the Stags Leap Palisades. The area is somewhat cooler than its nearest neighbours as it is directly in the path of wind and fog from the San Pablo Bay. Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted variety, though a wide range of Bordeaux and Rhône varieties round out the reds, and Chardonnay is not uncommon.
I’ve covered two Californian Cabernet Sauvignon blends, from Ridge and Dominus, but since each of those wines were more about the producer than about the grape, it’s worth talking a bit about Cabernet Sauvignon in the context of California, Napa in particular. What is now California has produced grapes for wine for over two centuries, starting with Spanish missionaries and hence the Mission grape which was a mainstay for 80 years. European varieties found their way to California in the early 19th century, but production didn’t really pick up until the influx of people for the Gold Rush in the middle of the century. However, after a boom that included a surge in plantings as the European wine industry was reeling from phylloxera, things went into decline when phylloxera and Prohibition both hit grape growers hard.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that wine production really picked up, in particular with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, both of which had previously had very little acreage under vine. While Cabernet Sauvignon had found a home in Napa in the 1880s and was regarded as a good match for the climate and soil, it wasn’t until nearly a century later that it emerged as a sought after, high quality wine. It was a wine from this era, and from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars specifically, that scored highest in a landmark tasting in Paris where wines from California were tasted blind against their counterparts from Bordeaux and Burgundy.
This wine, while certainly containing estate grapes, is classified as Napa Valley AVA so it likely contains at least 16% grapes from growers outside Stags Leap District AVA. The fruit is hand picked, fermented over 3-4 weeks in closed fermenters, and matured in French oak (half new) for 19 months before bottling.
In the glass, this wine is dark brick red, with thin quick legs. It has notes of red currant, pomegranate, plum, and sweet spice. It’s developing, with medium plus intensity. On the palate it’s dry, with medium plus fine tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium body, medium plus acidity, medium plus intensity, and notes of pencil lead, cranberry, currant, and sour plum. It has a medium plus length and a tart plum finish.
This is a very good wine. It has what I can only describe as a weird mix of flavours, but that’s not to say it’s disjointed. It’s a big wine in terms of intensity, acidity, alcohol and tannins, but the body has a refined texture that brings elegance to the mix. It’s a shame there aren’t more wine from California available here, and I hope to try their Ne Cede Malis field blend at some point, but for now I’ll just be grateful that this one somehow made its way to me.