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The Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon has that warm, classic Californian flair to it – loads of ripe and jammed black fruits, smooth tannins and mellow acidity. The wines are always big and as Doug Shafer points out “Napa wines are big wines, no point hiding it.” Still baring the Stag’s Leap District’s smooth style, with tannins that are always very gentle and fine-grained, the Hillside Select is voluminous, but in a discreet manner, making it a very enjoyable and flirtatious wine when young.
The legendary Hillside Estate Vineyard is comprised of 14 vineyard blocks, varying from one to nine acres in size, on the slopes of an amphitheatre-like hillside. The thin, volcanic rocky topsoil stands on top of bedrock that forms a very low amount of nutrients for vines, thus yielding small grapes with intense flavours. Due to a series of knolls and outcroppings, the vineyard blocks enjoy various microclimates, which generate grape material with complex flavours. Every afternoon the breeze from San Francisco Bay cools the vineyards, allowing the fruit to retain acidity. The vines suffer and have not
Philosophy in winemaking
The Shafers are the pioneers of sustainable vine farming, with over 20 years experience. The production is operated using 100% solar power, recycled water and no chemicals.
“In the early 1980s we followed the advice of our textbooks from the U.C. Davis winemaking programme and picked early, added acid, etc. Over time we learnt that wine needs to taste good. And we threw out our textbooks and learned to taste the fruit and let the fruit tell us when to pick and also what style of wine it wanted to become. Obviously I hope the future will be about wines that are produced with authenticity, wines that remain true to their site of origin. However, the fact is the future remains, as always, in the hands of consumers.” Doug Shafer comments.
The winery was established by John Shafer, a former book publisher from Chigago, in 1972. In 1978 the Shafers became vintners after crushing their first wine, Shafer Cabernet, themselves. It was released in 1981. This wine was ranked, ten years later during an international blind tasting in Germany, better than legendary Bordeaux wines like Latour, Margaux and Palmer.
Parker 99 points: The current release, the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select, is a prodigious Cabernet. I had it at a tasting in Japan, and the Japanese were as enthusiastic about it as my rating suggested they should be. They were crestfallen when informed they probably would not be able to buy multiple cases of the wine! The 1994 combines the vintage's spectacularly ripe, luscious fruit with a rarely seen degree of elegance and finesse. The wine is extremely rich, as well as gorgeously poised and graceful. The saturated ruby/purple color is accompanied by Medoc-like, lead pencil aromas intermixed with cassis, cedar, minerals, and spice. I wrote the word "great" four different times in my most recent tasting note, which mirrored every other tasting note I have. It is full-bodied and seamless, with a silky texture, voluptuous richness, and fabulous purity. The finish lasts for over 40 seconds. Anticipated maturity: 2000-2025.
Since the 1991 vintage, one of the stars of the Cabernet Sauvignon sweepstakes has been Shafer's Hillside Select. Approximately 2,000-2,200 cases of this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon are produced. The wine is aged in 100% new oak for 30 months. Recent vintages have all been spectacular. In short, attempting to decipher qualitative differences between them is akin to splitting hairs. I just hope that Cabernet lovers have the discretionary income and accessibility to cellar a few bottles