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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.
This vintage shocked me when I did my retrospective earlier this year, and the 2004 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select acquitted itself brilliantly in the vertical of Hillside Selects. It was a hot year, a relatively early harvest and there were worries that the heat had stressed the grapes, and there would be a lack of physiological ripeness and nuance. Those worries have not manifested themselves in this great Cabernet Sauvignon. Inky/purple-colored with notes of blueberry, blackberry, cassis, spring flowers, and a touch of toast, the wine is opulent, voluptuous and full-bodied with sweet tannin, just enough acidity to provide freshness, vibrancy and delineation, and a spectacular finish that goes on 40+ seconds. This is a killer, a showy and flamboyant style of Hillside Select that’s already drinking beautifully and should continue to do so for another 15-20 years.
Shafer’s Hillside Estate Vineyard consists of 54 acres all on steep, amphitheater-like, rocky outcroppings and knolls. It receives the full benefit of southeasterly sunlight, and enjoys the afternoon breezes that blow up from the San Francisco Bay channel. An unusual geographic feature, this vineyard is basically a box canyon. The top soil is virtually non-existent as the bed roots that go into the white tofu volcanic soil base rarely extend more than 18 inches before hitting bedrock. This no doubt is a significant reason for the intense flavors achieved by the Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, and why it is able to spend 32 months in 100% new French oak without a woody taste.
Parker 99 points