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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.
The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select, already given a 100-point score, was tasted again. It has everything one could ever want in a prodigious, world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of lead pencil shavings, crème de cassis, vanilla, unsmoked cigar tobacco, licorice and forest floor are all present in this wine that is absolutely remarkable. It’s full-bodied, seamlessly constructed, with great purity and a tremendous 50-60 second finish. This obviously will age 25-30 years, if not a lot longer. This has turned out to be a great, great vintage that seems to grow in stature in the bottle.
Year in year out, this is one of the superstar wineries, not only in Napa Valley and all of California, but in the entire world. It’s the product of visionary John Shafer, who started in 1978 after a successful corporate career. He had the foresight and visionary genius to believe in the microclimates and soils of Stags Leap of the southern Napa Valley. When his son Doug came on board with their brilliant winemaker and Mr. Everything, Elias Fernandez, things soared in quality and diversity. Today, this is a winery that does everything about as perfect as can be. They have kept their feet, heads and egos grounded, and continue to kick proverbial ass with every vintage. They made some of the very finest, possibly the Cabernet Sauvignon of the vintage in 2011, and in 2012 and 2013, they have crafted one profound wine after another. For starters, their Chardonnay has always been a non-malolactic Chardonnay, of which 75% is barrel-fermented and the other quarter in stainless steel. As good as it is, it’s hard to believe they produce a whopping 6,400 cases of it. John and Doug Shafer, along with Elias Fernandez, have certainly excelled at turning out gorgeous Merlots that are concentrated and fleshy as well as elegant. A big success for Shafer has been their Stags Leap One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon. They make between 6,000-7,000 cases of this wine in any vintage. About one-third of their famous Hillside Vineyard, which represents 100% of their flagship wine Hillside Select, goes into this cuvée. I did an entire vertical of the Shafer Hillside, from 1978-2013, but I’ll include the older notes on the erobertparker.com website. What follows are notes on the last four vintages of the Hillside Select, their 2,400-case cuvée of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 32 months in 100% new French oak. Lastly, another sensational wine from the Shafer portfolio is the Relentless. This has been a terrific Rhône Ranger offering since it was first released in 1999, and it continues to be primarily a 89%-97% Syrah blend and the rest Petite Sirah. Like the Hillside Select, it’s aged 32 months in new oak prior to being bottled. I have no idea how long these wines will last, but they’re fabulous to drink young, and certainly 20-25 years is well within reach of just about every top vintage of Relentless.