I have to pinch myself every time I look at the sheer depth of quality and the amazing array of top tier wines selected to participate in the annual Six Nations Wine Challenge. As Michael Fridjhon, South African representative Judge and 2018 Chairman of Judges so aptly put it, ” There is no wine competition quite like the Six Nations. All trophy and medal-winning wines are virtually self-endorsing. The producers who find themselves going home empty handed can console themselves with the knowledge that it is almost sufficient simply to have competed in the Olympics. An award is gratifying, the achievement is simply to have been there.”
The focus for this post is to shine the spotlight on an American bastion of wine; one with significant historical legacy yet cutting edge relevancy in today’s wine industry. The choice was easy.
Stags Leap Wine Cellars: 125 years of colourful history
On one of California’s earliest wine estates, a unique terroir and ideal microclimate support a classical standard of viticulture, land use, and winemaking that is as relevant today as it was over a century ago. An intimate valley within the greater Napa Valley, Stags’ Leap is a place of natural beauty, storied buildings and gardens, a lively history, and a reputation for elegant wines showing finesse and intensity.
The Stags Leap name originated in the late 1880s with the founding Chase family, and is attributed to a native Wappo legend of a stag leaping to escape hunters. The mountains behind the property on the eastern side came to be known as the Stags Leap Palisades. The historic wine cave was blasted out at the same time as the first vintage – 1893. By 1895 production on the estate was up to 40,000 gallons of wine.
Wine production has been interrupted periodically since the first Chase vintage due to financial reversals, Prohibition, and war; however, wine grapes have been grown continuously on the estate since its founding.
A fashionable country resort in the mid-twentieth century (the Grange Era), popular with Hollywood due to its 1890s stone Manor House and historic gardens, legends of bootleggers and gangsters, ghosts and gypsies, Stags’ Leap has been home to three major family groups up through the modern revitalization of the winery that began in the 1970s.
The 2019 edition of the Six Nations Wine Challenge is thrilled to once again welcome the wines of Stags Leap representing the American Top 100.
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94-96 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
Inky purple-black in color, the 2015 Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon (a barrel sample) has a crème de cassis, blueberry compote and licorice-scented nose with hints of bay leaves, spice box and fallen leaves. Medium-bodied, it offers lovely restraint with elegant black fruits and earthy layers plus fine-grained tannins and a wonderfully long, minerally finish. (LPB) (12/2017)
95 points Wine Spectator
This features a very seductive feel, with long streaks of blueberry, raspberry and black cherry fruit showing range and freshness. Graphite and gently singed alder notes support the finish, with a backdrop of anise and vanilla hanging quietly in reserve. Displays polish, detail and length. (JM) (11/2018)
93 points Vinous
The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Cask 23 brings together the darker flavor profile and depth of the S.L.V. with the grace of the Fay, a pretty terrific combination in my book. Like all of these wines, the Cask 23 is decidedly understated in this vintage, and yet all the elements come together effortlessly. The Cask 23 is the most complete of these 2015 Cabernets from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. (AG) (12/2018)
93 points Wine & Spirits
Marcus Notaro, winemaker, and Kirk Grace, viticulturist, are the current team behind this historic Napa Valley cabernet. It brings together two vineyards—one planted by Nathan Fay in the alluvial wash of a creek, the other, somewhat rockier and slightly higher up the slope, planted by Warren Winiarski. Winiarski used the fruit from his Stag’s Leap Vineyard (S.L.V.) to create the wine that won first place in the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting, then later purchased the Fay Vineyard, blending fruit from the two sites for Cask 23. Notaro’s 2015 leaves a textural impressions of silk and velvet, its plush fruit dark in tone and not yet expressive, hinting at earthiness in its cellar scents. Full, smoky and black, this will need a decade or more to fully show itself. (10/2018)
93 points Wine Enthusiast
This 100% varietal, estate-grown wine is earthy and brimming in vanilla, anise and cedar. Classic in style and approach, it offers a complex concentration of balanced fruit and savory components that accent substantial tannins. (VB) (6/2019)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon. A famous blend from the two estate vineyards, SLV and Fay. Aged for 21.5 months in new French oak. To be released in May 2018. Lustrous crimson. Very convincing nose with complex, plush fruit (from senior vines?) plus freshness. Pure pleasure. You’d be thrilled to encounter this nose in Bordeaux. Positively hums on the (attractively dry, neat) finish. Beautiful balance. Only a curmudgeon would fail to admire this wine. This will obviously age for many a long year but is so harmonious it could actually be enjoyed already. Some of the balsam notes in the much more basic Artemis bottling. (JR) 18/20 points (3/2018)