Cigar Aficionado

Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Shafer Vineyards' Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon emerged as one of the stars of the past decade, with a string of enormously complex, plush and sensual wines. Now it has a companion that's not only a tremendous wine, but a tremendous value: the Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Winemaker Elias Fernandez, the architect who has helped earn Hillside Select (dubbed HSS) notoriety as one of Napa's "cult Cabernets," has worked some magic with Shafer's Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon bottling. In the past, this wine came from Stags Leap vineyards, both winery-owned and purchased, and included about 15 percent Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

In 1999, the winery shifted gears and ramped up quality. It bought grapes from Calistoga, St. Helena and the Silverado area to augment the Stags Leap supply and cut back on the Merlot and Cabernet Franc to about 3 percent. Finally, this wine was aged in 50 percent American oak, which gives it a wonderful aroma.

"That's something people don't believe when they first taste this wine," says Fernandez. Tight-grain, well-toasted American oak, however, gives this wine wonderful wood and mocha aromatics. On the palate, it's dense and chewy, but also quite supple and polished. "The Stags Leap grapes account for about 45 to 60 percent of the wine [depending on the year]," says Fernandez, "and that gives the wine a natural suppleness."

Be on the lookout for the 1999 HSS, but don't overlook the Shafer. At about $50, and with about 6,500 cases, it delivers a lot of the same amazing character as the HSS, but will be easier to find and afford. It is a great candidate to cellar, too. It should be at its peak from 2004 to 2012.

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