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Stag's Leap Harvest Dinner - and a Surprising Take on Time

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Last weekend, I attended a private event at Stag’s Leap Cellars this past Saturday, hosted by Red Rock Resort, and despite the fact the I had to board a plane to Orlando the following morning at 9:00 am, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to enjoy some of the best California Cabernet Sauvignon I have ever tasted in a truly magical environment. After an afternoon tasting at Goosecross Cellars and Cliff Lede Winery,in Yountville, Garrett and I along with two special guests of ours, dressed up for the evening and made our way along the Silverado Trail to Stag’s Leap Cellars. Stag’s Leap Cellars (not to be confused with Stags’ Leap Winery) is best known for its estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon’s, CASK 23, S.L.V. 23 and FAY, which are some of the most smooth, elegant, velvety cabs I have ever tasted and highly regarded and collected worldwide. Stag’s Leap Cabernets are also famous for their first place title earned alongside California’s Chateau Montelena at the infamous Judgement of Paris, 1976, where its 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won first place in a Parisian blind tasting against ten other Parisian and Californian wines.

As the sun set, an intimate group gathered outside the cellars at “the Outlook”, perched above Stag’s Leap’s FAY vineyard and named for it’s breathtaking views of the Stags Leap palisades which jut out dramatically against the skyline. We enjoyed a crisp and refreshing glass of Sauvignon Blanc and nibbled on ahi tartare cones while we mingled with other guests and counted exactly fivespectacular homes that were beautifully constructed to fade in with the palisades above the Stags leap vineyards - oh, to own one of those!

We then alighted on a brief tour of the impeccable $5 million wine caves past the world-renowned wines aging in French barrels stacked neatly along the labyrinth and then paused for a reception in the Round Room. Many special wineries in Napa have a surprise element within their caves, and we found an unparalleled surprise here. Entering the dramatic space, 100 feet underground,we were awestruck by the enormous Foucalt Pendulum hanging from the center of a domed ceiling- one of only fifty in the world. The Pendulum can tell time, but is usedmore for effect and its dual appeal to theart and science fans that visit the winery. The dome walls are lined with a type of rock called feldspar that sparkles, giving off the same effects of stars in the sky - creating a natural solarium. The floor of the room is slightly curved, alluding to the natural shape of the earth, so standing in the room is literally dizzying! We were served our first SLV Cabernet of the evening as our palettes were amused by little bite sized canapes - quarter-sized round slices of lamb served with ripe berry jam atop mini golden potato rounds, and truffled trumpet mushroom-mousse “sliders” the size of nickels - hinting at the culinary delights that were to come.
We finally made our way past an adorable bronze sculpture of a sleeping bear and her cub atop an old iconic French wine barrel into the Great Room, where a long King Table was set festively for 30 or so guests. The stunning space glowed with the light of hammered copper sconces and glistening quartzite floors. We sat down to a beautifully catered dinner by Scott Price, enjoying mushroom rissoto with port wine glaze and the 2007 SLV Cabernet, followed by a most flavorful ribeye with shaved beets and braised swiss chard. The food was perfection, but the wines were truly unparalled and the food pairings did a wonderful job of making the wine the focal point of the event.

While I liked both wines equally and thought both were elegant and perfectly balanced and soft as velvet on the finish, there were subtle differences, which I learned come from the slight difference in the terroir that the grapes grow on. The S.L.V. vineyard grows on predominantly volcanic soil, which contributes greatly to the spicy intensity, concentration and complex layered structure of the wine - this is the more “fiery” of the two Cabs and was perfectly suited to accompany the savory , meaty-mushoom risotto. The FAY vineyard is more alluvial, so it yields more of the “watery” qualities making it elegant, soft, perfumed, and rich with fruit-forward berries. The Stag’s Leap signature style has often been described as "an iron fist in a velvet glove," in reference to the perfect balance the wines achieve between ripeness and restraint, softness and structure, yielding wines of exceptional beauty that can be aged or enjoyed relatively young. Stag’s Leap picks their wine in small lots which they carefully harvest after measuring the ripeness daily. The small lots are then blended together artistically and scientifically with a team of enologists evaluating the wine daily to ensure it is perfectly balanced and healthy before bottling. The wines are aged in French oak from a variety of coopers and forests which also assist the wine in achieving a subtle harmony and hints of baking spice.

We departed the event halfway through the divine dessert course of lava cake and fresh berries and cream, departing through the Arcade, designed by Barcelona-based architect Javier Barba. The Arcade is typically used at the entrance to the caves and boasts beautiful arches with exposed masses of rock and hanging rosemary vines that drape over the walkway. The beauty of the structure is that it incorporates elements of the land around it and blends into the environment elegantly.

2007 S.L.V Cabernet Sauvignon: The wine is a brilliant ruby color and the nose gives off aromas of vanilla, subtle toast, dark berry fruit and black cherry. The wine is medium bodied with nice integrated tannins and hints of mocha and toasted almond. The foremost flavors are dark cherry, chocolate and coffee with hints of caramel and vanilla on the finish.
2007 FAY Cabernet Sauvignon: The wine is dark garnet, exuding a lovely perfume of rich black currant, boysenberry and cassis. This cab is fruit-forward but not overly ripe with notes of chocolate, tobacco and light toast to balance out the bold dark berries. Like the S.L.V., it exudes the impeccable balance and finesse with a smooth mouth feel and incredible structure.

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