Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Wine Journey: 1994 Shafer Hillside Select

The journey continues.  It was time for another encounter with a Wine of the Decade and the "chosen one" was the 1994 Shafer Hillside Select.  The venue for the tasting was the Wineontheway.com Board Meeting.

Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon is the flagship product of Shafer Vineyards, a Stags Leap District winery founded in 1972 by John Shafer, a Chicago publishing industry refugee.  With 100% of its grapes drawn from precarious, family-developed hillside terraces, the wine has  "... a solid track record of consistency and quality."

As the name implies, Hillside Select is crafted exclusively from selected blocks of hillside vineyards whose soil characteristics and micro-climate combine to produce Cabernet Sauvignon wines with excellent aging potential.  The soil on the Shafer Stags Leap properties are primarily bale loam or volcanic  -- 2- to 4-feet deep -- resting on bedrock.  The warm days and cool nights result in elongated growing seasons and a near-perfect mix of ripening and acidity.  The wines are aged for four and one-half years prior to public release.

The 1994 Shafer Hillside Select was awarded 99 points by Robert Parker who labeled it a "prodigious" Cabernet.  Further, "the 1994 combines the vintage's spectacularly ripe, luscious fruit with a rarely seen degree of elegance and finesse.  The wine is extremely rich, as well as gorgeously poised and graceful."

The Board Meeting was slated to begin at 6:30 pm.  I was leaving for work at 7:30 am, with no prospect of returning home to retrieve the bottle prior to the event.  I was going to have to take it to work with me.  I lovingly removed the bottle from its nestling place in the cellar and, without changing its orientation, placed it horizontally into a brown leather carrying case.  The case was maintained in this (uncomfortable) position while being carried, or at rest, for the remainder of the day.

I arrived at the Downtown location of Funky Monkey Wine Company (Board Meeting location) at about 6:15 pm and met up with John Alport and Frank Husic (Husic Vineyards) who had arrived previously.  I gently placed the carrying case on the bar counter, removed the wine from the case, and gave it to the bartender so that it could be slightly chilled. 

The wine was uncorked at about 6:30 pm.  The cork disintegrated under the pressure of the corkscrew and had to be pushed down into the bottle.  It was strained into a decanter and set aside so that we could consume the 15 other bottles that Board Members had brought and the one bottle (you owe us Frank) that Husic had brought.

We returned to the Hillside Select at approximately 8:40 pm.  The wine manifested cigarbox, leather, graphite, stewed plums, black olive, tar, espresso, bitter chocolate, coffee, mocha, sandalwood, barnyard, and cedar.  The finish was of medium length and the tasters all concurred that this particular bottle had reached its maximum potential. 

This was a beautiful wine.  The wine of the night, according to John Alport (Husic was still holding to his position that his wine outshone everything on offer that night).  The incident with the cork indicated that this bottle had been the victim of improper storage at sometime in its life. In spite of this, the wine was powerful enough to overcome this traumatic portion of its life and perform admirably when called to the stage for its swan song.  In addition to improper storage, the wine had suffered the indignity of, at its age, being decanted for almost two-and-a-half hours, yet still engaged our palates with a firmness and roundness that belied its age and experiences.

I have always been a Hillside Select fan, as evidenced by the fact that it is the single most populous label in my cellar. This bottle did nothing to disabuse me of my strongly held view on this matter.


  1. Those are two good looking dudes!!!

    Great wine Keith,quite an experience....very academic for me, thanks for sharing.

  2. Just reading back through my tasting notes on this wine and the thing that jumped right out at me was the fact that there seems to be tremendous bottle variation to this wine - even the same 6-pack can lead to very different wines. I have tasting this wine probably 8-10 times and that's the underlying note. I am a huge fan of Shafer and think that their Hillside Select is one of the "First Growths" of Napa... I wonder if the wine is getting tired as the first of my online notes is from 1996. I also wonder if it had been drunk 15-30 minutes after opening if it would have been any better... Anyway, glad I had as many opportunities to try it as when it was great - there were few bottles like it.

  3. That's first online notes from 2006...

  4. Andrew please let me know if you plan on being in the Orlando area on April 20th. I plan on opening the 1970 Vega Sicilia that evening and would love to have you participate in that tasting.