Thursday, September 9, 2010

Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical -- McNamara's Opening Remarks

And the words came up from the cellar to Gigi Chilvers who had been holding back the assembled masses in the Luma bar.  And Gigi spake the words and the words were "Thou shalt go down." And go down they did.  Into the Cellar at Luma to partake of the fruit of Shafer's labor: 12 successive years of Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon.

The stairway to the cellar is L-shaped, going in a northerly direction initially and then making a sharp left turn before dead-ending at a north-south passageway after four or five steps.  A right turn leads to a heavy glass door which opens into the finely appointed cellar.  As attendees came across the threshold, they were greeted by an imposing array of Shafer Hillside Select bottles to the left and, ahead, white-berobed tables supporting a shimmering array of glasses each bearing a precise allotment of its homage to Bacchus.  Upon hearing that there were no pre-assigned seats, attendees spread out to occupy the preferred territory from which each would be mounting his/her assault on the best that Shafer had to offer.  The seats at the tables closest to the door filled first while later arrivals, and bullies, worked their way towards the back row.

The attendees were a mix of "power drinkers" and wine lovers.  The Antonio's Tasting Group was well represented as was Circa and Dexter's (by the owners), and ABC (two Wine Consultants).  There were about 10 women at the tasting.

Once everyone had taken their places, Adam made a brief opening statement and then turned the floor over to Andrew McNamara.  His was a virtuoso performance.  He exhibited great wit, exuberance, enthusiasm, and breadth of knowledge over the course of a two-hour tour which spanned not only the matter at hand, but also a broad array of wine-related topics to include wine ratings, acids, balance, beer, oak, and suchlike.

In his opening remarks, Andrew noted that this tasting was truly an extraordinary event.  He had, he said, tasted each of these wines at least three of four times but never all together like this.  He had tasted every Shafer Hillside Select vintage going back to the 1983 vintage and felt that the wines were "fantastic" and "extraordinary."  Given the pedigree and quantity of wines on offer at the tasting, he felt that it could have easily been priced at $400 to $500 and thought it remarkable that attendees were only being charged $150 for the opportunity to participate.

Andrew noted that there were originally eight Napa Valley cult wines: Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family Vineyards, Colgin, Dalle Valle Maya, Grace Family Vineyards, Heitz Martha's Vineyard,  and Shafer Hillside Select.  Shafer, according to Andrew, is definitively one of the greatest wines made in America today and is his single favorite vineyard in the country.  Shafer Hillside is a product of Stags Leap District which, according to Andrew, is one of the most distinct areas in Napa Valley.  The Hillside Select wine is a product of a harsh growing environment characterized by volcanic soil and bedrock.  Located on the east side of the valley, the Hillside grapes benefit from the warming afternoon temperatures generated by the setting sun.

Andrew has worked with Kevin Zraly in the past and considers him one of the most brilliant wine educators around.   For this tasting he was going to be following Zraly's approach of going through the wines methodically with time taken between each wine.  This would allow each wine to be shown as it tastes and not comparatively vis a vis the preceding or following wine.  Shafer is a heavily tannic wine and, if rushed through, would yield a mouthful of tannins for the intrepid taster.  Andrew expected that, as the tasting progressed, the group would be able to see the terroir characteristics -- which is what Shafer is all about -- and how the wine evolves and changes over time.

Let the tasting begin.

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