The List




The List


Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Cask 23

California, and the Napa Valley in particular, seem to have become, in recent years, so closely associated with the pinot noir grape variety that it is easy to forget that the wine that won best red at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, and set in motion a revolution in the perception of US wine, was actually a varietal Californian cabernet sauvignon.

That wine was, of course, Stag’s Leap, and in the process of winning the tasting, it triumphed over some of Bordeax’s greatest crus classe, causing considerable stir not only in France, where the suggestion that the New World was capable of producing wines on par with the finest clarets was tantamount to blasphemy, but throughout the wine drinking world. In fact, one might venture to say that the current taste in the UK and abroad for fine wine from the New World, owes much to the success of Stag’s Leap back at the so-called ‘Judgement of Paris’.

Some critics have argued against the verdict of the tastings, saying that a fruit-driven Calfornian cabernet will always triumph over the austerity and hard tannins of a relatively young claret that has not reached maturity (the French offerings were six or fewer years old at the time.) This is to miss the point, though; in reality the judges appeared entirely unable to distinguish the supposedly more elegant clarets from the American usurpers.

Since this momentous event, Stag’s Leap has not been resting on its laurels, though; new land has been bought, and the vineyard now produces a range of wine, including a chardonnay varietal and a red produced from vines situated in Sonoma.

The wine in which we are interested, however, is the Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the estate’s premier wine, produced with grapes from both the original vineyard and the adjacent Fay vineyard. Although it is labelled as a cabernet sauvignon, there is often a small amount of petit verdot added. The grapes are carefully selected from the highest quality plots of the Stag’s Leap Vineyard and the Fay Vineyard, the former having volcanic soils, whilst the latter is predominantly alluvial. Ageing is for around 24 months in mainly new French oak.

One might expect, given experience of lesser New World cabernets with similarly high alcoholic contents, that the Cask 23 would be powerful but flabby – like an ageing Arnie, perhaps. This is far from the case however. Taking the superb 2000 as an example, there is impressive definition, augmented by well developed complexity. The nose is nutty with overtones of cherries and the texture is rich and silky. There is plenty of fruit here, but it is not allowed to dominate; there are well structured tannins and a definite taste of dark chocolate, culminating in a lingering finish that, to put it crudely, is supremely more-ish.

What Cask 23 offers is a fine classical wine that obviates the need for patience and cellaring time that is the inevitable consequence of owning and at some point drinking the best cru classe claret, yet which still offers a classical elegance and distinct identity that makes it one of the world’s truly great red wines.