I had the opportunity to taste two wines from the well known Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars at a recent tasting event. I have not tasted as many American wines as I would have liked to so I grabbed the the chance to give a sniff and swirl to a few from such a renowned producer.
I started with the 2007 Artemis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Now if my preconceptions of what Napa Valley Cabernet should taste like were available in a bottle this would be it. It is a monster that climbed into my mouth and seemed to take pleasure in personally assaulting every taste bud that it could find.
To describe it I would say that it was as though someone had taken a freshly sawn piece of oak and soaked it in alcohol for a few days. They then proceeded to lead me briefly past a table of fruit before flogging me mercilessly with said branch.
Great. So I guess the preconceptions had some basis. Easy enough.
After some tongue first aid and a piece of bread to mop up the alcohol (which was much more apparent than the 14.5% claimed in the tasting notes) I proceeded on to the second wine on offer – The 2007 Fay Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
What an elegant contrast. I don’t know who this Fay is, but she must be a seriously sophisticated lady. If the Artemis is everything that I expected to dislike in a clichéd Cali Cab, the Fay would make me want to plan a trip to the region.
Don’t get me wrong, this is no soft touch. Along with some fresher fruit and spice on the nose there is plenty of bold oak, liquorice and dark black fruit on the palate, but it is sensitively handled and seamlessly integrated. The oaking and tannins add complexity and structure as opposed to dominating the wine completely. It is not quite ready for drinking yet, with firm grippy tannins and good acidity confirming the expectation that it’s one for the cellar.
Wine Enthusiast scored the Artemis 94 points, so perhaps that’s a good style guideline; avoid California Cabernets that score in that sort of range when I look out for another bottle. Mind you, at £40 (Artemis) and £80 (Fay) recommended prices, I’m more likely to taste them in future as opposed to enjoying a bottle!