Wine Talk: Sipping with Shafer

In any conversation about the best California Cabernets, Doug Shafer always comes up—and for good reason. Each varietal is distinctly different from the next, showing quality and character from Chardonnay to Cabernet to Sangiovese. Like his wines, Shafer president Doug Shafer is casual but distinguished. He approaches winemaking the same way, with a focus on “extracting elegance.” On a hot June afternoon in Napa, off the Silverado Trail, I sat down with him in the Shafer tasting room to sip the current and soon-to-be-released wines. He doesn’t talk about soil types and pH balance; he talks about his passions: aroma and flavor. With a lineup like Shafer’s, who wouldn’t?
The 2002 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay ($38) is well-balanced with light fruit, oak, and a subtle, nutty finish. And as with most of Shafer’s wines, the name tells a story. Red Shoulder Ranch was named for the red-shouldered hawk. Instead of using poison to control the groundhog and mole population in the vineyard, Shafer installed perches for birds of prey, such as hawks and barn owls.

The 2002 Napa Valley Merlot ($41 upon release in September) is plummy and saturated with rich tannins. Although it is already a concentrated, complex wine, aging it from two to 12 years will soften the tannins. The 2001 Relentless ($60 upon release in September) also has a story behind its name. Shafer says winemaker Elias Fernandez is like a “junkyard dog. He won’t let go.” So he named the thick, hearty, chewy Syrah after Fernandez. Drink Relentless with prime rib, or sit back and relax with a glass while watching the news, as Shafer does. The winery’s flagship wine, 2000 Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon ($150 upon release in September), is 100 percent Cabernet and so soft it’s hard to believe it is not blended with Merlot. The grapes are picked from the sprawling vines surrounding the winery. The result is a rich, dense, full-bodied gem with blackberry notes. “Almost animal-like,” Shafer says. “This is a classic Cabernet.”

All wines available at fine wine shops.


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