Last week I talked about the unsurpassable synergy between steak and Cabernet Sauvignon. This week, I got to drink a lot more Cabernet, as I was invited to a small, private vertical tasting by Shafer Vineyards. A vertical tasting is a tasting of many vintages of the same wine at the same time. These tastings go on all the time and are always illuminating, but I don’t get to all of them. But Shafer is considered one of the greatest wineries in the US and its Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon would probably be ranked in the top 5 of the best Cabs produced in California. It’s a totemic wine, so I could hardly turn down the trip to Napa to taste the wines. And there were a lot of them.
We started with 1978, then skipped to 1983 and then ran straight through until 2002, with a barrel sample of 2006 thrown in at the end. I was there with a few distinguished older wine writers (you’ll see them in the picture) as well as John Shafer and his winemaker Elias Fernandez. The wines were routinely excellent (my favorite vintages were not the favorites of the consensus: 78, 86, 95 and 2000), but the whole experience was a very academic exercise and not a hedonistic one. While I love discovering how great wines age—and its essential for the wine critic to attend such tastings so that he or she can understand how the wines of the present vintage might evolve over time—I would also have loved to have the experience of taking just a single one of those bottles and drinking it with Mr. Shafer and Mr. Fernandez. Maybe over a rare steak!