On the Road with the Grape Guy

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Dinner

05 Apr 2023


Winemaker SLWC(November 2022) … This historic winery brought its winemaker, Marcus Notaro, and five of their wines along for dinner at Epoch restaurant in Toronto. An intimate November affair in front of a roaring fire in a quiet room, where the noise of the world was shut out by the doors of the side-room that staged the event.

We started with a barely room temperature, Hands of Time Chardonnay and moved to a slightly cooler and more approachable, if not very Californian and "graceful" Chardonnay, called “Karia”. Then we were blessed with three reds, two current vintage Cabernets, and then a back vintage of one of the same wines.

My tasting notes are below, but first a little about Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. It's  estate vineyard is 100 acres, growing 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and only 4% Cabernet Franc – so obviously this winery in Napa knows where it's bread is buttered. The other two vineyards are a 50-acre plot in Calistoga and a 70-acre plot in Napa - here again, the vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc - although numbers weren't given. Their whites come from a 40-acre plot that's planted to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery was established in 1970. There was to be a celebration of their 50th anniversary, but something happened in 2020 to stop all that ... I will not mention it here.

Quote of the Night ...
Winemaker Marcus Notaro, while discussing the price of wine, versus whether or not they are worth their price: "The wines damn well better deliver.”
The good news is … they did.

The Wines ...

Hands of Time Chard2020 Hands of Time Chardonnay
Everyone talked about the fruit here and how the neutral oak for 8 months helped shepherd the wine along. This is de-classified Karia fruit (their top end Chardonnay); but in truth, the warmth of the wine did little to make it shine: nectarine and peach joined hints of spice – to make it drinkable and tasty. But this wine definitely needed a little more chill to make it really sing.  (*** 1/2+)

2019 Karia, Napa Valley Chardonnay Karia Chard
The chill here was perfect and brought out so many of this white's cool temperature loving characteristics. “Karia” is Greek for graceful and that's just what this wine was: super-pleasant from beginning to end. Rich, smoky, oaky, but with a fruit core, that doles out salinity and good acidity; vanilla and some butterscotch also join the show. The wine is made in what Marcus called “a less intervention style”. Only 9 months in barrel, 34% new, all French, with 8% going into stainless steel to retain a modicum of freshness. There's also 0.5% Muscat Canelli that sneaks in - just enough to give it a floral aspect.  (****+)

Hands of Time Red2019 Hands of Time, Napa Valley Red Blend
Not really a field blend, as only Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc are grown, but the Hands sees 85% Cabernet Sauvignon meet with 15% Merlot (purchased fruit) ... The interesting part is that this wine pays tribute to the winemakers that have gone through the winery over the past years. And while considered a "second wine"; there are years that this wine is in more limited supply than one of their flagship bearer’s: Artemis. Smoky-dark fruit and blueberry skin on the finish, while the palate is fruit-forward and very tasty. Silky tannins help shape this wine into a real winter.  (****)

2019 Artemis, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Artemis 2018
Marcus (winemaker) describes 2019 as a "challenging, but good. Vintage" overall. The wine has a drop (.5%) of Cabernet Franc and the blend spends 15 months in oak, 42%, new French and 6% new American, all the rest is in older French. The fruit is pure and robust: plum, black cherry, blackberry with notes of chocolate, white smoke and silky tannins. Through the evening, the wine opened and became even more silky and ultimately gorgeous for both sipping and sniffing – the grilled beef fillet was not let down by the wine, nor vice versa. Purity of fruit and complexity makes this wine and the cellaring potential sits at about 15 plus years.  (**** 1/2+)

Our last wine of the evening was the 2014 Artemis, which was smooth, silky and luxurious across the tongue ... Marcus described that vintage as "elegant" - but despite the elegance, there did seem to be a consensus around the table that the 2019 stole the show - it's challenges brought about a more complete, complex and ultimately delicious wine.


Get Our Newsletter

* indicates required

Follow Us on Social Media

Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube