Stag's Leap's Superlative S.L.V.

For John Keats the fall was "a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," and these words came to mind as I savored the wonderful Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 ($98).

It's all mellow elegance, a beguiling combination of ripe, dusty fruits, a miracle of concentration and complexity. Its "mists," if you will, are evocative of those hints of intriguing, half-hidden mystery that all great red wines offer, that sense that you're never quite going to understand all that is going on in the glass.

Most wine consumers don't think about bottle-aging American wine, even great American wine. And to be quite frank, when you consider how completely lacking in anything resembling structure so many of them are, it's easy to see why. In fairness to the producers, they are, for the most part, just responding to the demands of a public new to the world of wine when they release the sort of soft, fleshy, easy-drinking, and completely unchallenging wines that sell so well.

The consumer in turn equates smoothness with quality—and in the process entirely misses out on the complex wonders offered by a great cabernet sauvignon with a few years of bottle age like this.

Breakout Vineyard

Stag's Leap was owned until recently by the renowned Napa pioneer, Warren Winiarski, a man who quite literally changed both the face and the politics of American wine. In 1970 he bought an old prune orchard and replanted it with vines. It was this vineyard that produced the '73 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon that won the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris, which put American winemaking on the map. (In blind taste-testing in Paris of cabernets sauvignon and chardonnay from France and the California, California wines, including Stag's Leap, rated best in each category.) The vineyard, now known as S.L.V. Stag's Leap, is now jointly owned by Altria (MO) subsidiary Chateau Ste. Michelle of Woodinville, Wash., and Italian wine giant Marchesi Antinori. The winery was sold in August 2007 for $185 million.

It's too bad poor Keats didn't live long enough—and he certainly didn't live very long—to enjoy this wine. On a practical level, the 2001 S.L.V. is available from a variety of wine shops on for an average price that's less than the cost of the current release. So you're not even paying extra to experience the wonders of enjoying a great cab at its peak of maturity.

When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Yes, half an hour at least.

Food Pairing: Roast lamb, beef, pheasant, or grouse.

Grapes: 100 percent cabernet sauvignon.

Appellation: Napa

Region: California

Country: USA

Price: $98

Availability: Limited

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