Aspen's done, and I'm back in NYC exhausted but perfectly happy about life. And I have to say, if you're looking for a way to make your audience your friend when running a wine seminar, try blind-tasting them on the 1999 Shafer Hillside Select, which I was able to do this year thanks to the kindness (or madman-like generosity, take your pick) of Doug Shafer. The idea—since I was doing a seminar on Cabernets from Napa's mountain appellations—was to throw in a ringer at the end, then quiz the nice folks tasting the wines about whether, after educating their palates with five or six mountain cabs, they thought the mystery wine was a mountain wine, too.
The general consensus? Mountain wine. (Doug will be gratified to hear this, since his position is that Hillside is a de facto mountain Cab even if the appellation doesn't qualify.) I think the jury might have been a bit more split had the wine been younger—the '99 is still showing a lot of that lovely black raspberry fruit it had when young, but it's become more lithe and precise, shedding some of its youthful wine boisterousness and adding layers of complex spice, plum and licorice notes. And it's still got years to go. The bad news? Look to paying about $400 a bottle at auction.
The other Cabernets I poured were an arrow-sharp 2003 Robert Craig Mt. Veeder ($70), full of fruit that recalled a fistful of wild berries; Beringer's 2002 Marston Family Vineyard bottling ($90), which impressed me with its seamless black cherry fruit and soft tongue-coating tannins (it's not as overtly muscular as the Marston Family Vineyard's own extremely good bottling); and a beautiful 2003 Lokoya Diamond Mountain District ($150), which has that Diamond Mountain chocolate-covered-cherry note in spades—the sort of wine that seems to saturate every corner of your mouth with flavor. In terms of blends, we tasted the aromatic, intense 2003 Cloud View (67 Cab/33 Merlot, $65) from Pritchard Hill, which to me needs a couple of years to mellow out, and a quirky wine from Krupp Brothers Estate on Atlas Peak called The Doctor ($75), a blend of Cabernet, Tempranillo (!), Merlot and Malbec—the 2004 has bright, lively, cherry fruit and some nice coffee/espresso notes.
Depressingly, the wholesaler responsible for getting Ladera's Howell Mountain Cabernet to the tasting evidently lost the wine, or the boxes fell off the back of the truck going over Independence Pass or something—in any case, it wasn't there, and that was a shame because it's a hell of a wine for the price, and a spot-on expression of Howell Mountain Cabernet. Ah well. No use crying over spilt Cabernet.