During my recent visit to California, I had the pleasure of visiting Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and a Napa Valley pioneer whose Cabernet Sauvignon won the famous Paris Tasting of 1976. We first met a few years ago when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened its exhibit Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000, and I interviewed him for an earlier piece on Napa Cabernet.
We were to meet for lunch at Bistro Don Giovanni, but at the last minute Warren invited me to his home first to taste the Stag’s Leap 2006 SLV, the last vintage he harvested before selling the winery in 2007, and the 2006 Mouton Rothschild. One does not decline such an invitation.
When I arrived at his home, perched on a hill behind the winery with a panoramic view of the Fay Vineyard, Warren seemed perturbed. The Mouton, he explained, was damaged. He showed me a half bottle he had purchased from a well-known online purveyor. Unfortunately, it arrived with the cork protruding half an inch from the bottle, nearly poking through the foil. The tissue paper wrapper was stained with wine, and the label also showed signs of leakage. The wine had obviously been improperly stored.
My first thought was, what idiot would put an obviously damaged bottle of Mouton into the mail, especially when the customer name on the label was Winiarski? Reflecting on this experience later, I wondered about the reliability of any wine purchased over the Internet, especially older rare wines. (Note the comment below that the seller gave Warren a full refund.)
The Mouton was indeed cooked. The color was brown, it tasted of stewed fruit compote and lacked virtually any aroma. The SLV, on the other hand, was still quite young and vibrant. It was just shaking off its youthful tannins and beginning to show its potential to develop into a truly classic Napa Valley Cabernet.
Even though we couldn’t make the comparison with the Mouton, the chance to taste the Stag’s Leap with the man who grew it and helped establish Napa’s reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon nearly 40 years ago was memorable.