Tasting SLV and Mouton with Warren Winiarski

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.

Warren Winiarski with his 2006 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon

Warren Winiarski with his 2006 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon

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.

About Dave McIntyre

Wine columnist for The Washington Post, co-founder of DrinkLocalWine.com, and blogger at Dave McIntyre's WineLine (dmwineline.com).
This entry was posted in Bordeaux, California, Direct Shipping, Wine and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Tasting SLV and Mouton with Warren Winiarski

  1. Dave, Dave, Dave… I enjoy your writing and your perspective. At least, on most things. But your dismissal of the internet as a sound way to purchase fine rare wine seems hasty.

    The internet is simply a highly efficient medium for connecting people, and in this case, buyers and sellers of rare wines (via licensed entities, of course). It neither improves nor degrades the quality of the wine in question, though online buyers are always advised to obtain the wine’s path from vintner to current owner, including storage conditions. But that’s sage advise when purchasing any rare wine, no?

    Most reputable online stores will feature photos of the specific bottle being purchased if the value of the wine is above some minimum level, though I grant you that level varies by seller. These can be quite useful, showing label condition, fill level, etc. And the best online sellers provide as much of the provenance as can be traced.

    Dismissing this valuable transaction medium seems a bit hasty.

    • Dave – thank you for commenting. I agree that the Internet is an important channel for wine sales, also that special care needs to be taken with any purchase of older or rare wines. I wish I had snapped a photo of this bottle before Warren opened it. He purchased it from one of the most noted online sales operations, so I’m astounded they would sell it given its condition.

  2. Paul Wagner says:

    HI Dave

    Since I teach wine classes at Napa Valley College, I am frequently forced to track down wines via the internet. I share your concern about this experience. I have only had one bad bottle of wine shipped to me in the last twenty years–and it was a very expensive bottle of Lafitte Rothschild that was corked. When my students noted the TCA, we re-corked the bottle and I called the wine merchant. They replaced it free of charge, including all shipping costs. And that was a $1200 bottle of wine. But that was also a remarkable on-line merchant.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Paul. And of course the shipper would not have been able to spot the problem. In this case, there were obvious signs of trouble. Warren could have returned it, but chose to taste it anyway.

  3. Warren Winiarski says:

    Dear Dave,
    Warren enjoyed his time with you immensely and wanted to let you know that the online provider of the Mouton Rothschild refunded the cost of the bottle immediately based on Warren’s word that it had heat spoiled. They were apologetic and the refund was granted immediately.

  4. Joanne Lee says:

    Dear Dave,
    Warren had a wonderful time with you recently and wanted you to know that the online provider refund the total cost of the Mouton Rothschild immediately when we informed them of heat spoilage. They were apologetic and our credit was received within 24 hours.
    Best regards from Warren

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