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Hartwell Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Legend has it that quick and nimble stags would escape the indigenous hunters of southern Napa Valley through the landmark palisades that sit just northeast of the current city of Napa. As a result, the area was given the name, Stags Leap. While its grape-growing history dates back to the mid-1800s, winemaking didn’t really take off until the mid-1970s after a small but pivotal blind tasting called the Judgement of Paris.
When a 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon won first place against its high-profile Bordeaux contenders, like Chateau Mouton Rothschild and Chateau Haut-Brion, international attention to the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley escalated rapidly.
The vineyards in this one-of-a-kind wine growing region receive hot afternoon air reflecting off of its eastern palisade formation. In combination with the cool evening breezes from the San Pablo Bay just south, this becomes an optimal environment for grape growing. While many varieties could thrive here, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominate with virtually no others, save for a spot or two of Syrah.
Stags Leap soils—eroded volcanic and old river sediments—encourage well established root systems and result in complex, terroir-driven wines. Stags Leap District reds have a distinct sour cherry and black berry character with baking spice and dried earth aromas, and supple tannins.
A noble variety bestowed with both power and concentration, Cabernet Sauvignon is sometimes referred to as the “king” of red grapes. It can be somewhat unapproachable early in its youth but has the potential to age beautifully, with the ability to last fifty years or more at its best. Small berries and tough skins provide its trademark firm tannic grip, while high acidity helps to keep the wine fresh for decades. Cabernet Sauvignon flourishes in temperate climates like Bordeaux's Medoc region (and in St-Emillion and Pomerol, where it plays a supporting role to Merlot). The top Médoc producers use Cabernet Sauvignon for their wine’s backbone, blending it with Merlot and smaller amounts of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and/or Petit Verdot. On its own, Cabernet Sauvignon has enjoyed great success throughout the world, particularly in the Napa Valley, and is responsible for some of the world’s most prestigious and sought-after “cult” wines.
In the Glass
High in color, tannin, and extract, Cabernet Sauvignon expresses notes of blackberry, cassis, plum, currant, spice, and tobacco. In Bordeaux and elsewhere in the Old World you'll find the more earthy, tannic side of Cabernet, where it's typically blended to soften tannins and add complexity. In warmer regions like California and Australia, you can typically expect more ripe fruit flavors upfront.
Cabernet Sauvignon is right at home with rich, intense meat dishes—beef, lamb, and venison, in particular—where its opulent fruit and decisive tannins make an equal match to the dense protein of the meat. With a mature Cabernet, opt for tender, slow-cooked meat dishes.
Despite the modern importance and ubiquity of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is actually a relatively young variety. In 1997, DNA revealed the grape to be a spontaneous crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc which took place in 17th century southwestern France.