Long before we saw big, lush, soft wines in Bordeaux, they were already the norm in Napa. In the ‘90s and ‘00s, in particular this filled a niche for wine drinkers seeking this style to drink young with their fullest punch. Shafer Hillside Select was a staple, and with five 100/100 scores from the Wine Advocate, and a Wine of the Year gong from the Wine Spectator, their status as a Napa Cult Cab was firmly established. I recall drinking some of the ‘90s vintages in London in the ‘00s and being very impressed by the quality.
In 2008 and 2009 I ran a series of tastings exploring ‘Napa Pioneers’ – verticals of the key estates running back to vintages in the ‘50s and ‘60s, to see how they aged, and how the styles evolved over time. Those tastings taught those of us who attended the amazing capacity for high quality examples to age well. But we didn’t include Shafer’s now iconic ‘Hillside Select’ in that series, so it is with some excitement and anticipation that we get to address that omission this evening.
John Shafer (1924-2019), formerly a publishing executive from Chicago, became one of Napa Valley’s true pioneers at the age of 48. He was an early advocate of the riper style that became de rigueur by the late ‘90s. He was a champion, along with Warren Winiarski and others, of the special qualities of the Stag’s Leap District, leading to the creation of that AVA. And he was a great philanthropist and supporter of the Napa community.
Shafer began estate-bottling in 1978, and ‘Hillside Select’ – the reserve label, from poor volcanic soil sites – began with the 1983. John’s son Doug Shafer joined that year, and became president in 1994. And, Elias Fernandez joined as assistant winemaker in 1984, and became winemaker in 1994. This combination was to seal their success, with father John promoting the wine.
This evening’s dinner will provide us with 12 vintages through which to get to know what Shafer Hillside Select is all about, but note too that all of them will show how this label matures in bottle – our range covers vintages 16 to 32 years old.
Hmmm… and how can we make this the perfect evening? Sushi? Some macrobiotic wonder, perhaps? Nope. This evening calls for a more carnal response to the fullness of the wines – I’m very much looking forward to the food and experience at Prohibition. Note however – this rare vertical is single-bottle only, so places are very limited. Please don’t dilly-dally if you want to join! ☺
The menu and wine list:
Shafer Vineyard Hillside Select
1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003
Slow-Cooked Egg Yolk & Potato Chips
Smoked Burrata & Apple Hickory Bacon
Grilled M5 Australian Wagyu Striploin
Classic Mashed Potatoes & Seasonal Vegetables
Artisanal Cheese Platter