A Controversial New Shafer Cabernet

************************************************The debate over brett continues. I personally like brettanomyces in a wine very much but my memories are of French and other Old World wines. Traditionally, folks with palates geared toward New World wines avoid a wine with hints of brett. New World and California, in particular, wines are filtered and cleaned up so much to survive the travel, the warehouse temperatures and the retail shelves that one hardly tastes anything but the most basic characteristics. That is one of the hallmarks of the New World and actually liked by many consumers. Old World wine can have unusual characteristics as part of the style of the wine. Brett is one I actually appreciate often but my successful experiences have been limited to Old World. Is this Shafer flawed? The answer depends on who you ask. James Laube gave thumbs down. Shafer people thumbs up. What is the safe response? I would go with Mr. Laube. I think "out of character" as Mr. Laube called this wine is a great way to summarize it without drinking it. California wines do not deviate much from the winery’s norm because I personally do not think the wine-makers are good enough to venture that far out of the dots.
James Laube Unfined

Posted: 04:37 PM ET, July 15, 2009

Even the best wineries can stumble. For me, the 2006 Shafer One Point Five Cabernet, priced at $70, is an example of a wine that’s out of sync for the winery and out of character for the wine–which I thought was terrific upon its debut with the 2004 vintage.

After tasting the wine blind on six different occasions, I can’t recommend it. I’m not sure what happened, but all of the bottles I tried showed off flavors. At times the wine displayed a high level of volatile acidity. Other times it exhibited a dirty barnyard character or a bitter metallic flavor. At its best, it was ruggedly earthy, green and herbal, and not showing any of the ripe, opulent, dark berry flavors that typically define Shafer’s Cabernets.

In my tastings, the wine showed evidence of brettanomyces, a wine spoilage yeast that’s considered a flaw. At low levels, some people find brett adds complexity to a wine. Yet at higher levels, it tastes barnyardy, metallic, dry and bitter.

Shafer, of course, has been one of Napa’s most reliable wineries, routinely producing great wines, chief among them its Shafer Hillside Select Cabernetfrom Stags Leap.

I contacted winery president Doug Shafer about my experiences and concerns about the wine, and he was very direct in his responses. "That [vintage] was one where we had some higher brett counts [in the wine],” he said. “It’s an interesting wine and we battled [brett] in the cellar. We noticed in that flavor profile that it shows more earth [and a] dirt aroma. Not sure if it’s brett, but we think it might be. In some years you get brett counts that are higher than in other years.” He noted that it was puzzling, because “we’ve never seen grapes look so good” as they did from the 2006 harvest.

“It’s troubling,” he allowed, adding that “Out in the marketplace, we haven’t heard anyone say anything.”

Despite the initial presence of brett, he said, the wine had gone into the bottle "clean—there’s no brett in the bottle."

"Is it as bright and fresh as it has been [in two previous vintages]?” Shafer said. “No. Is it flawed? No.”

We agreed to disagree about this wine. Ultimately consumers and the market will assess its quality and decide its fate.



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