2012 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon (1.5L)


In the Stags Leap District, Cabernet Sauvignon is king. The well-drained volcanic soils and climate cooled by regular San Pablo Bay fogs produce cabs that are silky, supple and voluptuous: “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” While the Stags Leap District is now world class, when John Shafer moved his family there from Chicago in 1973, it was a place of rocky hillsides and rundown vineyards and orchards. At that time, “up-valley” was the focus of premium winemaking whereas this rocky corner of the valley did not even have an agreed-upon name. But as the land was affordable and had supported vineyards in the past, John Shafer decided it was the place to pursue his dream in wine. Shafer Vineyards is a moderately-sized, family-owned operation whose pursuit of quality in both viticulture and winemaking helped define not only their own winery but the Stags Leap District as well. At the start it was just John and his son Doug doing everything, from terracing the hillsides, to planting vines, to making and selling the wine. Doug was only 17 when he began helping his father transform the old farm into a modern vineyard. He went on to study enology at UC Davis and became Shafer’s winemaker in 1983. Success came quickly to Shafer Vineyards, with its very first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon winning the prestigious San Francisco Vintner’s Club taste-off. Shafer’s Hillside Select, the winery’s showcase made from 100% Cabernet grown on the steep slopes surrounding the winery, became a benchmark that epitomized the complexity, richness and elegance of the Stags Leap District. While Shafer built its reputation on its Cabernets, the winery also produces Merlot and Syrah from estate vineyards just outside the Stags Leap District as well as Chardonnay from Carneros. Shafer’s 2008 Relentless, a blend of Syrah and Petite Syrah was selected as Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year for 2012.  Despite success and high demand for its wines, Shafer Vineyards chose to remain small enough to be manageable, capping growth at about 32,000 cases. In addition to John and Doug Shafer, that team includes Elias Fernandez, who joined in 1984 and has been winemaker since 1994. The charm of drinking a glass of Shafer wine comes from knowing that the folks who made it are so intimately acquainted with the land, the vineyards and even the individual vines. In this age of global conglomerates, it is a quality that deserves to be cherished.


100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Hillside Select is made from the rocky vineyard the Shafers planted in the early 1970s. Ever since the first vintage, in 1978, those hillside vines have been producing stellar wines that Robert Parker has called “… one of the New World’s most profound Cabernet Sauvignons.” Throughout the growing season, the vineyards are meticulously managed – to the point where even individual berries are snipped off their bunches if not up to par. In the winery, Hillside Select is aged for more than four years – three in 100% new French oak barrels plus an additional 15 months in bottle. The result is a wine with classic richness, youthful elegance and texture. Of the 2012, Shafer’s winemaker Elias Fernandez describes the “room-filling, energetic aromas of juicy, dark fruit and white flowers,” while Robert Parker called it “a perfect wine… a total hedonistic and intellectual turn-on already, although it has 30+ years of life ahead of it.” The magnum size ensures everybody gathered to celebrate a special occasion will get a glass.


Meticulous vineyard management (suckering, leafing, culling) helps ensure consistent ripening. Grapes are picked by hand, manually sorted, destemmed and then sorted again by optical berry scanner. Different hillside vineyard blocks are fermented separately and only the best performers are "selected" for the final blend. The wine aged 32 month in 100% new French oak and a further year in bottle before release.

Tasting notes

100 points – Robert Parker's Wine Advocate; 98 points – James Suckling. 96 points – Wine Specator.  The wine opens with a heady perfume of blackberry, cassis, new leather, spice and mocha before offering a profusion of currants, raspberries, black olives, wet earth and ending with brighter notes on the finish. An opulent but refined wine, it shows great balance of ripe fruit, tannin and acidity. Delicious now but will reward cellaring for decades.


Stags Leap District (Napa)


100% Cabernet Sauvignon