Shafer Hillside Select Dinner

Manresa Restaurant, Los Gatos, California USA

Tasted March 13, 2005 by PaulH with 3,508 views

Introduction

Nine wine lovers from the San Francisco Bay area got together for an evening of memorable wine and food at Manresa in Los Gatos. The tasting was devoted to sampling Shafer wines, especially the fabulous Hillside Selects. Since the wines were so special, we wanted to have food and company that would be worthy of the wine. Chef David Kinch was kind enough to put together a special seventeen-course tasting menu tied to the wines. Additionally, we were extremely fortunate in having Elias Fernandez, winemaker extraordinary from Shafer accept our invitation to join us.

Paul Homchick, Randy Wigginton, Sam Lai, Randy Cunningham, David Niederauer, Richard Leland, Ken Emery, David Sankaran, Al Osterheld and Elias Fernandez were all at the restaurant by 5:30 p.m. and the festivities started.

Flight 1 - Champagne and a bevy of Amuse Bouches (1 note)

We all sat down and introduced ourselves, while the Champagne was poured. Four appetizers were served:

First was a "Pea shell bouillon with spot prawn gelee" It was a cold fresh tasting pea emulsion that was thick and mouth coating. It had a swatch of fresh-sea flavor running through it. The saltiness balanced the acid in the peas. It was a great start. Next was a Martini glas filled with chunks of citrus with a jasmine tea dressing. It was refreshing and a fun collection of flavors. Then a salt cod and potato croquette with a bit of bacon (really good). Finally the famous Arpege egg which is a soft boiled egg served in an egg shell with the top cut off and layered with maple syrup, chives and creme fraiche.

White - Sparkling
1985 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Cuvée Charlie France, Champagne
91 points
Not a lot happening on the nose. Light straw color, very good acidity; medium body slightly grainy or dusty with a slightly sweet and long finish.

Flight 2 - First Courses with Sweet Wines (2 notes)

The chef had asked for some sauterne to serve with two special dishes. These were extraordinary and were a perfect match for the Sauternes.

First was a foie gras and cumin caramel with fresh ground pepper and fleur de sel which is simply an AMAZING dish. Next was Maine lobster warmed in hydromel (fermented honey) and ginger which was just exquisite. This may have been the best dish of the evening for me.

White - Sweet/Dessert
1970 Château Filhot France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
88 points
Very dark goldend color. Really nice fruity/nutty nose with a bit of botrytis. Palate was relatively simple having low acidity, a medium body
White - Sweet/Dessert
1988 Château d'Yquem France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
96 points
Light golden straw color, very subtle nose. Oily and viscous mouth texture very good full body,superb balancing acidity; long finish. A great bottle and a great experience.

Flight 3 - Second set of Courses with White Wine (2 notes)

We then cleared our palates, and poured the Chardonnays. The next course was and oyster and sea urchin with sea water gelee. It was excellent, with very fresh uni and oyster, slightly crunchy and tasting and smelling of the seashore. Then we had a soup: "slow egg with onion and cheese" which was a Vidalia Onion puree served on top of a poached egg and a slice of salty manchego cheese.

White
1999 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
88 points
Medium gold color, light dusty nose. Palate was medium body, but flabby and not enough acidity; downhill alert.
White
2001 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
92 points
Light golden straw color; crisp balanced acidity, palate shows good creaminess with apples and pears and a long finish. Great chardonnay. Drinking well now and for maybe two more years. Elias Fernandez explained that Shafer does not use malolactic fermentation because chardonnay gets ripe enough in Napa that you don't need it to balance the wine like in Burgundy and Chablis. The creaminess comes from leaving the wine on the lees in barrels for 16 (?) months.

Flight 4 - Relentless and Veal Tounge (2 notes)

This next course was the least successful pairing, a veal tongue with oyster and a leek terrine. In addition to being completely overpowered by the Syrah, I didn't think it was a particularly successful dish.

Red
1999 Shafer Relentless USA, California, Napa Valley
90 points
From vines planted in 1996. Nose was initially moderate but got more interesting with air. Stylistically, a light body for a California Syrah with the Petite Sirah (20%) giving a very noticeable backbone and tannic finish to the wine. Berries, pepper and a touch of brown sugar on the palate. This is no where near ready to drink. Save for two or three years before trying.
Red
2000 Shafer Relentless USA, California, Napa Valley
93 points
BIG nose of berries with an undercurrent of spice and earth. Better than the '99 in almost every way. Elias Fernandez said this was primarily due to learning about the vineyard and another year of age on the vines. Palate shows ripe fruit, white pepper and spice, superb extract, medium-full body, good acidity and a tremendously long firmly tannic finish. AT LEAST two years till next bottle. This wine is treated exactly the same as the Hillside Select Cabernet with 32 months in 100% new oak

Flight 5 - Early 90's Hillside Selects (5 notes)

The next course was an incredible suckling pig confit with boudins “black and white” all made in the restaurant. They brought out the roasting pan to show us the pigs and sausages. It was really rich and delicious. A true treat. We next got a 36-hour braised lamb shoulder served with a chestnut and ginger puree. Wow! The combination of the ginger and chestnut really got your attention and served as a good contrast to the slightly salty and rich lamb. This was probably my second favorite dish of the evening.

Red
1990 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
89 points
A very big and active nose with pronounced eucalyptus, juniper, olive and Bordeaux tobacco. While palate is fairly mouth-filling and smooth, it showed a green herbaceous streak. Elias Fernandez says that the 1990 was filtered aggressively and was picked in what he now regards as an unripe state. By 1993 filtering had been cut back and the grapes were left to ripen longer.
Red
1993 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
88 points
No nose, simple palate with black fruits. Thin, and uninteresting. Pretty much universal agreement at the table that this was the worst showing of the night (of 10 HSS vintages).
1 person found this helpful Comment
Red
1994 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
92 points
Reserved nose of black currants and spice, medium body, red fruit, drinking well with a long life ahead. Somewhat mysteriously faded after 90 minutes. Disappointing given the great reputation. Elias Fernandez called this a perfect year. I think others at the table liked this more than I did.
Red
1995 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
94 points
Very expressive nose of cedar, spice and a really interesting and prominent touch of mint. Medium fuill palate, with spice, pepper, and red fruit. Excellent balance, quite good with a long life ahead.
Red
1996 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
97 points
Big nose of black fruit. Great structure, very ripe, long finish, a bittersweet-chocolate monster wine. Group vote for best wine for drinking now.

Flight 6 - Hillside Select wrap up (5 notes)

While we were being served the lamb, they poured the next flight of Cabs & we now had 10 glasses of Hillside Select in front of our places. The final savory course was a roast beef filet with braised little gem lettuces. We also tried a bottle of the 2002 Shafer Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, which I didn't take notes on.

As we were sitting with 10 to 12 glasses in front of us and talking about the different vintages of HSS, Elias commented how fortunate he was to be a winemaker in California. If we had been sitting in front of a vertical of 1990s Bordeaux wine, we would be talking about how only one or two were any good, instead of one or two that weren't quite up to snuff!

Red
1997 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
94 points
Not much of a nose, a few folks suspected this wine was over-decanted. Palate showed ripe fruit, bitter chocolate, a nice texture, though a bit wood and lacking serious structure. Fairly tannic, won’t get any better. (Elias was against decanting the wines, except for removing sediment. His opinion is that decanting usually breaks down the wines and dulls the fruit with too much oxidation. Letting evolve in the glass is a much better strategy).
Red
1998 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
92 points
Elias regards this as the Napa wine of the vintage. He says this wine is the one of which he is most proud because he was able to make a good wine from bad materials. 1998 had terrible weather during flowering, a heat wave with an unprecedented 117 degree day, and finished up coming in at only 3/4 ton per acre. This wine is a lighter, fruity style of Hillside showing good balance and structure. It is drinking well now.
Red
1999 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
94 points
Simple structure, medium body, quite ripe. Not the barn burner I was expecting.
Red
2000 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
93 points
Mid-weight palate with black fruit and good structure; not particularly ripe. Plush structure instead of big character and backbone of a more normal HSS vintage.
1 person found this helpful Comment
Red
2001 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
98 points
This bottle was brought to the dinner by Elias Fernandez. It showed a big nose of ripe cabernet fruit and chocolate... lots of chocolate. The palate was incredibly unctious and full with chewy mouth-filling texture and tastes of bittersweet chocolate, spice and ripe berries. The wine showed a big, big structure with the alcohol, tannins and acidity all in the right place. A great experience. The table picked this as the best wine to drink in the future. I picked it as one of the best wines I have ever had the privilege to put in my mouth. Elias Fernandez says there have been three perfect years for Hillside Select fruit. 1994, 2001 and 2004! I can hardly wait!

Flight 7 - Port and FIVE Desserts (1 note)

The Shafer Port accompanied four perfect desserts... Lychee sorbet with pineapple and passionrruit; Saffron panna cotta with fig and pistachio; Strawberry beignet with bergamot sauce; a Kiefer lime milkshake, and a Bittersweet chocolate soufflé. WHAT A GREAT MEAL. It was 11:40 as the last of the coffee was being sipped and we reluctantly started to go our separate ways. It was hard to believe we had spent six hours.

Red - Fortified
2001 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Port USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District
96 points
Another gift to the group from Elias Fernandez. Shafer has been making Port since 1986. Why does Shafer make a port? "Because," explained Elias, "I like Port." He told a story where he and Doug excitedly took their first port into John Shafer's office for him to taste. He tasted it, grimaced and said "This is SWEET!" Yes, they explained, it's Port. "You used my grapes to make a sweet wine!!!???, said John. He was not pleased. Eventually, the need was recognized for a Shafer dessert wine at tastings and the project was given a go-ahead. The Shafer port is made from Hillside Select Cabernet grapes and is only sold at the winery. Someone asked Elias why he used HSS grapes. He replied that you have to use best grapes to make the best wine. No arguing with that. The 2001 Shafer port is almost deep black in color, with a wonderful nose and palate that is full of bittersweet chocolate and a deliciously long finish. Great stuff.

Closing

The things that make for a great wine and food experience are wine, food and good company. It is hard to imagine a better collection of wines, better food, or a greater bunch of guys to eat and drink with. Also, the generosity and insight provided by Elias Fernandez really made the night special. As things were winding down, Chef Kinch came in to see how we were doing. Elias took that opportunity to present him with an autographed bottle of the 2001 Hillside Select, so I think that means he enjoyed the meal!

Thanks to everyone for coming to the dinner, donating their wine and helping to make it a truly memorable event that we will all remember for a long time.