California Wine: Two Great Books & Stags Leap District

California Wine: Two Great Books & Stags Leap District

September was California wine month. My posts only covered a tiny fraction of the amazing and very different California wines available throughout the country, but today I want to share two great books on California wine to take you further in your explorations of the region. I also want to share some fantastic wines from the celebrated Stags Leap District.

Two Great Books on California Wine

First up are two of my most consulted books on California wine.

California Wine for Dummies, by Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW and Ed McCarthy, CWE, $12 at Amazon – Don't be put off by the fact that is a 'Dummies' book. I know a fair bit about wine but still consult this book on a regular basis, to check this or that fact.

California Wine for Dummies offers a very readable and thorough guide to California wine – from a general overview and history of wine production, through the different grape varieties planted, the diversity of terroir, regions and wine styles. It also covers all price points from the iconic cult wines to value wines. This book is the latest addition under the Wine for Dummies brand. The writing style is very user-friendly and informative. Mary and Ed also offer lots of recommendations from their many years of tasting California wine.

New California Wine, by Matt Kramer, $19 at Amazon - I've had this book for a number of years and the pages are well turned. A more in-depth and academic work on California that takes you in detail through each and every wine producing region in the state. It also critically examines how the industry has evolved over the years, the catalysts for success and the challenges for the future. A thorough guide to California viticulture and winemaking.

Stags Leap District

Last week I attended a tasting of the wines from the Stag's Leap District, an AVA within the Napa valley. Wines from Stag's Leap District are almost exclusively made from Cabernet Sauvignon. With only 1300 acres planted Stags Leap District is the smallest Californian wine region. Cooler nights than on the valley floor, and breezes coming in from the San Pablo Bay ensure a lovely freshness in the wines. The area shot to fame in the famous Paris tasting of 1976, when the 1972 Clos du Val took top honors over many top Bordeaux wines. Wines from Stags Leap District do not come cheap. However, for special occasions, they are absolutely worth the extra dollars.

Some of my favorites were:

2005 Baldacci Family Vineyards Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, $65 – Beautifully balanced and integrated. Aromas of cigar box, ripe black fruit with notes of chocolate, leather and earth.

2005 Cliff Lede, Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District – $170 – Expensive. Rich, opulent and concentrated. Intense flavors of blackcurrant, cherry and berry with hints of floral notes and spice. Supple, ripe velvety tannins. Very generous on the palate and a long finish.

2005 Clos du Val SLD Cabernet Sauvignon, $70 – Intense nose of ripe red and black fruit with layers of toasty vanilla and spice. Fresh and juicy with great fruit concentration. Gains more complexity on the mid and back palate that leads to a very long finish.

2005 Ilsley Vineyards, SLD, Cabernet Sauvignon, $55 
- Enticing aromas of ripe black fruit, dried herbs, cedar and a hint of eucalypt. Rich and mocha like on the palate. Very well integrated and a smooth lingering finish.

2005 Robert Sinskey Vineyards, RSV Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, $90 – Elegant and restrained nose of cigar box, cassis and tobacco. Firm ripe tannins, concentrated fresh black fruit with hints of raspberry and pepper. Really long finish.

2005 Stags Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, $40 – Black cherry, blackberries and currants with layers of espresso, chocolate and hints of black pepper. Ample, ripe tannins and smooth and rich on the palate.

2005 Steltzner Vineyards Estate RMS Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag's Leap District, $100 – Pricey but a special 40th anniversary wine. Very concentrated nose of ripe black fruit, mocha. Ripe but not in any way jammy. Velvety tannins, fresh with great intensity of flavor across the palate. Layers of flavor on the finish.

Until next week – continue to enjoy the diversity of California wine.

Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She hold the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.

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