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Refinement Trumps Power
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 27, 2011
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Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Artemis” 2008 ($55):  It’s holiday season, and we all need a fine wine that’s ready to drink now.  Some wine lovers are lucky enough to own wines laid away until they reach their personal best, but statistics say that most will be buying wine that’s on the shelves now, and drinking it now.  If you’re buying this 2008 Stag’s Leap Vineyards Cabernet, you can have it both ways:  Fine wine, on the shelves now, and ready to drink.

I would not say that this wine cannot improve with a few years of aging, but it doesn’t require aging because its tannins are not overly dominant and its aromas and flavors are already nicely expressive.  Instead of being powerful, concentrated and important like many Napa Valley Cabs, this wine is gentle, refined and welcoming.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is one of Napa’s stellar properties, famous for its beautiful estate-grown Cabernets such as Cask 23, Fay Vineyard and S.L.V., from the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.  This 2008 Artemis instead comes from grapes grown throughout Napa Valley, particularly the St. Helena and Rutherford areas, along with grapes from the winery’s own estate.  (Hence the Napa Valley appellation without the “Stags Leap District” addendum that applies to the estate vineyards.)  But the wine fits nicely within the winery’s trademark style of balance, grace and refinement.

The wine’s aroma is classic Cabernet in its notes of small, dark berry fruit, but the nose does not suggest a fruit bomb because it is gentle rather than intense and it features mineral notes (lead pencil), cedar, and vanilla perfume.  In your mouth this wine is soft and supple with clear flavor expression; it has a light-handed softness and flow that enables the flavors of fruit and mineral to shine through, rather than a dense, rich, obscuring softness.  In its suppleness and balance, the wine is so easy to drink that analyzing the technical points of quality -- its mid-palate depth, its persistence across the palate and its fruit-driven finish -- seems unnecessary. 

This wine contains two percent Merlot and 98 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.  It aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, 55 percent of which were new.  The alcohol weighs in at 14.5 percent, a level that, in this wine, seems perfectly balanced.

This is not one of those red wines that require protein-rich food to balance their tannic oakiness.  But this wine is a terrific match for food because it is fruity and flavorful but also has acidity to balance its alcohol.  It will bring a fruity note to bland dishes such as turkey breast and a lively contrast to rich dishes such as short ribs.  Frankly, it’s a high-class crown pleaser.

90 Points