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Eyes Wide Open: Stag's Leap Wine Tasting with Steven Spurrier

Brief History Lesson

As Valentine's Day approaches, I thought I would share with you how my husband and I spend most of our date nights in the pandemic world, but will likely continue when the world, hopefully, returns to normal, whatever that means. First, a little background as many of you may not be familiar with Steven Spurrier and the Judgement of Paris. Maybe you saw Bottle Shock back in the early 2000s but unless you’re a wine geek this may not be something that’s ringing any bells. So a very brief history lesson is probably in need. Steven Spurrier was a British wine merchant in Paris, whose wife had an affinity for California wines. Spurrier became quite impressed with Napa wines and he wanted to have them tasted along side the finest French wines, still considered the gold standard in wine making. You may have read my post on Bordeaux and Napa Cab wines, as these are my two favorite regions as well.

Spurrier knew California wines could never get a fair shake in Paris with the top judges so he decided to do the blind taste testing in 1976. To everyone's surprise Napa wines won both the white and red categories. Château Montelena Chardonnay (the focus of the movie Bottle Shock which is extremely inaccurate but fun to watch) and Stag’s Leap SLV were the winning Napa wines. Both bottles are now on display in the Smithsonian. The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 was never meant to be some colossal event that changed the whole wine industry, but by happenstance a lesser known journalist from Time Magazine was in town and covered the event. His story for the Times became wildly well read and the rest is history.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry if you want to learn more, but like the movie bottle shock, I learned from actually listening to him, both are fairly inaccurate. He was delightful to listen to and not the British snob he is often portrayed as and was not convinced the French wines would win. One of the things we have loved about the virtual wine tastings we have done, mainly though, has been the opportunity to sit with experts that we normally wouldn’t have access to from our dining room. If you would like to buy or participate in any of these tastings you can use this link to get $30 off. This particular tasting is available on YouTube, and although is sold out of these two wines, they’re readily available at places like Total Wine.

The Wines

We didn’t taste either of the winning wines, but we did taste a phenomenal Chardonnay from Stag’s Leap and their Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Here’s what we knew going into the tasting via

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars KARIA Chardonnay

Medium bodied, this wine has a lovely texture and delicate ripe fruit notes with hints of minerality and lemon zest on the finish. There is a nice balance to the acidity and minerality that enhances the freshness and elegance of this wine. Chardonnay grapes are grown in the coolest regions of the Napa valley. This wine retails for $30.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon

Expressive aromas of dark berries, currants, raspberry sorbet, nutmeg and baking spices. The wine has a rich entry with round tannins and plush mouthfeel with lingering flavors of dark fruit and subtle oak undertones. This wine retails from around $60-70. It’s more expensive because the grapes used are harvested from the finest Cabernet vines from multiple vineyards in Napa.

The Charcuterie Board

Here is what I know about wine pairings. Chardonnays pair well with creamy cheeses that don’t have a strong overpowering flavor. We chose Brie and Gruyere, though Havarti would be a good choice. Light Parmesans and Manchagos also make an appearance in my white wine tastings but usually with a more dry wine like Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnays can handle a cracker with more flavor, so we went with wheat. For fruit I chose a dried apricot and a honey crisp apple, crisp light flavors, although some apricots can be overpowering. I want a lighter and less powerful cured meat so prosciutto fit the bill. These food servings are on the left. For dessert we pair chardonnay with white chocolate truffles and anything citrusy. I was able to get a lemon blueberry mascarpone cake that ideally would go with both our red and white wine.

For our Cabernet we want more flavor in our cheese but less in our cracker. Aged Cheddar and Edam were my choice this evening. With a Cabernet you want a cracker that has less flavor to balance the stronger cheese and not over power the wine. You don’t want any sort of pepper as it will make a Cabernet taste “hot.” We used water crackers. The same logic applies to the cured meat, so I chose a dried salami with no extra pepper or any sort of heat. For our fruits I chose a blackberry to pair with the dark fruit found in Napa Cabs and dried figs. These are on the right side. We had dark chocolate truffles for dessert with this and also tried it with the cake. I also served french bread and candied pecans, placed in the center to be served with both.

The Tasting

We used Ridel WineWings tasting glasses. I can’t stress enough what a difference a true tasting glass makes. These have a flat bottom and are very wide to let the wine diffuse and open up. We tried the red in both a regular glass and the tasting glass and were blown away by the difference, especially in the nose. I always have my favorite wine tasting journal at every tasting to keep track of all my notes. You always start with the lightest wine and move to the darkest, so that’s going to be the Chardonnay then the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars KARIA Chardonnay - We absolutely loved this wine! It had distinct citrus and floral notes in the nose. Lemon came though upon tasting and the oak flavor finished the wine. This wine had a medium to strong body which was new for us with a Chardonnay, leaving us to believe we need many more lessons in white wine. The flavor was intense and it had a strong finish. The wine was sweet but also quite crisp. This wine paired beautifully with both the Edam and Brie. We found it didn’t go as well with the dried apricot and the lemon blueberry mascarpone cake did little for it. The white chocolate truffle however was accentuated by the strong oak in this wine. I have purchased another bottle of this wine to enjoy soon.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon - This wine smelled incredible and really made us realize the value of the tasting glasses. It had strong notes of dark fruits and leather. However, as far as Napa CabSavs go, this was not our favorite. We tasted the dark fruits, along with plums, and honey. We weren’t excited by any of the cheese pairings, but found this wine to be sublime with desert. The richness of the cake and the dark chocolate truffles brought this intensely flavored with heavy tannins and a medium body, to it’s full potential. There was very little sweetness to it and a bit of a sour finish. I have purchased this wine to put in our cellar as it should age 20 years according to the winemaker.

Final Notes

Virtual wine tastings are our favorite at home date night activity. This tasting is available on YouTube, and you can find the information here. I highly recommend as this is both a tasting and a wine history lesson. The wine isn’t currently available on but I found it easily at Total Wine. Any big or prominent wine shop will have Stag’s Leap. We are waiting for this years SLV to come out as that was the red winner from the Paris Tasting of 1976. We’re trying to get a hold of the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to taste as well. I have also purchased Wine Folly to help us with our lack of knowledge with white wines and build our wine cellar properly. I hope you enjoyed reading about these great wines and have some inspiration to do your own tasting.

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