There are two kinds of Syrah. There’s New World, epitomized by Australian Shiraz, which is fruit-driven and very full-bodied, high in alcohol, spicy and jammy. And there’s Old World, which is more earthy, herbaceous, with high acidity and not as full-bodied but with more palate breadth. We featured one of the greatest Old World expressions of Syrah last week with the Paul Jaboulet La Chapelle Hermitage 2018. This week we have Shafer’s Relentless, a wine that since its debut in 2002 has become a New World exemplar of Syrah that nevertheless draws much of its character from the Old World.
Shafer Vineyards began in 1972 when John Shafer left a 23 year career in publishing and moved with his family to Napa Valley to pursue a second career in wine. After purchasing a 210 acre estate in Napa Valley's Stags Leap District, the Shafers began the arduous work of replanting the existing vineyards which dated to the 1920s and terracing the steep and rocky hillsides. Shafer’s head winemaker since the 90’s has been Elias Fernandez, who knows the land better than most. He is son of Mexican farm laborers and grew up nearby, harvesting prunes and walnuts on the some of the same land where he now harvests grapes. A Fulbright music scholar for trumpet, Fernandez went to the University of Nevada, but eventually felt his calling was in agriculture. He studied enology at University of California in the 80s and immediately upon graduating was hired to work at Shafer.
Shafer’s Relentless is a wine for those for whom La Chapelle is a bit of a stretch for the wallet. Relentless combines some of the full-bodied power and plushness of New World with the elegance and nuance of Old World. Elias Fernandez says this, “The 2016 Relentless offers deep, elegant, meaty, gamey aromas and flavors that are pure Syrah. These are fused with blueberry, black pepper, wet stone, and black tea. The vintage offers an ideal balance of immensity and energy, along with a beautiful, silken texture in the mouth, a lengthy finish, and ripe tannins that promise many rich, memorable years ahead.”
As for the One Point Five, you can think of it as baby Hillside Select, Shafer’s signature ‘cult’ Cabernet, which usually goes in the $300 range and up. Elias Fernandez: “In your glass the wine introduces itself with enticing aromas of red and black fruit, baking spice, dark violets, lavender, wet stone, and cinnamon. The promise of all that delicious complexity is fulfilled with a racy Cabernet Sauvignon full of energy – juicy flavors of red plum, cherry, cassis, black tea, and cola – all beautifully packaged together with ripe, bright tannins made for right-now enjoyment as well as long term aging in your cellar.”
We also have Shafer’s Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay. It is a single vineyard wine produced from small-cluster Chardonnay clones selected for their low yields and distinctive expressiveness. Fermentation takes place in a mix of oak barrels and stainless steel vats using native yeasts and the wine matures on the lees for 14 months. It is consistently one of the best California Chardonnays in its price range. And a final note, Shafer meets all power needs using solar energy and practices sustainable farming.
Shafer Relentless 2016
Sale Price: $79.97
Jeb Dunnuck, 96pts. – “I’ve consistently loved the Relentless cuvée from this team, which is always from a single vineyard and is Syrah-dominated, with about 10% Petite Sirah in the blend. The 2016 Relentless is sensational. Dense purple-hued with a sweet bouquet of jammy blackberries, ground pepper, charcoal, and some smoky, meaty notes, it’s a full-bodied, powerful, yet plush, even elegant Syrah that does everything right.” (1/2020)
Wine Enthusiast, 95pts. – “This combination of 90% Syrah and 10% Petite Sirah is memorable in its mix of wild herb and violet. Bright, thick layers of blackberry and blueberry dance along a mineral-laden core of crushed rock, wet stone and supple tannins.” (4/2020)
James Suckling, 93pts. - “Strikingly fresh mountain herbs and blueberries, as well as a cedary and dark-stony edge with earthy nuances, too. The palate has a gently grainy feel with sleek, vibrant berry aromas and delivers a striking mix of berries and chocolate at the long, detailed finish. A blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Petite Sirah.” (2/2020)
Shafer One Point Five Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Sale Price: $91.97
James Suckling, 95pts. – “Fresh cassis and blueberries with crushed violets and stones, too. This is fresh and complex. The palate carries a smooth, supple and tautly refined brand of tannin and a succulently fresh core of blue plums and blueberries.” (2/2020)
Wine Enthusiast, 94pts. - “The name signifying a generation and a half of Shafers (Doug and his late father, John), this is a powerfully built, robust and rounded wine. Sage and violet aromas lead to a strong, sturdy core of tannin, oak and muscle, developed with sweet tobacco, cassis and cola.” (7/2020)
Jeb Dunnuck, 93pts. – “Cut from the same cloth, yet with a touch of rusticity in its tannins, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five offers a full-bodied, rounded, structured style as well as loads of sweet red and black fruits, toasted spice, and herbed de Provence like notes. It’s a powerful, concentrated wine, has loads of fruit, and is going to benefit from 3-4 years of bottle age.” (1/2020)
Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay Carneros 2017
Sale Price: $49.97
Jeb Dunnuck, 95pts. – “While the reds get all the attention from this great estate, they also make a sensational Chardonnay. Their 2017 Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch comes from the cooler Carneros region, located in the southern part of Napa Valley, and it offers a full-bodied, rich, powerful style that carries loads of white currant and peach fruits as well subtle floral and brioche notes. It’s a classic Napa Valley Chardonnay that blends power and freshness.” (1/2020)
Vinous, 92pts. – “The 2017 Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch is soft, open-knit and pliant, with lovely pineapple, passion fruit and exotic floral character. Done in a pretty laid-back style, with blocked malolactic fermentation, the 2017 is a tasty wine to drink now and over the next handful of years...” (1/2020)
Past Cellar Selections:
Paul Jaboulet – Majestic Wines from the Northern Rhone
Alion and Pintia – The Other Vega Sicilias
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey – Magic in Burgundy
Don Melchor 2015 – 98pts!
Domaine Lapierre - The Original Natural Winemaker
Muga ‘Selección Especial’ 2015 – Classic Rioja
Domaine A. et P. de Villaine – Budget DRC?
Three Oderros: for the Picnic Table, the Dinner Table and the Cellar
Castilla Ygay 2010 – at 98 pts a ‘First Growth’ Rioja
Chateau Troplong Mondot St. Emilion 2017 – 98pts!
More Great Brunello from 2015 – 99pts Casanova di Neri
Ramirez Gran Reserva Rioja 2010 – Budget Addition to the Cellar
Burgundy with age from Jean Chauvenet
Cornas and Côtes-du-Rhone from Franck Balthazar
Quintessa 2016 – 98pt Bordeaux Blend from Napa