Right Fruit. Right Vintage. Right Boss
“Winemakers, especially young ones, rarely get to make wines they truly love,” Britt Nichols told us over burgers at Angèle. “Something always seems to get in the way: wrong fruit, wrong vintage, wrong boss.” She smiled, nodding toward a bottle that stood between us. “I’ve been lucky, but never this lucky.” The hand-written label read “2014 Stags Leap.”
The first winegrowing region to receive designated appellation status in Napa Valley, Stags Leap District has been leading the way in Northern California since Warren Winiarski’s 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon outpointed Bordeaux First Growths Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion in the 1976 “Judgment of Paris.”
Still, over 40 years later, even Stags Leap’s brightest stars never imagined the abundance of riches that would fall into their laps. In the dry, mild, near-perfect 2014 growing season, Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon was so bold and sappy you could slurp it right from the barrel with a straw. No wonder the critics tripped over themselves in the rush to praise 2014 in Napa Valley, with Wine Spectator calling it a “dream vintage” and Antonio Galloni chiming in with “exceptional” and “very high quality.”
At one of the district’s greatest sites — right next door to where Winiarski grew his famous 1973 Cab, and where three 2014 releases earned between 92-96 points from Robert Parker — the fruit was impeccable. Sugars were high, while acids remained firm. Skins were thick and colors were dark purple to JET BLACK. When the winery’s management decided to trim production by 7%, a few calls were made, one to Britt Nichols. The young winemaker pounced on the opportunity.
If you’re familiar with Britt’s resume, you’ll understand why the chance to make wine with blue-chip Stags Leap fruit presents such an extraordinary possibility. Her deft touch with Cabernet comes from time spent at Jordan Winery, and under the tutelage of Napa Valley legends Nicolas Morlet and Philippe Melka. Like those of her mentors, Britt’s Cabernets are deep in color, rich, and intensely concentrated. And unlike all too many Napa Valley Cabernets, they are wines of great class, sleekness, and polish.
The balance of power and elegance, muscle and delicacy that is so characteristic of Nichols’ wines is also the hallmark of Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon. “Rock soft” is a phrase often used to describe the combination of intense concentration and velvety tannins that result from a perfect storm of geological and climatic conditions: nutrient-poor soils full of exposed rock, and the unique cooling influence from the nearby San Pablo Bay. In Nichols’ 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District, winemaking style and terroir are in perfect harmony, yielding one of those wines that reminds you why the French were so thoroughly embarrassed at “The Judgment of Paris.”
Opaque purple to the rim, the 2014 Nichols Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Napa Valley shows an explosive nose of blackberry and mountain blueberry, with hints of graphite and spring flowers. Big, broad, and ultra-ripe on the attack, packed with crushed blackberry and cassis preserves. Despite the massive concentration, the wine is every bit as elegant as you would expect from a Nichols offering, finishing with classic, supple, Stags Leap tannins. Approachable now, thanks to the opulence and openness of the 2014 vintage, with the stuffing to develop gracefully in bottle over the course of the next 10-15 years.
At Angèle, Nichols’ 2014 was gone before we finished our burgers. Right fruit. Right vintage. Britt’s the boss. Nichols isn’t the only lucky one, now that she’s paying it forward to WineAccess. $70 on release. Just $29 today on WineAccess. Shipping included on 4. Taste what “rock soft” was meant to describe, and what a young winemaker can do when she gets a crack at some of Stags Leap’s best fruit.