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Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' popular estate cabernet sauvignon, "Cask 23." Photo via Facebook/Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' popular estate cabernet sauvignon, "Cask 23." Photo via Facebook/Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Taste of Wine: Stag’s Leap winemaker dinner sizzles at Flora

One of my favorite aspects of wine is the rich history of the wine world.

Another favorite is winemaker dinners. Both came together this past week after Senior Editor Frank and I attended a Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar Winemaker Dinner at Sal Ercolano’s Flora Bar & Kitchen.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is one of Napa Valley’s most iconic wineries. I suspect some know what Stag’s Leap is famous for and hopefully others’ interest is piqued. Stag’s Leap was one of two wineries, along with Chateau Montelena, that put Napa Valley on the world map of wine in the 1976 Judgement of Paris.

These two initially unknown wineries outside of Napa triumphed over Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and other famous Bordeaux names and took top honors in Steven Spurrier’s blind tasting among French wine experts.

In fact, after the original results were in and the experts were in shock, the competition was repeated with the Napa wineries confirmed as the winners with Stag Leap’s 1973 cabernet sauvignon, “Stag’s Leap Vineyard” (S.L.V.), and Montelena’s 1973 chardonnay.

Most impressive is that Stag’s ’73 S.L.V. was the winery’s first vintage produced. Owner Warren Winiarski initially planted in 1970 and therefore the first available vintage for consumption was three years later.

The winery is best known for estate cabernet sauvignon “Cask 23,” as well as Artemis, S.L.V., and Fay brands, and the signature style of “an iron fist in a velvet glove” balance of ripeness and restraint.

Dinner guests were treated to narration and discussion of Stag’s Leap wines and history by Marcus Notaro, a Stag’s Leap winemaker. One of Notaro’s talking points that I appreciated was the differences between the original estate S.L.V. and Fay vineyards.

Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, with bottles of iconic "Cask 23," Stag's Leap Vineyards, Fay and Artemis brand wines. Photo courtesy of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Marcus Notaro, winemaker at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, with bottles of iconic “Cask 23,” as well as S.L.V., Fay and Artemis brands. Photo courtesy of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

S.L.V. has a volcanic soil-producing structure, concentration and intensity versus neighboring Fay vineyard that Winiarski purchased in 1986, keeping the name in honor of the first cabernet sauvignon fruit planted in the Stags Leap District in 1961.

By comparison, the 66-acre Fay vineyard, featuring primarily cabernet sauvignon with a half-acre of cabernet franc, produces fruit with berry character, voluptuous perfume and fine-grained texture.

Notaro continued his narration over dinner that started with Hands of Time chardonnay.

“Limestone plaques, each bearing a handprint, comprise the Hands of Time exhibit at the winery and is a tribute to winemakers and viticulturists who contributed to the winery’s history,” Notaro said.

The malolactic fermented chardonnay aged in oak with light citrus notes had a creamy mouthfeel but was not overdone.

This was paired with Chef Hilario’s bacon-wrapped date, pizza square and stuffed mushroom mini bites.  Next up was smoked salmon carpaccio served with Avela Sauvignon Blanc.

This was the best pairing of the evening with a subtle citrus nose and palate of grapefruit, orange blossom, and lemongrass and a guava finish complimenting the carpaccio.

Diners then enjoyed ragu manicotti topped with a veal bolognese and Hands of Time (red blend, 71% cabernet sauvignon, 29% merlot). Chef Hilario prepared veal saltimbocca featuring veal scaloppine with Parma ham and a fresh sage demi-glace as the main course.

This was paired with the 2018 Artemis cabernet sauvignon, which benefitted from a cool end of summer that allowed for long hang time and a late harvest, resulting in a fragrant vintage with fruity notes, acidity and structure. Dinner concluded with a dessert duo of crème brulee and Ptolemy Late Harvest sauvignon blanc.

Next up for Ercolano’s wine dinner series is (1) Daou Family Estates (West End), Thu, Fri, Sat, 9/23 to 9/25, $75 per person+tax/tip, 858-259-5878 (2) Wagner Family/Caymus (Flora), Tue 10/19, Thu 10/21, & Fri 10/2, $85 per person+tax/tip, 858-461-0622 (3) Prisoner Wine Company (Flora), Thu-Fri, 11/18-19, $75 per person+tax/tip, 858-461-0622.

More information at

Story by Tech Director/Writer Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

— At Gianni Buonomo Vintners in the Ocean Beach district of San Diego, Bottling Day is Labor Day September 6th. It will take place in the Target parking lot adjacent to the winery.  Come by to see how 60 barrels of wine become 1,400 cases of wine in a single day. For details, call 619-991-9911.

— Dust off your dancing shoes and join the party on La Plaza at Bolero, Europa Village Winery in Temecula Tues. Aug. 31 from 7 to 10 p.m. It will be an exhilarating night of Salsa dancing. Bolero will be hosting Salsa nights each Tuesday with live music by Kimba Light. There will be Salsa lessons, wines and tasty tapas.  Admission is free with seating first come first served. Details at

— South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in Temecula kicks off September with the first of its Rhythm on the Vine Country Music Concerts. The first event is Thurs. Sept. 2 with Coffey Anderson, a leading musician from the region with many albums to his credit. The opener will be the Kanan Road Group. Doors open at 5 p.m., concerts to begin at 7 p.m. Concerts will be held outdoors in the South Coast Winery courtyard, with food trucks offering pre-concert and concert eating and drinking options. Villas and guest suites are available at the resort. Tickets start at $45 per person and are available at

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator and one of the leading commentators on the web. Reach him at [email protected].