Recently earning raves in my household was a 2007 Merlot from Napa Valley’s Shafer Vineyards. I found the aroma on this wine oh-so-very Napa, evoking cedar and pencil shavings, while my husband noted blackberries and plums. He commented that the Shafer was bright and ripe with great acid and good balance, and I agreed — although we parted ways on its finish, which I found smooth and delightful. Peter complained that it was just a little too hot (high alcohol) — although at 14.9 percent, the alcohol content is actually pretty modest for a Napa red.
At $48 a bottle, the price of Shafer’s Merlot is fairly modest as well, coming from a winery whose Cabernet Sauvignons range in price from $70 to $215. Interesting bit of trivia on that topic: Shafer’s vineyards are overseen by David Ilsley, whose family business, Ilsley Vineyards, happens to be right next door. The Ilsleys’ land abuts Shafer’s reknowned Hillside Vineyard (the two properties aren’t even separated by a fence), whose grapes produce the highly acclaimed $215 Cab known as Hillside Select.
Now, the scuttlebutt in the Stags Leap District that is home to both these wineries — at least among devotees to the concept of terroir — is that Shafer Hillside Select and Ilsley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) are nearly identical wines with a $160 price difference. While this theory doesn’t do justice to the obvious talents and varied techniques of Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez or Ilsley winemaker Craig MacLean, you can’t argue against the Ilsley Cab as a great value.
Just like that Shafer Merlot.