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Senior editor James Laube, Wine Spectator's expert on the wines of California, joined the magazine in 1983.
James Laube

A 10-Year-Old California Syrah

Shafer Relentless Napa Valley 1999

James Laube
Posted: October 6, 2009

With the 1999 vintage, Shafer Vineyards introduced Relentless, an exciting, innovative mix of Syrah and Petite Sirah, dedicated to winemaker Elias Fernandez’s relentless pursuit of excellence. On release in 2002, the wine was showy and fruit-forward. I opened a bottle the other night for a look at it at age 10.

It took a while for this wine to open up. It showed a strong tarry, earth, black licorice and graphite mix of flavors—reminding me a bit of a mature Barolo—and slowly unfolded to offer a baked cherry pie note on the finish. It is appropriately subtle, with more supple tannins at this age, but shy on great length. 88 points, non-blind.

WineSpectator.com: Read the original blind-tasting review for Shafer Relentless Napa Valley 1999 (93, $46).

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated California Syrahs".

Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  October 6, 2009 10:42am ET

I am losing all faith!...I know scoring/points are objective and subject to change as time passes.....but a 5 point swing in your score(s)?

I must ask, in your vast experience which I hold in the highest regard, how often does this happen? Can you ballpark it for me/us?

Just wondering.....do you know or remember the biggest swing in a score? Has anything gone from a 88 to a 96? or a 97 to a 88? etc.....

thanks for time and great work.....

Jason Fernandez
Boston, MA —  October 6, 2009 6:39pm ET
Along a similar line as above... What characteristics would you be seeking in a 10 year old Cali Syrah to merit an outstanding to classic rating? Can you compare the evolution of CA syrah to those of the Rhone or Australia? I think this would make a very interesting blog subject!
Gary Konas
La Crosse, WI —  October 6, 2009 10:12pm ET
In response to Greg's loss of faith: The '99 Relentless that Jim just tasted and scored 88 isn't the same wine that he scored 93 in 2002. It has aged seven years. While the 5-point difference may suggest a discrepancy in Jim's ratings, it may instead indicate that the wine isn't living up to its early promise as it ages. It would be instructive to taste a half dozen '99 CA Syrahs to see whether they've improved in the bottle the way that Rhones typically do.
Greg Flanagan
Bethel CT —  October 8, 2009 1:48pm ET

I totally understand your point...however...

How often does this really happen? I know its not a science.....but do ratings (especially those of "outstanding" and "classic" scores) really matter if there can be a swing of 5 or more points WITHIN the drink thru window?.....isnt the suggested window ment to give us a guide?

As we all know, there is a great deal riding on the $cores....and as someone that is amassing a cellar of hundreds of labels (based on my own tasting(s)--but mostly off the guidance of Spectators scoring) this issue is really important.....

Yes, we use the Spectator as a guide...but how accurate is that guide if the tasters (who taste hundreds and hundreds of wines a year) miss? How often do the tasters/scorers miss? I am not trying to call Laube out, or any of the other guys on this---I trust my own palate more than anybody.....I am just trying to educate myself (and others) about the accuracy of the scoring.....

Are they accurate (or do they live up to their early promise) 99% of the time? 95% of the time? or...
Are they accurate 50-60% of the time?

(James, Gary, anyone?) Help me out on this....please....
Tim Mc Donald
Napa,CA —  October 8, 2009 4:51pm ET
Gentlemen, it is faith that makes collecting and enjoying this topic so much fun. It has the pleasure of the hunt and the satisfaction when you do get around to the drinking part. Don't lose the faith guys and remember when you hold onto a wine that is highly acclaimed it is your palate that is the decider of when to open so to speak. Gary is right in that the wine tasted is scored in the moment. A great bottle will evolve and the WS is a guide. There is no discrepancy in the rating upon release or even later. When you start to apply statistical analysis to such a subjective topic, the process will indeed make you nuts. The ratings help you make decisions and the real test is your findings and how they line up with WS. I believe you buy with an eye on the future. but to know that moment to open you would need a crystal ball...The good news is most of the time WS is right the bad news is all of us might be over aging our treasures, so drink up!
Scott Webster
Mississauga, Ontario, Canada —  October 14, 2009 6:10pm ET

Do you of any reason why i would not buy 3 bottles of Opus One 2005 for $300 for the lot? i found a seller online, they are a local indovidual that wants to unload, any chance this could be counterfit? or anything else i need to watch for?

James Laube
Napa, CA —  October 14, 2009 7:22pm ET
Scott, if you have a specific need or reason for that wine, then yes, it's at a discounted price. But if you're looking for a quality to price ratio, I'd say no. As for counterfeit, I doubt it. Most counterfeit bottles are older wines with proven value.
Paul Manchester
Santa Cruz, CA —  October 16, 2009 3:49pm ET

Here is what my brother and I have found in all our wine tasting ventures, and we've tasted a lot of stuff over the past ten years. First of all we think Wine Spectator is very accurate most of time and follow their advice over other tasters.
As far as the aging factor goes, we think, in general, that California wines usually don't age as well as the "Old World" wines do. I've been very disappointed on many occasion when trying Cali Cabs ten years later, sometimes even earlier than that. Syrah's, Zin's, Pinot's, etc... don't need to age much at all in our opinion. They are great young in most cases and will maybe get more balanced and smooth, but a lot of times you lose that great vibrant, powerful fruit that attracted you to the wine in the first place.
So in summation, don't waste time aging your wines just to age them and risk losing some of them. Start opening them and see for yourself how they are developing like Tim stated. So start drinking and enjoy, Salute!!!
Don Willard
REDDING,CA —  October 18, 2009 9:21pm ET
Good news/ Bad news. The economy has changed a lot of our buying habits. The wine in the cellar is getting older w/o many newer purchases.Good News, we 've got wine. Bad News, we're bound to find some of our wines have gone bad. Bottom Line: We're finally going to drink those wines we own. That said there's plenty of opportunity to taste and compare what these wines taste like now as opposed to when & why we purchased them in the first place.Here's to looking forward to the adventure. Drink up!Cheers.
Rick Hooper
Sea Isle City, NJ USA —  October 22, 2009 11:12am ET
To James Laube:
I'm having a steak dinner tomorrow evening, it will be a 3 bottle evening, I have 3 98 Heitz (Martha's Vineyard, Bella Oaks, Trailside, I know 98 was not the greatest year)however, would you recommend serving all three or should I save two and go with "other" reds? Many thanks.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  October 22, 2009 11:35am ET
Rick, pop all three and let us know how it goes. 1998s weren't meant to cellar, so you're best off drinking them now, either one by one or as a group to compare three vineyards within the Heitz house style.

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