What Am I Tasting?

This ripe and direct red has crushed plum, cassis, sweet toast and graphite notes ... Play the game!

August 05, 2022

Our blind tasting game—without the tasting! Can you identify a wine just by reading its tasting note? We post real Wine Spectator reviews. You use clues such as color, aromas, flavors and structure to figure out the grape, age and origin. Good luck!

Tasting Note: Ripe and direct, with crushed plum, warmed cassis and açai berry notes driving along. Coated with sweet toast and carried by a graphite note through the finish.

And the answer is...


Variety

Our mystery wine is ripe and direct with dark fruit notes and toasty, minerally accents. Let’s figure out what it is!

Trollinger is clearly out. Planted widely in Northern Italy and Germany, this grape generally makes lighter-bodied wines with red fruit, rose and citrus notes, which doesn’t sound right for our ripe, dark-fruited red.

While riper Pinot Noirs exist, it would be unusual for a Pinot to show our wine’s direct dark fruit and graphite notes. Let’s move on.

Aglianicos are generally full-bodied with considerably high levels of acidity and tannins. These reds are often savory with leather, white pepper and underbrush notes. This doesn’t add up either.

Merlots can show ripe fruit notes. However, these wines also tend to be red-fruited and creamy with leafy, herbal accents. Merlot has to go too.

Ripe dark fruit notes and toasty, minerally accents are dead giveaways for a rich Cabernet Sauvignon. We’ve found the right grape.

This wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Country or Region of Origin

While Cabernet Sauvignon has a worldwide presence, it’s not a prominent grape in Oregon or Germany, where Pinot Noir dominates. Italy grows a significant amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, but this is often slated for super Tuscan blends. When made on its own, Italian Cabernet tends to be leaner with more emphasis placed on herbal notes like tobacco, mint and thyme. Washington state is another key Cabernet region, and produces many dark-fruited versions, often with savory accents of espresso, tea, pepper, licorice and olives. This contrasts with styles from California, where Cabernet has a colossal presence in regions such as Napa Valley, Sonoma and Paso Robles, thriving in the Mediterranean climate. These reds are often ripe with dark fruit and mineral notes, usually joined by sweet and toasty accents gained through barrel aging. This sounds closest to the mark.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from California.

Appellation

We know that our Cabernet Sauvignon is from California, so we can eliminate Oregon’s Applegate Valley, Italy’s Campania, Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills and Germany’s Mittelrhein. This leaves us with two Californian appellations: Fiddletown and Stags Leap District. Located in the wider Amador County AVA, Fiddletown is a small appellation best-known for making reds from Zinfandel and a few other Rhône varieties. Farther west in Napa Valley, Stags Leap District is one of California’s key Cabernet appellations. Cabernet benefits from the weather granted by the nearby Stags Leap Palisades and the Vaca mountain range, and also from the district’s gravelly and loamy soils, resulting in fruit-forward and minerally wines. We have a winner!

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from Stags Leap District.

Age

Our Cabernet Sauvignon isn’t showing any significant signs of age, such as dried fruit, leather or mushroom notes. Bearing in mind that Californian winemakers tend to age their Cabernets for a significant amount of time in barrels, often years, let’s look at Napa Valley’s most recently released vintages to figure out this red’s age. Winter provided plenty of water in 2018, leading into a drawn-out harvest that produced rich and dark Cabernets with licorice, herb and tar accents. A long drought finally broke in 2017, which led to a good growing season and dark-fruited wines with a graphite edge. Drought conditions heavily influenced 2016’s harvest, and that year’s Cabernets are dense with rich chocolate, tobacco, iron, loam and charcoal notes. 2015 was the fourth drought-influenced year in a row for Napa, and offered bold reds with bay leaf, tar and loamy earth accents. 2017’s crop sounds like the closest match to our Cabernet.

This Cabernet Sauvignon is from the 2017 vintage, making it five years old.

Wine

This is the Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District The Leap 2017, which scored 92 points in the Nov. 15, 2021, issue of Wine Spectator. It retails for $115 and 5,717 cases were made. For more on Napa Valley Cabernet, read senior editor James Molesworth’s tasting report, “The Beauty of Cabernet” in the Nov. 15, 2021, issue.

—Aaron Romano, associate editor