A little while back I "won" a 2003 Shafer Merlot in a gentlemen's bet, so when I saw the 1998 at the local shop I added that to the collection as well. I thought about building a vertical, but in the end I stopped at two bottles. Tonight was the perfect evening to crack these open.
Today officially kicks off the holiday season - no more work 'till January and my in-laws are here so I can work through my overstock. With a pork roast in the oven I went for the Merlot, breaking my pinot noir reflex in this situation. The wines were decanted and blinded for this comparison.
On my left was the 2003 Shafer Merlot from California's Napa Valley. As far as I can tell this wine is over 85% merlot, with the balance being cab sauv and cab franc. Teleporting me back to my Napa 2006 trip, this intense cherry/purple wine was dominated by jammy fruit, pepper, and dark chocolate on the nose. Opening up over the evening, it taunted me with musky leather, vanilla and cinnamon. Very intriguing on the palate, but the fruit was big, the tannins harsh and the alcohol a touch high. Not a bad wine, but a flag bearer for the jammy chocolatey fruit bombs that are less loved by Joe these days. Needs more time in the cellar.
cork. 14.9% alcohol
The 1998 Shafer Merlot was a different story. In the glass it was a dark cherry with an attractive brick hue. A terrific nose of dark berries and plums, pepper, liquorice, leather, smoke, nuts and an attractive leafy/vegetal note, I could have sniffed this for hours. On the palate this medium-bodied merlot was silky smooth, balanced and elegant, with good acidity and nice fruit. A better pairing for the pork roast, this wine is ready now but could keep for a few more years.
cork. 14.3% alcohol
So, this brings up a good question - has Shafer changed winemakers? While age has certainly softened the older wine, I think there is more to the difference than a few years in the bottle. Anybody have an answer to that?