STAG’S LEAP WINE CELLARS
News Fall / Winter 2008-09 Volume 40
By Tom Black
I started collecting wine in the mid-1980s, during my second visit to Napa Valley. I had the opportunity to taste some older vintages at a winery there and realized how much more interesting and satisfying the wines were when aged and cellared properly. It was on that trip that I put down my first wines for later consumption. Among them was a 1984 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars CASK 23 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Over time I have put down over 30,000 bottles of wine and tasted what most people judge as the greatest wines of all time. For many years I collected only California wines, and at one point I had approximately 5,000 bottles. Since then I have opened some and sold some, and my California palate has widened to include European wines. But all throughout my 22 years of passionate collecting, I could never part with my Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars wines.
Why Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars? Simply put, because they compete with the greatest wines in the world. I’ve been at many tastings and dinners that have proven this out. In 2000 I was at a tasting of over forty wines considered to be the greatest wines made in Napa Valley before 1985. Two of the top three were Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars CASK 23 – the 1985 vintage was 1st and 1978 was tied for 3rd.
Last Thanksgiving my friends and family shared a 1959 Lafite, 1982 Petrus, 1970 Vega Sicilia, and 1985 CASK 23, all out of magnum. Of 16 guests, eight preferred the ‘85 CASK 23. I thought the best wine was the ‘59 Lafite but the CASK 23 was clearly 2nd for me. (Had to tell the truth.)
I’ve also experienced my own little “repeat” of the Paris tasting. I was at Alto in New York at a dinner with the winemaker and the director of Château Palmer. I served a CASK 23 blind and both judged it as Bordeaux. This year Château Palmer served CASK 23 at its own tasting of American wines. Not surprisingly, it was the guests’ favorite.
Every Christmas, Tom Black opens a bottle of 1973 S.L.V. to share with friends and family. He has 6 or 7 bottles left in his cellar.
“Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is just great wine. It’s at the top of the wine pyramid among American wines almost every year, and at the top of the wine pyramid worldwide in certain years.”
One of my fondest wine memories is a comprehensive tasting of CASK 23 – every vintage from first to last – that I did with Warren Winiarski in 1999. On that day, the ‘94 was judged best with ‘85 and ‘78 close behind. When I pulled out the 9 liter bottle of 1990, Warren said he had never seen one opened. Well, we not only opened it, we drank it, but I must say it was still too young for my taste.
All of these tasting experiences, and many more, have reinforced my belief that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is just great wine. It’s at the top of the wine pyramid among American wines almost every year, and at the top of the wine pyramid worldwide in certain years. My personal belief is that it has to do with the philosophy of wine making – using only the best grapes and letting the wine speak of the site rather than an over-extracted caricature of itself.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars makes wines for the long haul. That’s the kind of wine I like to drink and the kind I’ll continue to collect for many years to come.
About Tom Black
Tom Black’s first interest in wine was born of necessity. As a young sales manager early in his career Tom was required to entertain clients, and his boss told him to learn about wine so he could order intelligently in restaurants. He learned (and tasted) a lot, but Tom’s real awakening to the world of wine – his first “epiphany” as he likes to call it – came in 1986 when a colleague took him on a weekend visit to the Napa Valley. There he had the opportunity to taste library wines, and was struck by the difference aging made. He immediately began to collect California wines and to organize tasting dinners with friends back home in Nashville.
After his time as a sales manager, Tom forged a successful career founding, buying, developing and selling several banking services companies. As his career progressed, so did his wine cellar, and by the late 1990’s he had amassed one of the largest and best-rounded collections of wines in the world. He traveled to all the major wine regions, meeting and tasting with many of the wine industry’s luminaries. Today, his cellar has strong verticals from many of Bordeaux’s and California’s most famous and well-respected wineries, including Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.
As one of the first wines he purchased for his cellar, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars always occupied a special place in Tom’s heart. Describing his first visit to the winery, he says “it was like going to the Mormon Tabernacle if you were a Mormon.” He and founder Warren Winiarski struck up a friendship early on, and have shared many a dinner and bottle of wine at each other’s homes. Says Tom, “I love to drink great wines and share them with friends. It’s as simple as that.”
Tom is active with the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and the Commanderie de Bordeaux. For the past 10 years, Tom has also been an active member of the Executive Committee of l’Eté du Vin Wine Auction, which contributes not only to the important work of the American Cancer Society, but also offers grants in financial support of other cancer related non-profit organizations.