Cliff Lede: The wine everybody loves (except me?)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I pay close attention to Wine Spectator ratings. I also follow Gary Vaynerchuk's Wine Library TV because I find it to be an excellent source of entertaining and informative information. Both of these sources have given high marks to the wines from Cliff Lede (pronounced "Lay-dee") particularly the 2005 Cliff Lede Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon.

A few weeks ago, I asked a question on Twitter:

"Trying to decide which Cab(s) to open tonight: Cliff Lede, Hewitt, Buehler Papa's Knoll or Neal Family. Suggestions?"

Here are the responses I received:

  • From @rjswineblog: "whoa - nice work. two of my favorites, the cliff lede and neal. love the cliff lede claret too. and all things neal." ... "hard to lose with cliff lede"
  • From @DaveTong: "vintages?" (they were all '05s...) "In that case, not the Neal. I'd probably go with the Cliff Lede."
When all of these sources agree that a wine is great, I take notice.

I recently saw a bottle of their 2005 Cliff Lede Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon on sale at a pretty good price at Blanchard's West Roxbury (somewhere around $45 tax included vs. a $50 release price for the '05) so I thought to give it a try. I had really high hopes for this wine since Spectator gave it 92 points, Gary gave it 92+, and heck even Robert Parker agreed- 92!

When I cracked the bottle open, my first impression was that it was a little harsh so I let it breathe for an hour or two. While it was resting, we had a 2007 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc and a 2006 St. Innocent Willamette Valley Pinot Noir; some lighter wines to start things off. By the time we got to the Cliff Lede, I was hoping that it would have mellowed out. No such luck. It was hot with alcohol almost the point of being searingly aromatic.

I tried to soften it with a Soirée Wine Aerator. It didn't seem to help with the alcohol, although it did bring out some nice secondary characteristics. Behind the heat was a wonderfully dense and interesting wine. I wanted to get to know it a little better, so I busted out a Vino Chapeau "wine aroma concentrator" (review forthcoming). That only served to amp up the alcohol. If it wasn't for the alcohol this would have been a great wine, unfortunately it was overshadowed:

2005 Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District - USA, California, Napa Valley, Stags Leap District (4/3/2009)

This wine has so much going for it. Very dense and interesting- every taste revealed something new about the wine. But for me, the alcohol dominates. Kind of like if you bought eggnog in the dairy aisle and poured Bacardi 151 on top of it- the rum would never integrate and it would be fire on top of something otherwise tasty. It's disappointing- everyone seems to love this wine except me. (88 pts.)

Posted from CellarTracker

$45 for an 88 point wine represents a poor QPR (quality-to-price ratio), so I'm afraid I can't recommend this one. However, I wonder if maybe I got a bad bottle? All of these people couldn't be wrong (right?), so when I was planning an itinerary for a trip to Napa last week I included a stop in at their tasting room. How was it? Check back later this week to find out. :)

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If you're interested in this wine, you may like this piece I did on my all-time favorite Napa Cab.

Question of the Day: What do you think of Cliff Lede's wines?


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