Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Because wines are so dynamic – because they constantly change and evolve, particularly when they are young – the sensory evaluation of wine is a critical aspect of the winemaking process. For Winemaker Nicki Pruss, the task requires nearly all of her senses and a good deal of stamina, as she continually evaluates dozens of vineyard lots – kept separate throughout maturity – for color, aromas, flavors and textures. "I look at a wine as a whole entity, then dissect it by its component parts," says Nicki.
Although there are no set recipes, there are certain characteristics Nicki seeks. For Cabernet Sauvignon, these might include aromas and flavors of plums, cherries and cassis, notes of rosemary, truffles, and bergamot, and varying levels of chocolate or cocoa powder. From a textural standpoint, the weight of the wine should be full but not heavy, it should feel smooth as it crosses the palate, the alcohol should be restrained and the tannins should not be bitter or astringent. With Chardonnay, Nicki looks for aromas and flavors typical of cooler growing regions: apples, pears, citrus, vanilla, white flower blossoms, as well as a lightness on the palate
Of course it is the interplay of these aromatic, flavor and textural elements that Nicki evaluates as the wines become more mature and she and her team get closer to determining final blends. As the tastings become more about fine-tuning the blend, the objective is to ensure that each wine’s "signature" is clear and distinct…that it reflects the characteristics of the estate vineyards and the house style: classic, balanced, restrained. "I’ve been here long enough to know the essence of each vineyard site, but nothing is exactly the same from year to year," says Nicki, who is in her 10th year at the winery. "Coming up with the final blend for a wine is always a matter of trial and error – and a whole lot of tasting."
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