The art of winemaking is not unlike that of matchmaking: Success in either endeavor requires a keen understanding of relationships, as Doug Shafer, president of Shafer Vineyards, well knows. In 1984, after becoming the winemaker at his father’s estate in the Stags Leap District, Shafer made the propitious decision to hire Elias Fernandez as his assistant winemaker, and together they have made the property one of the most celebrated in the region. Appropriately, Shafer and Fernandez (himself the winemaker since 1994) have commemorated their long-standing friendship with their own label, named for the year they met. The extraordinarily dark Eighty Four 2009 Petite Sirah ($90, www.eightyfourwines.com) exudes perfumes of ripe apple, earthy charred oak, pomegranate, and raspberry. This is an opulent expression of an underappreciated grape, replete with concentrated flavors of blackberry, roasted coffee, porcini mushroom, and anise.
Smooth by Any Name
One of the easiest-drinking Scotch whiskies has a name that, for some, is singularly difficult to pronounce. Laphroaig, however, remains the sovereign single malt of Islay for many collectors—even those whose enunciation is challenged. To this distillery’s impressive achievements—which include the 25 Year Old, Triple Wood, and Cairdeas—the master distiller John Campbell has added a new expression. Laphroaig Select ($55, www.laphroaig.com) marries the entire range of the house’s maturation styles in a beautifully articulated whisky that is aged in both European and American oak casks. Laphroaig’s signature smokiness on the nose prepares the palate for a mellow medley of sea salt, toffee, tobacco, lemon tea, and toasted pecan.