December 8, 2010
Tasting notes: 10 years of Shafer Relentless

By Chris Macias

Check out today's Food & Wine section for a column aboutwine aging, as demonstrated by a 10-year vertical tasting of Shafer Relentless. The wine's a blend of roughly 80 percent syrah and 20 percent petite sirah, making for a big, fruit-forward wine with gamey and pepper characteristics. A glass of Relentless and grilled lamb is just about a no-brainer. Shafer Relentless retails for about $60 and can be found locally at the Wine Consultant, Beyond Napa, select Nugget markets and Total Wine & More in Roseville.

But how does this big boy of a wine age? I was invited by winery president Doug Shafer to taste 10 years of the wine, along with Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez, "The Wine Bible" author Karen MacNeil, Charles Olken ("Connoisseurs Guide to California Wine"), Michelle Locke of the Associated Press and others. Here's how the wines showed:

1999: Debut vintage of Relentless. Among the bluest in color in the entire flight. Described as a "behemoth" upon release, the weight has toned down but still showing plenty of blueberry petite sirah characteristics. Slight heat on the nose. Strong secondary flavor of cinnamon and plenty of tannins holding it all together.

2000: Cool vintage. Deep purple color with brightness on the rim. A little lean on the palate, but drinking smooth and showing a nice layer of spice. Good wine given a challenging growing year.

2001: Wine of the flight? Simply lovely and open for business, with savory aromatics and red fruits coming through on the palate. Nice sweet spot between the wine's core fruit and secondary notes from bottle age.

2002: Throwing a little sediment in the glass. Oaky and tight compared to the others. Needs a little more aging but still some juicy blueberry flavors.

2003: Color showing signs of aging. Different nose than the others; Doug Shafer described aromas as "candy like." A bit austere and herbaceous, but also some meaty and plum flavors emerging on the palate.

2004: Warm vintage and overripe flavors that border on port-like. Not aging as gracefully as other vintages.

2005: Herbal nose. Bright and pleasing acidity. Lots of petite sirah character coming through and still drinking like a baby.

2006: Cool vintage with slow ripening fruit. Tight and tannic, but some good fruit flavors underneath. Still needs to come into balance.

2007: Current vintage at retail and restaurants. Aromatic and smoky. Syrah character prominent here with gamey flavors and spice.

2008 (barrel sample): Rich, deep purple color. Oak still seems a ways off from integrating with the wine. Primary grapey flavors and sweetness.

2009 (barrel sample): Relentless as an infant. Teeth-staining purple color. Fresh fruit flavors and aromas. Actually enjoyed this Relentless in its primary state.

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