D.R. Stephens (4.94)

Open: By appointment to mailing list members, or by referral

Appt required? Yes

Last barlinwine.com visit: 2013


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Unless you’re an allocation list member or referred in by a friend, don’t even try getting a tasting at D.R. Stephens. With relatively small production and no formal tasting room, they run a fairly tight ship in terms of when and for whom they do tastings. Luckily enough, I was referred in by a friend in the industry. The result was one of our best experiences of our most recent 8-day visit to wine country.

I mentioned the lack of a formal tasting room – D.R. Stephens conducts tastes out of the family property off of Howell Mountain Road. This is a "no sign, buzz at the gate" type of place. We found it without issue and David Robbins, who heads up tastings for the property, buzzed us through. We traveled up the winding, tree-lined driveway, as the valley spilled out to our left and arrived at a beautiful estate house at the top of the hill. David came out to greet us and gave us a quick 10-minute overview of the property and history of the winery while we enjoyed the view by the pool. Without wasting any more time, we headed inside to try some wine.

David, Steph and I connected immediately. He looked familiar, and we pieced together that I had tasted with him the previous year when he worked at Hartwell. He started us off with the 2011 Star Vineyard Chardonnay, which was delicious. We then moved to the 2010 Silver Eagle Vineyard Pinot Noir, an excellent offering and a wine I’d certainly recommend at $65. Dave went to retrieve a small cheese plate in preparation for our move to big reds next.

Our next wine was the 2010 DRII Cabernet. Like Barlin favorites CRU from Vineyard 29 or Hartwell’s Miste Hill Cabernet, this wine was an introductory Cab that was priced more affordably than the wineries' upper tier offerings, made from the grapes that didn’t quite make the cut for the high-end Cabernet produced by the winery. But you still have the same winemaker, same barrels, same controls, and the result here (as at Vineyard 29 and Hartwell) is a wine that is delicious and, at only $50, an amazing bargain. I loved it, and if it was this good, I was definitely excited for what came next.

My excitement turned out to be justified, and expectations exceeded. They were nearly out of the 2009 Walther River Block Cabernet, so we moved right on to D.R. Stephens’ flagship wine, the Moose Valley Vineyard Cabernet from 2010. This was one of the best wines I had over the course of our last trip. It’s not cheap at $135/bottle, but completely worth the money.

We weren’t quite finished, though. D.R. Stephens sells library vintages of the Moose Valley for $155/bottle. David had 2004 open, and he poured that for us now. I think this is a particular treat when buying a higher end wine because it helps alleviate some of the guesswork about what the wine will be like after it ages for a while. It turns out that the 2004 Moose was fantastic and I think just starting to approach its peak. While the 2010 was great, the 2004 was phenomenal. We carried a bottle with us to dinner at Press (which led to perhaps my best ever wine+steak meal: the 2004 Moose paired with Press’s peppercorn-crusted cowboy ribeye au poivre for two!), and shipped a cross-section of wines from our tasting and the library home to Chicago.

Overall, this was perhaps our best experience of the trip, when you factor in the peak quality of the wine, the good connection with David, the fair prices given the quality, and the beautiful setting. Highly recommended.

Recommended wine: Great wines top-to-bottom here. For value, it's tough to beat the DRII; for quality, the Moose Valley Vineyard Cabernet is among my favorite wines in Napa.

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