More than 350 wild fires are burning out of control in California this month, but we still find things to distract ourselves.
Take the 05 vintage of Rutherford Cabernet, for example, revealed today at the annual Rutherford Dust Society Tasting, a media/trade event held at Rubicon (formerly Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery), hosted by local growers and wine makers.
“For the most part, the 05 Cabs are classically structured, and tightly focused,” says Quintessa winemaker Charles Thomas.
These are not the hot, fruit bombs that Napa Valley wines were starting to become, virtual parodies of Australian Shiraz, with high levels of extraction, high levels of alcohol, enough wood to build a barn.
“The 05 Cabs are tightly wound and have really desirable structure. They remind me of the 92, 94 and 03 Cabs,” summarizes Garen Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyards.
In short, the 05 Cabernet Sauvignons, tasted blind today, and all from the AVA (American Viticultural Area) of Rutherford are well made, well structured wines. They are not opulent, not fleshy, like their 04 counterparts tasted at this event last year. The 05s are tighter, less flashy, less powerful. Some had an herbaceous quality, some had green olive top notes, others exhibited salty, black licorice flavors.
Generally, this is one of my favorite wine-tasting events of the valley, giving me a chance to taste a large collection of local wines in one sitting. Unlike my colleagues who attend, I choose to taste blind, fearing that labels might influence my judgment, if I saw them.
Of 27 wines tasted blind, I rated six with 91 or better points (out of 100). The least expensive of these top-tier wines retails for $45 and at the upper end there is one which retails for $225.
One thing I usually find at this annual tasting is that price is not always a perfect indicator of quality. Almost every year, I blindly identify a $40-$50 wine that scores as many points as a triple-digit-dollar wine. And this year was no exception.
Specifically: I scored the 2005 Rutherford Grove Estate Cabernet 91 points, which is exactly what I scored the 2005 Peju Rutherford H.B. Vineyard Cabernet. Rutherford Grove costs $45, Peju retails for $225.
One of my favorite sommeliers in the Bay-area, Christie Dufault, who is wine director at the precise and elegant neighborhood restaurant Quince, in San Francisco, was invited to today’s testing. She had a sweet way of referring to the wines of Rutherford, which is where I happen to live.
“I always think of Rutherford as the aristocracy of Napa Valley wines. I have tasted and enjoyed them for 15 years. They are generally restrained wines with an evident texture – which other appellations in Napa Valley just don’t achieve.”
Thanks for the good word, Christie!
For the record, lest readers think Rutherford is some HUGE appellation, here’s the skinny: Rutherford, which lies at the epicenter of Napa Valley, has a reputation that far exceeds its geographic footprint.
Rutherford, only six square miles in size and planted with barely 3,300 acres of vines, produces less than one-quarter-of-one-percent (that’s .25 percent!) of all the wine produced in America. By comparison, Disney World in Orlando, FLA, at 47 acres, is nearly eight times bigger!
Speaking about the herbaceous flavors in the 05 Rutherford Cabs, Joel Aiken, director of winemaking at Beaulieu Vineyard, says, “I think the Cabernets from Rutherford – in a classic vintage – should show some restrained herbaceous character – or what we call ‘Rutherford Dust.’ If you have too many herb flavors, you taste green bell peppers, which is one extreme; at the other end, without some restrained herb notes, all you have are plump fruit flavors. The essence of a Rutherford Cabernet is a subtle, restrained herbaceous note between these two extremes.”
To my way of thinking, many of the wines poured today exhibited too many of these “herbaceous notes.” I rated some of the wines in the 85 to 89 point range, owing to over-the-top, herbed notes. Where’s the subtlety in that?
“It was critical to watch your crop in 2005,” recalls Charles Thomas of Quintessa. “You had to actively manage your crop. We had a lot of rain in the spring, which caused vines to grow rapidly. If you didn’t cut back this vigor, you were left with herbaceous wines,” he concludes, which goes a long way to explaining why I found so many “green,” or “herbaceous” wines in today’s tasting.
The top-scoring wines in the blind tasting
2005 Quintessa. Another stellar performance from this winery, which produced one of my Top Favorite Rutherford Cabs at last year’s blind tasting of 2004 wines. A tightly structured Cab, which I labeled blindly, “a typical Rutherford Cabernet on the nose and on the palate. An extremely well structured wine with a bulls-eye focus.” 93 points. $135.
2005 Scarecrow. A recent newcomer to the wine scene, Scarecrow is grown on a parcel of 60+-year-old vines, which are adjacent to Rubicon, formerly known as the J.J. Cohn plot.
Cohn, a movie mogul, had a significant role in the production of The Wizard of Oz. Hence the brand positioning for the vines planted on his estate.
The winemaker today is Celia Masyczek, who is one of my favorite winemakers in Napa Valley. I still treasure the 1996 Staglin Family Vineyards Cabernet, which she crafted. I love almost everything she breathes life in to and it is not a coincidence that I ranked her wine blindly, out of 27, so highly. It’s just further proof that her wines speak to me and that she is the IT girl when it comes to making Classic Rutherford Cabs. This one has a richness of texture not evident in many of the wines tasted today, a richness of flavor, splendid elevated fruit flavors, many of them ripe, black compelling fruits. 93 points. $100.
2005 Rubicon Estate. Wow, they’ve crafted another gorgeous wine here, just as they did in 2004. Good rich, ripe fruit, really well structured, a solid wine, an elegant wine. Has a superb profile, missing in many of today’s offerings; this one has an evident attack, a great middle palate and a superb finish. According to the tasting notes, will be released in September. 92 points. $145.
2005 Beaulieu Vineyard, Georges de La Tour Private Reserve. There’s lots of this stunning wine to go around, 12,600 cases, in fact. The name suggests it might be more rare than it is, but the good news is, there is a sufficiency of supply to satisfy the masses. A really great effort by Joel Aiken and his wine team, easily putting him back in the driver’s seat of one of the appellation’s top wines. Really tasty, ripe, pure fruit. Rich in texture, too. I loved the black fruit scents, the olives that were suggested in the middle palate and the ripe fruits on the finish. Trends to blackcurrant in overall taste impression, which is exactly what you want your Cab to present. Not vanilla, not wood, not cherry pie. And none of that is present here – just honest, well made, blackcurrant-oriented Cabernet. Will be released in September. 91 points. $115.
2005 Peju Rutherford H.B. Vineyard Cabernet. Lots of ripe red fruits on the nose, suggesting a pleasurable experience will follow. And it does. Lovely ripe fruit on the early palate, a lovely lively profile follows and then the total package goes into overdrive after you swallow. Sounds like a racing car. Costs like one, too. To be released in February, 2009. Only 358 cases made. 91 points. $225.
2005 William Harrison Rutherford Red. First time I recall tasting William Harrison’s wine at this annual event. It certainly wasn’t present last year. In the blind tasting, I found this a delicious wine with a tight nose, suggesting ripe black fruit. On the palate, very elegant, suitably supple, not a word I used with many of the wines in today’s tasting. A solid performance. 91 points, $80.
2005 Rutherford Grove Estate Cabernet. Blackcurrants and Bordeaux scents waft from the glass, mixed with a bit too much vanilla. But on the palate, the wine jumps into line with a harmony of fruit flavors, blackcurrant, ripe red fruits, a hint of cedar, and the tell-tale note scribbled into the margin of my pad: “very appealing.” First time I recall seeing this wine in the annual tasting. The release date has not been determined. 91 points. Hold on to your hats – only $45.
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