Members of the press and trade were invited to two events today in Rutherford, at the epicenter of Napa Valley, to get a sense of the appellation’s just-released 2010 Cabernet Sauvignons.
Beaulieu Vineyards hosted the event to which Bay-area journalists, wine writers and wine retailers were invited. Thirty-five Rutherford wineries participated in the afternoon trade show.
For writers, 2010 might be called “The Vintage From Hell to Describe,” because how good Napa Valley 2010 Cabs turned out depends on whom you ask.
Charles Thomas, winemaker at Quintessa, called 2010 “one of the three best vintages of the decade for Quintessa.”
He added, “Yes, there was fear of rain, and fear of heat, but we picked and sorted properly and the result speaks for itself.”
The Magician’s Vintage?
Other winemakers called 2010 “The Magician’s Vintage,” suggesting that good winemakers had to pull a rabbit – or a great claret – out of a hat at the last minute, faced as all winemakers were with a tumultuous growing season that featured heat spikes to 110 F degrees in August and five inches of rain in late October, 2010.
“2010 was one of the toughest growing seasons,” said Fredrik Johansson, winemaker at Staglin. “We had to contend with damp days, foggy days, heat, rain, all of it made even more challenging as we’re all-organic.”
Grape growers like Dave Piña, who spend time in the vineyards, have a different, nuanced appreciation of the vintage. “Trust me, it didn’t matter whether you picked before the October rains or not – it’s how you grew and tended your grapes all season long that mattered,” he explained.
Dave might well be right. In a blind tasting of 18 Rutherford Cabs from 2010, I rated his Piña Firehouse Vineyard 93 points – my second favorite wine in the tasting. It is a sensational wine -- and for the record, Dave picked AFTER the October rains. His grapes all got washed by the October downpour.
BTW: Lest readers think Rutherford is some HUGE appellation, here’s the reality: Rutherford has a reputation that far exceeds its geographic footprint.
Rutherford, only six square miles in size, is planted with 3,518 acres of vines, producing 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!
In the morning blind tasting:
The Board of the Rutherford Dust Society selected 18 Cabernets from the 2010 vintage and poured them blind for assembled journalists.
Napaman tasted through them, scored and ranked the wines. At this annual event, in many previous years, the least expensive wines in this tasting score higher than the most expensive wines. Such was not the case today.
In fact, the most expensive wine in the blind tasting, the 2010 Staglin INEO Cabernet was my favorite blind-tasted wine, scoring 94 points. The wine is $250 a bottle, which is considerably more than any other wine in the tasting.
I asked Staglin winemaker Fredrik Johansson to explain the origin of the name.
“INEO is Latin for “beginning,” and we first applied it to our Rutherford Cab the year we departed from our conventional vineyard blend. For the first time – our new beginning -- we added Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot to the blend.”
Blind Tasting Summary
Here were my top 5 wines, tasted blind, from 18 presented.
All are 2010 Cabs, all the fruit comes from Rutherford.
Staglin INEO, $250 a bottle, to be released Oct. 1, 2013. 94 points.
This wine had a gorgeous nose, sporting rich, elegance right out of the glass. Of all the wines tasted, it had the most velours-like texture, which set it apart from all the other wines tasted. Words like “gorgeous, elegant, restrained,“ appear in the margins of my tasting sheet for this wine.
Piña Napa Valley Firehouse Vineyard, $85 a bottle, to be released this summer. 93 points.
It’s hard not to love this wine, which scored a single point difference from the Staglin above, yet it costs two-thirds less.
Dave Piña has previously been named Napa Valley Winegrower of the Year, he is head of the Rutherford volunteer fire department, and he’s a helluva great guy, to which I can attest from social gatherings and evenings we’ve spent together.
His 2010 wine had warm notes, a generous lode of coffee, even on the nose, and nearly the same type of textural elements found in the Staglin Cab.
Frank Family Vineyards, Winston Hill Red Wine, $150 a bottle, to be released in September, 2013. 92 points.
I thought this wine was a bit hot on the nose, suggestive of a high alcohol level. But I did like the almost grapefruit rind aroma that evolved in my glass over thirty minutes. Really liked the complexity of this wine through about 80 percent of the swallow, and then, at the very end, the alcohol snapped me out of my reverie. Over time, this wine will likely calm down, and the components integrate, resulting in a very pretty wine, indeed.
Conn Creek Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford Estate, $65 a bottle, to be released in 2014. 92 points.
Ripe fruit on the nose, and a touch of minerality on the palate, which was lacking in ALL other wines in this tasting. I really liked the generous finish.
Foley Johnson, Rutherford Estate Cabernet, $75 a bottle, already released. 92 points.
Well integrated fruit on the nose and a delicious middle palate. Sensuous texture and a pleasing finish.
From a new winery in Rutherford – former home of Sawyer Winery.
Welcome, new neighbor! (Though for accuracy, Brad Warner was winemaker at Sawyer for years and continues to make the wine at Foley Johnson. But you’ve really torn the stitches off the ball this year, Brad, sending it up... up.. easily a three-base hit ... just missing the center field wall for a home run.)
Noticeably absent – one of the 800-pound gorillas in the appellation, Inglenook, formerly called Rubicon, and before that Niebaum-Coppola. You know the place, you know the owner, Francis Ford Coppola.
Why the no-show? Insiders refer to the fact that there are a lot of changes being made internally as the winery converts all its brands, labels, and merchandise to Inglenook.
“This will take some time to complete,” one insider told napaman.com. I suspect we’ll see Inglenook in full play next year.
I sampled Inglenook’s recent releases at the winery last weekend and they are seriously good wines that likely would have shown well today at the Rutherford Dust Society Tasting.
FYI: The Rutherford Dust Society was founded in 1994 by growers and vintners to carry on the legacy of grape growing and winemaking, which started here eons ago.
The revered, late winemaker André Tchelistcheff said it best:
"It takes Rutherford dust to grow great Cabernet."
What is fondly referred to as "Rutherford dust," has come to reflect a “commitment to quality, a spirit of achievement and a deep connection to Rutherford's soil,” says the Board of the Rutherford Dust Society.
Napaman.com readers wishing to experience their own Rutherford Tasting must be patient... please circle Dec. 6, 7 and 8 on your calendar this year, the weekend of this year’s annual, Rutherford Passport Weekend.
Participants will visit Rutherford wineries and be treated to exclusive barrel tastings, food pairings and entertainment. You can even speak with winemakers and share your observations about their wine. (Careful – some of them are permitted to pack more than a corkscrew...).
Details to come at rutherford-appellation-wineries.com