Rutherford Dust Tasting 2014

Napa Valley Rutherford Dust Tasting 2014
By Linda Kissam
Global Wine & Travel Editor

Inglenook Winery

Inglenook Winery

I drove up to Napa Valley, CA on July 16, 2014, for the annual by-invitation-only “Day in the Dust” tasting put on by the Rutherford Dust Society. This will be my third time attending this special event.  It gives me a chance to  refresh my thoughts and my palate on “Rutherford dust” characteristics and it was fun to see how the 2011 Cab releases were coming along.

Rutherford Dust Tasting

Rutherford Dust Tasting

The event is unique amongst the many wine tastings I attend over a year’s time.  Besides being extremely well organized and thoughtful in its agenda, it allows media and trade the opportunity to quickly and efficiently taste a number of appellation specific varietals in a minimum amount of time, alongside the experts who craft the wine.

DSC01970_Table setting 2To say each year’s setting is amazing would be an understatement of the facts. This year it took place at Inglenook Winery and included: A blind tasting of 13, 2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignons (ranging in price from $55 – $145), a peppy summary talk by viticulturist and winery owner Davie Piña, some exchange of thoughts from the small group of writers present, a killer lunch with wines like the 2011 Inglenook Rubicon Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2012 Inglenook Blancaneaux white Rhone-variety blend.  In the afternoon there was a walk-around tasting for trade and media of more 2011 Cabernet plus other releases from roughly 40 producers of Rutherford AVA wine. All in all…a VERY good day.

DSC01987_Linda SniffAll the wines were very good, as you’d expect from this region.  As one of the winemakers succinctly put it, “Not a stinker in the bunch.” Although there is a commonality that runs thought Rutherford Dust wines, there are also some interesting differences reflecting viticultural and winemaking preferences.   Some were more tannic, some less, some incredibly elegant, some a little less refined. Some had more oak presenting, others not so much.  Commonality included notes of cherry, plenty of blackberry, plum,  cassis and some agreeable black pepper, caramel and herbaceousness.

DSC01971_glasses of wine2011 was a cool weather vintage with the first week of October experiencing heavy rainfall.  The word coming from many analysts was that the 2011 vintage would be a dud. I think they must have forgotten that with the advanced viticultural techniques now available to wineries with deep pockets, beautiful wines can still be produced in years that would have been disastrous  in past years. I was prepared for a less fruit forward showcase, but the luscious, graceful, well-crafted characteristics that tend to define these wines were present and accounted for. These Cabernet wines are generally medium bodied presenting with good acidity.  These are wines Cab lovers should specifically seek out.  They will age just fine.

Group discussion

Group discussion

The end result of my tasting was what I look forward to as a wine writer. Not every vintage must be exactly like the one before.  Variety is good and when you do have an exceptional year, you REALLY appreciate it. My fingers and toes are crossed for 2012.

The 2011 wines in my opinion were very good, yet different from those of past vintages. The color was deep and engaging, but somewhat lighter than years past. There was plenty of fruit, but not so much of the lip smacking jam overtones I personally enjoy in these wines. As we all know, acidity plays a significant role in the structure and aging of wines… and these wines have a nice acidity base. Because of the lighter characteristics of these wines, it could be easy to say drink these wines now.  However, I think because there was enough fruit and plentiful acidity they may just be able to lay down well and maybe hold up over a longer time frame than other “Dust” Cabernets. I’ve put some away and am willing to bet on the space they take up in my cellar that they are worth the trust.

The group tasted 13 Wines.  My top three wines included:

One of my favorite wines

One of my favorite wines

12C Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard 2011, $78. 91 cases

Think dark and glossy with tart blackberry, mocha, oak, and chewy black cherries. Medium bodied, good acidity and a nose that will engage you at first sniff.

Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Winston Hill, $150. 1,089 cases

Juicy black berries and a long finish make this wine notable.  I think you’ll enjoy this Winston Hill Vineyard wine with its aromas of blackberries, espresso, black pepper, vanilla and a trace amount of volcanic dust. It’s a blend of 84% Cab, 9% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlo and 3% Petit Verdot. Let it sit open a while before you enjoy it.

St. Supery Estate Vineyards Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, $100. 340 cases

Deep red and purple hues lead into a full bodied wine presenting with terroir notes of blackberry, espresso, plum, vanilla and earthy undertones.

Lunch wines

Lunch wines

One final note, the Inglenook Rubicon Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, (approximately) $200 was served at lunch. Lots of ooh’s and ah’s coming from my table mates at first sniff and sip.  I hope you get the chance to try this wine.  It’s worth the price. Elegant, and yet somehow dense. Another “dusty” wine with yummy black berries and mocha prevailing. A touch of violets and that minerality, that only “Dust” Cab wines can pull off transported me to Bordeaux – but in a very Rutherford Dust kind of way. Just sayin’.