Thursday, July 16, 2015

Rutherford Cabs - Presenting the 2012's at Day in the Dust


The 2015 Media Tasting: Rutherford Day in the Dust

If Day in the Dust conjures up images of vineyard tours, banish the thought. Yesterday's annual tasting, the Rutherford Day in the Dust - Rutherford dust, that is - brought out the vintage Napa's vintners have been living for - the 2012s. It was a great year and a huge relief to those who suffered through the 2011s.

Not that the 2011s were universally bad, but it was a "lesser vintage" for most.

The 2012s were not only a better vintage for quality, they were also a huge increase in quantity, with yields up 40% overall. Some vineyards in Rutherford were up 50%.
Among the 1994s: the Niebaum
Coppola (now Inglenook) Rubicon,
the winery's first vintage under
organic certification (21 years ago)

The media tasting, held at Inglenook, led off with 14 wines from the 2012 vintages selected for wine press to taste, preceded by a six wine flight of 1994s. 

Though educational as to the lasting power of Rutherford appellation wines, the 1994s might not have been the best way to begin, spoiling tasters with the delicate perfumes and tastes that a 20+ year old Cab can bring. When the 2012's were presented, veteran wine writer Dan Berger humorously whined, "These aren't wine yet. These are just babies."
The 1994's
Peju's Reserve Cab ($115)
is organically grown; it placed
third in the overall rankings.

With 45 wineries in the appellation, one might have expected to see the appellation wineries broadly represented. That would be incorrect. The press were invited to taste 14 wines, chosen by a group of somms, that included 3 from Frank Family Vineyards and 2 from Freemark Abbey, wineries located in other appellations that source some fruit from Rutherford. Some other wines had ratings in the mid 80's from Parker, Wine Spectator, et al. (I'm not sure where these somms were from?) 

Inglenook winemaker Philippe Bascaules
Missing were many of the wines that I follow: Caspar Estate, HALL, Neal Family, Staglin, and Tres Sabores. (Dana would also be a notable wine from Rutherford from organic vines, but since it make so little wine and sells it to a small group, it's understandable that their wines would not be included.)

It was hard to conclude that these were all the best wines the appellation had to offer. But let's not quibble.

Fred Dame, who was running the tasting, said a number of wineries declined to contribute wines, saying their wine clubs had already bought most of the 2012 Cabs.

The 14 wines were tasted blind, and then scores from an assorted group of scorers were tabulated. 

My favorite, the 2012 Rubicon, $210, (which received a 95 from Parker, I found out later on; Jon Bonné was also enthusiastic about it) came in seventh, which I thought was extremely odd. (Not that Parker is my arbiter of taste, but he is a data point). It certainly wouldn't be the first time a scoring exercise seemed off the mark. (In this case, way off.)

The wine that placed first on the group list was the one I'd described thusly: "fruit bomb." My (blind) tasting note on the Rubicon: "Starred. Great potential. Fruit without the bomb. A beautiful wine.' Oh well, what do I know...

"These wines are going to do very well in the hospitality industry," said Dame, a Master Sommelier., of the 2012's. "They're big, rich, and approachable young." 

Wine writers Paul Franson and Dan Berger compare notes
at the media tasting

Rutherford Dust Society, media tasting

The trade tasting, on the other hand, featured a much broader assortment of wines, but without the opportunity to really take them in in the way a seated tasting does. Nonetheless, there were some lovely Cabs and a few other discoveries.

Enjoy these photos from the trade tasting:

Bascaules offered up tastes of the
2012 Inglenook Cask Cabernet ($75); Parker
gave it a 93+ pt. score; and I thought it was
a beautiful wine, especially for the price ($52 for
club members); luckily quite a bit of it was made
(10,000 cases) 
Dan O'Brien from Long Meadow Ranch with the winery's
first red wine from inside the Rutherford appellation: the 2013 Merlot
Holding down the fort at Heitz were these
lovely ladies (sorry, I forgot to write down their names)
providing tastes of the 2009 Heitz Trailside; their 2012
won't be released for several years. This is a wonderful
wine. I would like to taste it again, sitting down
and concentrating more.  
Two lovely people from wineries that were among
the first in Napa (as well as Rutherford) to have
organic vineyards: Enrique Herrero, the vineyard
manager at Inglenook, and Julie Johnson,
proprietor and winemaker at Tres Sabores;
these two properties have a boundary in common on
Rutherford benchland under the Mayacamas and both
make wines worthy of your attention; the dry farmed Tres Sabores
Perspective Cab (restrained, not a fruit bomb) lists for $80;
it's from vines planted in 1971 (only 200 cases made)
Postscript: Later on the day I posted the post above, Dan Berger's Vintage Experiences newsletter landed in my inbox. (An excellent newsletter, by the way, and well worth subscribing to.)

Here is his description of the tasting, which expands upon some of the impressions I wrote about: 

For one thing, all the wines were released far too early to make any meaningful judgment. Decades ago we all waited for four year for Cabs to be released; today it's barely over 2 and 1/2.

The even was coordinated by Fred Dame, a longtime Master Sommelier (MS) and a skilled taster. He used many other MSs to rank all the candidates for Wednesday's tasting. The MSs passed on wines they thought didn't make the grade. 

But no one stated what specific attributes the wines had to display to qualify for the tasting - or what deficiencies the also-rans had that denied their admission to the event.

As a result, "Sommelier Palate" dictated which wines were blessed enough to be thought of as the best in Rutherford. And what is this undefined Sommelier Palate?

Well, for one thing, it is a generally younger-taster profile. Most of the MS folk in the room yesterday were between 35 and 50, and all got their impressions of what a Great Cab was in a post-Phylloxera Parker-dominant era when weight and softness were viewed as king - and when food friendliness, aging and varietal character were less important.

The result can only be a self-fulfilling prophecy: all the anointed wines were pretty much the same weight and density, with little in the way of distinctiveness allowed.

I have long suspected that Napa Valley producers and the societies formed to promote them do not like the word "distinctiveness" to be used when referring to their wines - not even when it's regional character. What are the real differences between Cabs whose appellations are Rutherford, St. Helena, Oakville and Spring Mountain? Are there any differences now that high alcohol, low aide and hang time are all the rage?

Some of the best wines I tasted yesterday were Cabs served at the larger, walk-around portion of the tasting. Some of these wines were submitted to the MS group and were not picked. 

Yet to me a number were exemplary of a great vintage of Napa Valley Cab, even though they were not dense and succulent. 

Dame summed up the tasting when he said the wines "taste good" (is this a requirement for a Cabernet to be great?). And he added, "In terms of the hospitality industry, these are great wines." 

The comment gave me the distinct impression that he was talking of sales: they would sell. But the dependent clause that starts the quote says nothing about consumers. 

Funny. I thought that's who the tasting was really staged for.

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