Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rutherford Dust Society Cabernet tasting

Tom Rinaldi is my hero today, and apparently Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez's hero also.

Rinaldi, the winemaker from Provenance Vineyards, made my second-favorite wine at the Rutherford Dust Society tasting on Wednesday. This was a very serious group of wines, including some of the most famous luxury wines in Napa. A group of sommeliers chose 19 wines they thought best represented Rutherford's 2006 vintage.

Why do I love Tom Rinaldi? Because his wine stood out among this rarified group -- and it was both the cheapest and the largest-production wine.

Granted, at $45 the Provenance Cab isn't a weekday burger wine. But 8 of the other 18 wines sell for more than $100. Moreover, Provenance was up against wines of which less than 100 total cases were made, meaning each grape cluster could be lavished with attention, but only the well-connected will ever see it. With 22,000 cases of Provenance available, you don't have to sigh that you'll never taste this exotic nectar.

Rinaldi is a self-effacing guy who was a winemaker at Duckhorn from 1978 to 1999, so he knows how to make larger-production luxury wines. He credited grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, whose vineyards provided about 2/3 of the grapes in the Provenance Cab. He also mentioned long sorting tables where bad-looking grapes and non-grape material could be plucked out.

But the main data I extracted from Rinaldi was that Sanchez visited Provenance with his father on Tuesday, the day of the All-Star Game, just four days after pitching a no-hitter. According to Rinaldi, Provenance was the only winery stop on Sanchez's Napa visit. I have to give Sanchez credit: In a single week, he discovered control for his slider and a superb value in Napa Cabernet. The San Francisco Giants can really teach a guy how to live.

What's great about the Provenance? It's a satisfying two-level punch of bright fruit up top with a firm tannic backbone. It's complex and seems age-worthy, yet I could have drained a bottle of it this week without difficulty.

I mentioned that it was my 2nd favorite wine. Credit Staglin Family Vineyard for making a wine worthy of the $175 price tag in 2006; their '06 Estate Cab is complex and elegant, with healthy acidity that bodes well for the long term. It's not easy to be impressive in this group, but the Staglin stood out from the first whiff.

Overall, one surprise was the near-absence of monolithic fruit bombs. Napa Cabernet gets caricatured all the time, but at the top level these are wines of elegance and complexity. I don't know that I actually tasted the famous "Rutherford Dust," but these wines were, as a group, more the product of vineyards than of hang time, and more of grapes than oak barrels.

Tasting notes:

Pina Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($85)
93 cases. Lovely, complex aroma with mostly red fruits and some black licorice. Tannic initially but slightly sweet raspberry fruit comes through on midpalate. Not as complex on palate yet, but give it time. 92

Riboli Family Wine Estates Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($60)
500 cases. Savory, with soft tannins and cherry/red currant fruit. 88

Provenance Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($60)
22,000 cases. Lively aroma of cherry, raspberry, horehound, earth, pepper. Two-level punch on palate: bright cherry/raspberry fruit with firm tannic backbone. Enjoyable now, should continue to develop for a few years. 95

Round Pond Estate Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($60)
2900 cases. Very ripe cherry fruit, slightly sweet. For people who like their Cabs unrestrained. 87

Frank Family Vineyards Winston Hill Rutherford Red Wine 2006 ($150)
840 cases. Dense cherry/blackberry fruit with thick tannins and notes of oak. Needs some time. 90

Quintessa Rutherford 2006 ($155)
9400 cases. Bright fruit aroma with plenty of cherry and raspberry. Tannic as hell on the palate, with the fruit captured within. Promising wine, but needs time. Wait a couple years at least. 91

Raymond Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($60)
1100 cases. Brooding aroma of oak, dark cherry, chocolate. Thus bright flavors are a surprise: cherry/raspberry fruit, good balance, tannins under control. You could drink it now, but I would wait a couple years. 93

Sullivan Vineyards Estate Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($55)
1500 cases. Unexpected play of raspberry with candied chile. A little sweet, a little spicy, perhaps a throwback to Rutherford Cabs of an earlier era. 88

Flora Springs Hillside Reserve Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($100)
320 cases. Somewhat dull dark fruit aroma doesn't properly presage a wine that combines dark cherry with a distinctive pastrami note -- like Lulu's house-made pastrami at the Ferry Plaza. Also notes of dark chocolate. Moderately tannic. Cured meat character makes me hungry, which is a good thing. 92

Hewitt Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($85)
5500 cases. Lively wine with intense cherry flavor that brightens as it goes, along with a little milk chocolate note. An easy wine to love. 93

Peju Reserve Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($105)
1700 cases. Elegant, lissome wine with pretty black and red berries. 92

Slaughterhouse Cellars Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($60)
269 cases. Dense, dark and closed at the moment, with notes of blackberries, oak, black pepper and hints of dried herbs. Tastes balanced, but I would not approach this wine for another 3-5 years. 91

Meander Morisoli Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($120)
40 cases. Hedonistic wine, ripe and rich like blackberry pie filling. Super plush tannins. Low-acid, but undeniable appeal. 91

Monticello Vineyards Tietjen Vineyards Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($65)
224 cases. Bright raspberry, firm structure, finishes tannic. Needs time for the tannins to resolve. 92

Sawyer Cellars Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($48)
1600 cases. Good complexity in a wine with a mix of bright red and candied fruit. 91

Sequoia Grove Rutherford Bench Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($65)
1700 cases. Strongly oaky up front and very closed at the moment. Ripe dark cherry comes out on long finish. Wait 4-5 years for this one. 91

Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($115)
9000 cases. Plush, ripe raspberry with a hint of mocha. Gentle on the palate with a long fruity finish. Tremendous density of fruit. 92

Rubicon Estate Rutherford Rubicon 2006 ($145)
Case production quantity not provided (what are you ashamed of?) Tastes like blackberry/vanilla ice cream, with a creamy mouthfeel. New oak dominates at the moment; will be interesting to taste in 10 years. 90

Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($175)
2700 cases. Complex and surprisingly mature already, with aromas of dark cherry, orange peel, cigar box and oak. Elegant on the palate with similar flavors; more acidity than expected bodes well for the future. When I first smelled this I thought someone had snuck in a ringer -- an earlier vintage. But if it's already this complex, I wonder what it will be like when it's released in October. 95


SteveinOakland said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I may just have to up my price point for a few special bottles. For a larger production effort, I like their efforts to perfect the product. I remember a friend who used to be among their team sharing bottles of single barrel test efforts. They had tried over 100 different barrel types and toasts to see which matched best with the fruit. We got to try the same vinification aged in hungarian, several french and american barrels. A nice education from a very nice team of people. My father, who has pretty good taste and does not spend much on wine bought a case recently. Thanks again for the comments.

SteveinOakland said...

Correction to comment. I deleted what I was talking about in my editing. The effort I was praising was the BV LaTour.