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Highlights from the Rutherford Dust Society Blind Tasting - 2008 Cabernet

The Rutherford Dust Society held their annual tasting on July 13 at Rubicon Estate. In the morning, before the larger trade tasting, there is a seated media tasting. This year, there were 22 wines, poured in two flights of eleven. All of the wine was from the 2008 vintage. Some of the wines have already been released, many have not. After tasting, there is a lunch at which the same wines are available, no longer blind. This allows the media to double-check their initial impressions of certain wines.

Wine Writers Nose Wine! Rutherford Dust Tasting, July 13, 2011
Photo: Fred Swan

Overall Impressions

During the tasting, I was impressed by the fact that most of the 2008 Rutherford Cabernet blends I tasted are very drinkable now. And they had not been decanted, just opened and left in the bottle for an hour or so. The extra five months in bottle since I last tried many of them has allowed their tannins to soften and integrate. The fruit has become less dominant as well. There are still plenty of cherries, berries and currants, but they no longer shout so loudly that you can’t hear the interesting secondary voices which make wine so interesting. Despite their early accessibility, there is plenty of power in the fruit and tannins. Most of the wines have the stuffing to age nicely for ten or more years.

2008 started cold and some vineyards saw severe frost early in the season. This, and generally low yields for others reasons meant the crop for some growers was down by 30% or more. The weather warmed up later, but wasn't excessively hot. This was fortunate because 2008 was also very dry with rainfall at about 60% of average. The end result was a small crop of small-berrIes, great for quality but not for volume. In the wines I noticed no significant signs of either over- or under-ripe fruit. They are generally well-balanced, even elegant, due in part to the cool to moderate temperatures throughout much of the year.

Alcohol levels ranged from 13.7% [Frog’s Leap] up to 15.3 [Beaulieu Vineyard] with an average of 14.6. That is normal, perhaps even a bit light, for the area these days. Paul Wagner (Balzac Communications) pointed out quite correctly that the higher alcohol levels tended to come from the western part of Rutherford rather than eastern. The normal expectation would be the opposite since the east gets more of the harsh afternoon sun. This demonstrates once again that location isn’t everything. Row orientation, clonal selection, leaf pulling, pick dates and many other factors have a significant impact on grape ripeness and sugar levels.

There was dramatic diversity in the prices of these wines. The most expensive wine was the Rubicon from Rubicon Estate at $200. The bargain-hunters’ wine is Pedemonte Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford for just $26. Sadly, only 360 cases of that wine were made. On the bright side, the next three lowest priced wines are very good as well and two of them had much higher production volumes.


Eva Swan evaluates Cabernet Sauvignon at the Rutherford Dust Tasting, July 13, 2011.
Photo: Fred Swan

Tasting Notes

Here are the wines I liked best from the tasting with some brief notes. The wines are listed in alphabetical order. Bear in mind that my ratings are provisional, since the tasting conditions, while excellent, didn’t allow me as much time with each wine as I would want for an “official” review.

2008 12C Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard Rutherford, $70. Alc. % n/a, 120 cases, release 8/1/2010
Highly Recommended; A great, fruity nose of black cherry and sweet spice. Gorgeous, ripe black fruit with coconut, fall leaves and vanilla on the palate. Ripe, powdery tannins.

2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $115. 15.3% alc., 8200 cases, release 8/1/2011
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, currant leaf, cedar and pencil lead aromas. Flavors of black currant, mild vanilla and spice. Ripe chalky tannins, pleasantly zingy alcohol.

2008 Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Hozhoni Vineyard Rutherford, $45. 14.5% alc., 200 cases, release Spring 2012
Highly Recommended; Ripe black currant, macerated black cherry and currant leaf nose. Black cherry, herb, sweet spice and milk chocolate flavors with fine, ripe, chalky tannins.

2008 Hall Wines Exzellenz Sacrasche Vineyard Rutherford Red Wine, $165. Alc. % n/a, 219 cases, release 11/1/2011
Highly Recommended; Nose of dried black currant, nutmeg and oak. Black currant and sweet spice. Alcohol sticks out just a little.

2008 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard Rutherford, $75. Alc. % n/a, 250 cases, release 6/1/2012
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, cherry, coffee and bay leaf aromas. Flavors echo the nose and add chocolate and sweet spice. Very fine and ripe chalky tannins.

2008 Meander Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard Rutherford, $125. 15.2% alc., 40 cases, 3/1/2011
Very Highly Recommended, A savory nose of rare roast beef, dark spice and sage. Flavors of black fruit and cocoa. Very fine and ripe chalky tannins. Smooth.

2008 Pedemonte Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $26. 14.5% alc., 360 cases, release TBD
Highly Recommended; Red cherry, cedar and mint on the nose. Flavors reminded me of a cherry and herb lozenge. Chalky, drying tannins.

2008 Peju Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, $105. 14.4% alc., 900 cases, release 9/1/2014 [I spoke with HB in the afternoon and she told me that if someone really, really wants the wine sooner that will be possible.]
Highly Recommended; Juicy black currant and raspberry with notes of tobacco, spice and oak.

2008 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford, $85. 15.1% alc,, 237 cases, release 11/1/2010.
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, dark flowers, dust and pencil shavings on the nose. Black currant, blackberry, light cedar and sweet spice on the palate. Voluptuous body with fine and ripe chalky tannins. Gorgeous.

2008 Sawyer Cellars Cabernet Reserve Rutherford, $49. 14.1% alc., 850 cases, release 6/1/2012
Highly Recommended, A great nose with beautiful warmed spices, spiced fig, oak and vanilla. Very ripe red and black cherry flavors with spice and milk chocolate.

2008 Round Pond Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $50. 14.5% alc., 3210 cases, released 1/1/2011
Highly Recommended; Plenty of black currant fruit plus currant leaf/tobacco, sweet spice and vanilla. Chalky, drying tannins.

2008 Staglin Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $185. 14.9% alc., 2600 cases, release Fall 2011
Highly Recommended; Black cherry, blackberry and spice nose echoed by the palate which adds dried coconut. Ripe, lightly chalky tannins.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy:
What is Rutherford Dust?
Spotlight on the Rutherford AVA

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