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Rutherford Dust in My Mouth: Top Reds from the 2012 Trade Tasting

The room was crowded, the lights dim. Upwards of 100 warm bodies — and 100 Fahrenheits outside — raised the temperature of Raymond Vineyards’ tank room. Proprietors and winemakers from most of Rutherford’s wineries poured luxurious reds while cheerfully answering the same questions over and over. Buyers, somms and writers swirled, sniffed, sipped, spat (or not) and scored scores of wines. They chatted and shared opinions.


The 2012 Rutherford Dust tasting felt more like a party than in years past. Perhaps it was the ambience, or the knowledge that this year Napa Valley is once again Mother Nature’s favorite child. Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignons only enhanced the mood. Almost without exception, the wines from 2008, 2009 and 2010 expressed the character of their vintage while also proving that top wineries in premier growing regions can produce beautiful juice come rain or come shine. 

Despite the convivial mood, the Rutherford Dust trade tasting is a serious business event. Some members of the trade decide which wineries they want to prioritize for subsequent one-on-one meetings. Some may make on-the-spot decisions about which wines they will buy and in what quantities. I and other writers carefully take notes so that we can pass our impressions along to you — and also to determine which wineries we should feature in future profiles.

I was only able to sample the wares of 25 wineries. Among those I missed entirely was the host winery, Raymond Vineyards. Here are notes on the best 23 wines I did taste.

The Best of the Best Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Heitz Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon “Trailside” Rutherford, $70
2006 is the current release for this wine. Coming from an estate vineyard near Conn Creek, the wine spends 36 months in new French oak. Mint, black cherry, spice and chocolate. Medium+ body and medium to medium+ tannins that have softened with the extended aging. Very Highly Recommended

2009 Hewitt Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, not yet released (NR)
Hewitt's estate vineyard is adjacent to that of Inglenook. The 2009 has a restrained but wonderful nose of black currant, sage and cocoa. Creamy palate that echoes the nose. Very Highly Recommended

2004 Hewitt Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $110
This wine has much in common with the 2009, but shows a little development. Black currant, cocoa powder and currant leaf on the nose. Matching flavors plus some dry leaves. Medium to medium+ body and a long, smooth finish. Very Highly Recommended

2009 Sojourn Cellars Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $95
Beckstoffer's George III Vineyard is near Caymus Winery between Conn Creek Road and Silverado Trail. A creamy, full-bodied wine with black currant, red cherry chocolate and a trace of vanilla on the nose. Medium+, fine-grained tannins carry flavors of black cherry and cocoa. Very Highly Recommended

2010 Sojourn Cellars Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
Hand-bottled just before the tasting and not due for release until January, the nose was only moderately intense but attractive with cocoa, coffee and black cherries. The full-bodied palate features medium+, fine-grained tannins, concentrated black cherry flavor and a long finish. Very Highly Recommended

2008 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $45
A rich and lovely wine with creamy black currant and chocolate nose and flavors. Medium+ body and powdery tannins. Very Highly Recommended

2009 Piña Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford, NR
The Firehouse Vineyard is located on the rocky slopes behind Piña's winery on Silverado Trail, just north of Skellenger Lane. Dusty black cherry and spice on the nose. Medium+ body and tannins (medium-grained) with juicy black cherry and blackberry. Very Highly Recommended

2009 St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Star Vineyard Rutherford, NR
Star Vineyard is a primary source for Orropas, St. Clement's flagship wine. The vineyard lies west of Highway 29 on the upper Rutherford Bench. Black currant, toast and gentle spice aromas and flavors with full body, fine powdery tannins and a long finish. Very Highly Recommended

2008 Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $185
The Staglin Family Vineyard is nestled at the base of Mount St. John, west of Highway 29. Very attractive aromatically with cocoa, vanilla, currant leaf and black currant. Medium+ body and fine-grained tannins are balanced by everlasting juicy black currant on the palate. Very Highly Recommended.

2009 Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
A nose of dusty black currant, spice and dry currant leaf precedes the full-bodied palate. Tannins are medium+ with both medium-grain and chalky sensations. The flavors of black currant, dark spice and milk chocolate go on and on. Very Highly Recommended.

Highly Recommended 2008 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

2008 Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Select Rutherford, $50
Provenance takes the fruit for this wine from three different vineyards including their estate, west of Highway 29, and the Beckstoffer George III Vineyard. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, best-of-the-barrels wine brings black currant and currant leaf with firm, drying tannins. Best from 2014. Highly Recommended

2009 Provenance Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $45
Unlike the 2008 Barrel Select, this wine includes both Malbec and Petit Verdot. The majority of the fruit comes from the Hewitt and Beckstoffer George III Vineyards. It’s dark purple in color with a nose of dark fruit and spice. Medium+ and tannins with a lightly chalky feel. The spicy black fruit and huckleberry flavors go on and on. Highly Recommended

2008 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard Rutherford, $100
Black currant, dusty cocoa and a subtle note of dry leaves on the nose. Medium+ body and tannins, medium-grained and drying, with flavors of black currant, cocoa and spice in a long finish. To be released in December, 2012. Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended 2009 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Flora Springs Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $100
This wine comes from Block J of the estate vineyard on the bench in northwestern Rutherford. Ripe black currant and perfumey spice. Full-bodied with substantial tannins, both chalky and light-grained. Highly Recommended+

2009 Frank Family Vineyards Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
From the terraced Winston Vineyard east of Silverado Trail. Aromas of dusty black currant with a hint of currant leaf. Medium+ body and powdery tannins with ripe black currant and chocolate flavors. Highly Recommended+

2009 Freemark Abbey Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Vineyard Rutherford, NR
The Sycamore Vineyard is up against the hills in southwest Rutherford, near Staglin. Medium+ body with medium to medium+ fine-grained tannins. A classic Cabernet Sauvignon showing balance between black currant, dusty mint and oak. Highly Recommended

2009 Tres Sabores Perspective Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
Tres Sabores' estate vineyard is in northwestern Rutherford, against the hills and south of Whitehall Lane. Lovely black currant plus black cherry, cocoa, cola and a whisper of currant leaf. Medium+ body and tannins (medium-grained). Highly Recommended

2009 Trinchero Chicken Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
The Chicken Ranch Vineyard is on the valley floor between Highway 29 and Silverado Trail. Expressive black currant, currant leaf and dusty cocoa on the nose and palate. Medium+ body and substantial fine, chalky tannins. Highly Recommended

2009 William Harrison Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
William Harrison's estate vineyard is near the hills of eastern Rutherford. A pretty wine that smells and tastes of caramel and that semi-liquid cherry filling you find in some chocolate bonbons. The body is medium plus as are the tannins which are drying and have a talc-like texture. Lengthy finish. Highly Recommended+

Highly Recommended 2010 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon

2010 Fleury Estate Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, NR
Medium+ body and powdery tannins with ripe black currant and chocolate flavors. To be released next year. Highly Recommended

Other Noteworthy Rutherford Red Wines

2009 William Harrison Winery Cabernet Franc Rutherford, NR
100% Cabernet Franc yields red cherry, mint and currant leaf aromatics. The palate is nearly full-bodied with matching, fine-grained tannins. Highly Recommended

2009 Rutherford Grove Sangiovese Pestoni Ranch Estate Rutherford, $35
The Pestoni Vineyard is just west of Highway 20 and north of Whitehall Lane. This charming Sangiovese provided a welcome change-up for my taste buds mid-way through the Cabernets. Red cherry, leather, toasted oak and vanilla aromas and flavors, rich palate and smooth tannins. Highly Recommended

1969 Freemark Abbey Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Vineyard Rutherford
The Bosché Veinyard is in northwest Rutherford midway between the hills and Highway 29. After more than 40 years — and based on just a very quick taste from a borrowed glass — this wine offers just one flavor, but it’s a beautiful one. Deep coffee resonates on the nose and palate like a single, sustained note from Yo-Yo Ma’s cello. Medium body and integrated tannins. This wine was included in the famous Paris Tasting of 1976 and some of the subsequent re-visitings. It wasn’t among the top scorers then and isn’t now. However, I loved smelling and tasting it and wish I had some in my cellar. I’m very appreciative of Freemark Abbey Winery’s generosity in opening a bottle for us. Recommended

Related Articles:

Spotlight on the Rutherford AVA
What is Rutherord Dust?


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