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Tasting Event

New White Wines and Rosés from Rutherford's Day in the Dust

Last Wednesday afternoon, the Rutherford Dust Society held their annual tasting for trade and media at Inglenook. Roughly 40 wineries were represented. I tasted 54+ wines (in addition to those from the morning session which I describe here). That article also includes a summary of the 2011 vintage overall.

Most of the wines offered at the tasting were red. However, there were some very compelling white and rosés too. I’ve dedicated this article to those wines, so they don’t get lost in the Cabernet shuffle.

Rutherford White and Rosé New Releases

Alpha Omega Sauvignon Blanc “1155” Napa Valley 2013, ~$38
Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Semillon, all estate-grown in Rutherford, were fermented in French oak barrels. Fresh, summery flavors of tart peach and dry grass are coupled with enjoyably grippy texture and freshness. Recommended

El Molino Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $60 - 856 cases
White peach and beautiful floral notes of honeysuckle and pikake with some oak in the background. Very pretty. Highly Recommended

Elizabeth Spencer Chardonnay Rutherford 2012, $45 - 300 cases
Aromas and flavors of green apple skin, fresh herb and under ripe peach with a fresh palate. Recommended

Fleury Estate Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $50
Fermentation and aging was 50% stainless steel, 50% new French oak. This is a boldly tropical wine with passionfruit, pineapple and white flower aromatics. Medium-plus body and the flavor of piña colada on the palate. Recommended

Honig Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2012, $28
Salty lemon-lime aromas with grapefruit, peppery spice and herb on the palate. Medium-plus body and very fresh. Aged in French oak, 40% new. 10% Semillon, 2% Muscat. Highly Recommended

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $20
Salty lime pith, passionfruit, melon rind and herb aromas join with loads of grapefruit on the palate. Fresh, long and intense. Highly Recommended

Conspire Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, $28 - 267 cases
Welcome to Sancerre! Intensely aromatic with passionfruit, grapefruit, salty minerality and pipi du chat. Body is a light medium-plus and the finish very long. 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 50% Sauvignon Musque. Conspire is a sub-brand of Amy Aiken's Meander wines. Highly Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2013, ~$23
Fresh, tasty and softened ever so slightly by 5% oak (new French). Peach blossom, guava and spice. Recommended

Provenance Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford Estate 2013, ~$29
30% usage of new French oak lends added richness to the palate of this estate wine. White peach, sweet citrus and spice. Best to let this wine breathe a good while or splash it into a decanter. Highly Recommended

Staglin Chardonnay Rutherford Estate 2012, $75
A gorgeous Chardonnay with green and yellow apples and pretty floral spice on the nose and creamy palate. Very Highly Recommended

Talahalusi Vineyards Roussanne Rutherford 2012
First things first: Talahalusi is the name the local Wappo tribe had for what we know as Napa Valley. There’s 5% Picpoul Blanc blended into this full-bodied Roussanne. It’s juicy and long with flavors of kiwi and dry grass. Recommended

Tres Sabores Rosé Rutherford “Ingrid and Julia” 2013, $24
Forget that this an unlikely dry rosé, made from Zinfandel (85%) and Petite Sirah (15%). Just enjoy the pale pink color, delicious flavors of nectarine and fresh berries in sweet cream and the refreshing, long-lasting palate. Highly Recommended


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

6 More California Rhone Wines to Try at Rhone Rangers

rhone rangers logo

It’s time for one more brief list of wines for you to seek out at the Rhone Rangers tasting this Sunday. Get your Grand Tasting tickets here and don’t forget to use the discount code: GT–20

2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
This wine has a little more body than some of William Allen’s past Grenache Blanc, but didn’t give up any acidity or minerality in the process. The nose is refined with a core of briny pear, pear blossom and peppery spice. The crisp, juicy palate has medium+ body, long flavors of just-ripe pear and salty mineral. Serve warmer than usual for a white, around 60 degrees. 13.4% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2011 Bonny Doon Cigare Blanc Reserve
A unfined, unfiltered blend of Grenache Blanc (62%) and Roussanne (38%) is partly cloudy with a 98% chance of raining deliciousness on you. The nose opens waxy and leesy with building aromas of marzipan, pear, under-ripe stone fruit and limestone. Despite having just 12.5% alcohol, the palate is nearly full-bodied with an engaging slippery, graphite-like texture. Flavors match the nose, adding a strong peach pit note, and go on forever. Randall Grahm recommends decanting this wine and serving it at cellar temperature. Very Highly Recommended

2012 McCay Cellars Rosé, Lodi
This pale pink rosé was made from Carignane, picked at low brix for the purpose from 105-year old vines in Lodi. It’s gently aromatic with scents of tart strawberry, herb, spice and stone fruit pit minerality. Medium-bodied and silky in the mouth it tastes of mineral, strawberry water, under-ripe stone fruit and herb. This will add a Provencal note to your summer lunches by the pool. 12.49% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2011 McCay Cellars Carignane, Lodi
A full-on Carignane from vines even older than those of the rosé, this wine is all about earthy spice, game meat and garrigue on the nose with black fruit staying in the background. Tangy black cherry is prominent on the palate though, as are earthy/leathery spice. Medium+ body with light, very fine tannins. Alcohol 13.5%. Highly Recommended

2011 McCay Cellars Grenache, Lodi
Comforting aromas and flavors of red cherry, brown spice, earth and dry herb. Medium+ body with moderate, fine-grained tannins and juiciness. A versatile food wine but yummy on its own. Highly Recommended

2011 Tablas Creek “Esprit de Tablas” Paso Robles
Tablas Creek’s flagship red is an estate blend of Mourvedre (40%), Grenache (30%), Syrah (20%) and Counoise (10%) fermented in stainless steel with native yeast and then aged in 1,200 gallon French oak tanks. The nose engrosses with complexity: spicy tea, meaty cherry, cranberry, orange pith, five-spice, dark mineral and more. The palate is creamy and medium+ in body with moderate tannins of fine grain and chalk. Its flavors are long and evolve in the glass. Drinking very well now but can age for 20+ years. 14.5% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

I listed more wines to try in 16 North Coast Rhones to Try and Rhone Rangers Tastings and Rhone-Variety Wines Tasted.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

'Tis the Season to be Zinful

During this season, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, my thoughts often segue to Zinfandel. The soft and jammy berry fruit, welcoming spice and touch of sweetness goes wonderfully with holiday smorgasbords. Zinfandel gets the party started and is perfect for mulling.

It’s hard to satiate my tastebuds once they’ve gotten into that Zinfandel mood, so I take them to the Zinfandel Experience in late January. Over the course of four days, I can taste horizontally, vertically and regionally, paired with food, paired with friends and paired with engaging winemakers. What better way to cheer oneself from the post-holiday blahs?

The 2015 Zinfandel Experience will once again include five separate, equally enjoyable events. For tickets and/or more information, check out the Zinfandel Experience website.


Media & Trade Tasting — Wednesday, January 28 from 1pm to 5pm at Rock Wall in Alameda
The annual sneak preview for wine pros begins with a one-hour invitation-only seminar. That’s followed by a three-hour sippy stroll through Rock Wall’s Zinfandel hangar with some of California’s best juice makers and a stunning view of San Francisco across the bay. This event is an excellent way to get a great overview of where Zinfandel is today.

Epicuria — Thursday, January 29 from 6pm to 8:30pm at the Golden Gate Club in SF’s Presidio
Great small bite. Great Zinfandel. Together! So get your tickets here. This is always a wonderful event. The range of foods with which Zinfandel pairs well is very long. And, with more than 30 winery/restaurant combos on hand, you’ll taste plenty. This evening will offer everything from wild boar chili to chocolate pepper cupcakes with Zinfandel-infused bacon, shrimp cocktail to duck tacos with molé sauce. There goes my diet…

Flights! Forums of Flavor — Friday, January 30 from 10:30am to 1pm at the Four Seasons Hotel in SF
Flights is a seated tasting seminar featuring 15 wines and their makers. This year’s theme is historic regions. Three flights of five wines will explore Contra Costa County, Amador County and Dry Creek Valley through single-vineyard bottlings. This event always sells out early, so get your tickets soon.

Winemakers’ Dinner, Reception and Auction — Friday, January 30 from 5:30pm to 10pm at the Four Seasons Hotel
The reception will feature 28 magnums and reserve wines with hors d’oeuvres. At dinner, you’ll be seated with a winemaker and will enjoy Colorado Lamb Rack and Baked Alaska. And more Zinfandel. This is another event that sells out quickly, so don’t hesitate.

The Tasting — Saturday, January 31 from 11am to 5pm at The Presidio
Nearly 120 wineries will pour. Somms and winemakers will lead seminars on terroir. Holders of VIP and All-Day tickets will also get to try barrel samples and reserve wines.

Get your tickets at the Zinfandel Experience website

This article is original to Copyright 2015. Photos courtesy of ZAP. All rights reserved.

Rhone Rangers Tastings and Rhone-Variety Wines Tasted

Spring is my favorite season. The weather is lovely, neither too cool nor too warm. And baseball brings the crack of the bat, aromas of grass, leather and petrichor, along with World Series hopes for my beloved Oakland A’s.

MourvedreSpeaking of Petrichor, they and sixteen other wineries will be pouring fine Rhone variety wines this Sunday in Yountville from 2pm to 4pm](–10229367313). I wrote about last year’s tasting, which was excellent. With wineries such as Ridge Vineyards, Donelan Wines, Two Shepherds, Stark Wine, La Sirena, Cornerstone Cellars and—the list goes on—I’m sure Sunday will delightful too. For $20, the price of a single glass of wine at many restaurants, you can’t beat this Rhone Rangers North Coast Chapter Grand Tasting.

On February 8, there was another North Coast Chapter tasting at Campovida in Jack London Square. It was a fun event, set at the cool little tasting room in Oakland’s revitalizing waterfront warehouse district. The set of wineries was a little different than those that will be in Yountville, but there is a little overlap.

Some of my favorites from the Oakland tasting that you may also find this Sunday include the Highly Recommended:
2011 Stark Wine Viognier Damiano Vineyard Sierra Foothills
A very pretty Viognier, lightly floral with delicate stonefruit and a fine, powdery texture. It’s so good, I bought some bottles to use in my classes on the Sierra Foothills.

2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Floral with saline minerality and a yummy hint of of banana cream.

2011 Miner Family La Dilgence Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyards, Napa Valley
Full-bodied and finely-grained on the palate with aromas and flavors of marzipan, under-ripe nectarine and vanilla

2011 Arrowood Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley
White flowers, barely ripe peach and delicate spice with a full-bodied and fine-grained palate.

2009, 2010 & 2011 Cornerstone Cellars (Stepping Stone) Syrah, Napa Valley
An engaging trio that conveys the beauty and complexity of Syrah while also showing that vintage does make a difference in Napa Valley.

craneway 3
The new Craneway Pavillion is modern, spacious and offers killer views of San Francisco.

Sunday’s Yountville tasting is not the lone Rhone event this Spring though. Range over to Richmond—there are complimentary BART shuttles AND private ferry service—for the 17th Annual Rhone Rangers SF Bay Area Celebration of American Rhones on April 6.

The day starts at 10am with two consecutive seminars, both led by Luke Sykora of Wine & Spirits. A very fine wine writer, Luke is also eloquent in person and quite knowledgeable on California Rhone wines. I look forward to sitting in on both “The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste” and “Grenache, the Most Widely Planted Rhone Wine Grape in the World.”

The Grand Tasting begins at 3pm for General Admission, 1pm if you purchase a Sunday PassUse passcode PW-GT for $5 off the general admission price or PW-SUNPASS for $10 off on the Sunday Pass.

There will be nearly 100 wineries pouring at the Grand Tasting. The list includes some of the pioneers of California Rhone variety wines, such as Qupé, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Zaca Mesa and Ridge Vineyards. All of California’s important Rhone variety growing regions are represented. So is Southern Oregon which is of emerging importance. I hope to see you there!

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

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?


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.