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NorCal Wine Blog

Spotlight on the Rutherford AVA

Rutherford AVA, established in 1993
Napa County

The Rutherford AVA in Napa Valley is sandwiched between the Oakville AVA to the south and the St. Helena AVA to the north. It stretches from the foothills of the Mayacamas mountains on the west to the foothills of the Vaca range on the east. Both of Napa Valley’s primary north-south roads, Hwy. 29 and Silverado Trail, pass through Rutherford and many excellent wineries are located on each. Don’t overlook the cross roads and spurs though, as there are some great places tucked away.

While Rutherford is home to many distinguished wines, especially those based on Cabernet Sauvignon, even experts sometimes find it hard to distinguish them from those of Oakville. Matt Kramer1 has said, “Collectively, is there a difference between Oakville and Rutherford? Not that I can tell.”

This is because, in part, both AVAs include benchland vineyards and valley floor vineyards. The corresponding differences in soil, temperature and sun exposure change the character of the wines and make it hard to pinpoint very specific characteristics for either AVA as a whole. In fact, the valley floor wines of each may be more similar to each other than to the benchland wines of their own AVA. One can make generalizations about slight temperature differences between the two appellations — Rutherford being slightly warmer — but, in reality, the boundary between them is simply a two-lane road. Those vineyards closest to the road are likely to be very similar. Fortunately, having one’s wine thought to be from Oakville is like being mistaken for George Clooney or Charlize Theron — most people would take it as a compliment.

”Rutherford Dust” is often referred to as the defining characteristic of the Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines from that AVA. However, it is probably more closely associated with the benchland vineyards than those from the valley floor. And, as Stephen Brook2 has pointed out, “so varied are the descriptions of this fruit character that it is hard to know what is meant by most of them.” Indeed, some scholarly books say the term refers to minerality while others say it is the character of the tannins. In any case, the line between the Oakville and Rutherford benches is a thin one and the winemaking styles and oak regimes of individual wineries can also make identification of very specific indicators of the terroir, dusty or otherwise, difficult.

So how does one characterize the wines of the Rutherford AVA? More than 70% of the acreage under vine is dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon, so it must be the primary grape by which the area is judged. These wines tend to be both substantial and balanced. There is rich fruit but also a lot of tannic structure. These tannins help give the wines long lives but also encourage a person to let the wines mature in bottle for at least a few years rather than drinking them immediately upon release. The flavors tend to be dark: black cassis, black cherry, black olive and earth along with notes of mint, dry herbs and whatever the barrels bring. The typical Rutherford wine is neither thin nor gooey, neither sweet nor dominated by mineral or animal notes. It is nearly full-bodied and ripe-fruited with savory notes and a silky mouthfeel, punctuated by dusty to grainy tannins. The finish can be extremely long.

Among the white wines, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc dominate. Some say that the area is too warm for Chardonnay. However, careful growers and producers are able to turn out very fine wines based on that grape. Forgoing malolactic fermentation is one way some keep the wines refreshing. The Sauvignon Blanc can be extremely good, balancing rich fruit with herbal notes and ample acidity. It is less easy, though, to see distinctions of Rutherford AVA terroir through the white wines than through the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Latitude: 38.45 degrees
Altitude: 100 ft. to 500 ft.
Climate: Warm summer days (peaks in the mid-90’s) with cooling breezes from the San Pablo Bay and morning fog in the lowlands
Annual Rainfall: 38 in.
Soils: well draining and moderately fertile in the west with sedimentary gravelly sand and alluvial, greater fertility and volcanic content in the east
Vineyard Acres: 3,518
Pests & Viticultural Risks: Glassy-Winged Sharpshooters and Pierce’s Disease; Phylloxera; frost or hard rain in the late Spring and early Fall

Primary Grape Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

A Selection of Significant Wineries
Alpha Omega
Beaulieu Vineyard
Caymus Vineyards
El Molino
Frog’s Leap Winery
Honig Vineyard & Winery
Lieff Wines
Martin Estate
Peju Province
Provenance Vineyards
Rubicon Estate
Staglin Family Vineyards
William Harrison Winery

Significant Vineyards
Beaulieu Vineyard
Beckstoffer Vineyards George III
Bella Oaks Vineyard
Bosché Vineyard
Rubicon, formerly Inglenook
Sycamore Vineyard

AVA organizations
Rutherford Appellation Wineries
Rutherford Dust Society

Auberge du Soleil
Rutherford Grill

Auberge du Soleil
Rancho Caymus

1 Kramer, Matt (2004). Matt Kramer's New California Wine. Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers
2 Brook, Stephen (1999) The Wines of California. London: Faber & Faber

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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 outour 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 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved

Avoiding Hometown Palate aka Throwing a Dinner Party

When Grand Prix motorcycle racers crash and go sliding down the track on their back, they have to be very careful when standing up. Their brain has become accustomed to the high speeds of racing and can trick them into believing that they have stopped moving while they are still sliding at 25 mph. If they tried to stand up at that speed, their boots could catch on the ground flipping them upright and then down, face first, into the pavement very hard. That would be a very painful lesson in the importance of a sound frame of reference.

Tasting wine is a low-speed activity and, as long as one doesn’t overindulge, risk of injury is extremely low. However, having a good and extensive frame of reference is still vital. There is great diversity in California’s grape varieties, terroir and winemaking styles. On the other hand, any Sauvignon Blanc wine from Napa Valley you might try is probably more similar to one from another quality growing area in California than it is to one from Marlborough or Sancerre. I make a concerted effort to taste a wide variety of wines from other parts of the world because those wines provide important points of reference for evaluating the qualities and value propositions for the wines of California. It is also rewarding from a personal standpoint because there are so many great and interesting wines made in other parts of the world.

Fitting “perspective” wines into my schedule can be difficult though. I don’t like to waste wine or money by opening something interesting for a quick sip and then dumping the rest, so there’s only so much I can taste by myself on a routine basis. The most enjoyable way to solve this problem is to throw big dinner parties for friends.

My wife and I did this just the other night. A great time was had by all and we tasted a lot of excellent wines. In preparing the menu, we didn’t obsess over wine pairings either. We just put out a lot of tasty, hearty food and opened wines that would stand up for themselves. It worked out just fine.

Nothing says “welcome” like sparkling wine, so we greeted our guests with Champagne:
NV Gosset Brut Excellence
(12% alc.)
Inexpensive for good Champagne at just $30, the Gosset is refreshingly crisp because it doesn’t go through malolactic fermentation. The freshness makes it an excellent palate cleanser and appropriate for a warm summer evening. It has enough depth of flavor to go well with lightly savory foods.

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé (12% alc.)
Rosé Champagnes are more expensive than their pale counterparts and the Billecart-Salmon, which is among my favorites, sells for around $70. The color is a very pretty salmon pink and the body and flavors are on the light side for rosés, gently crisp rather than creamy. It’s nice to sip its own but still has the heft to go with hors d’oeuvres. It’s excellent with mousse made from salmon or foie gras.

With hors d'oeuvres:
2000 Voyager Estate Semillon, Margaret River Australia
(14% alc.)
This is a wine I got at the winery and hand-carried back from Australia. It was less than $20 Australian at release, probably about $12 U.S. From one of the cooler regions in Australia, there’s always a fair amount of green on the nose and palate of this wine. But it’s an interesting and attractive green. When young, it’s grassy and tropically green. After ten years in my cool cellar it is still drinking very well. Some of the freshest fruit had subsided and an aroma of pine resin had emerged. This isn’t a shy wine and worked very well with the hummus, babaganoush, toasted pita and olives we had laid out for pre-dinner snacks, which is exactly why I’d opened it.

2005 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, Graves (13.5% alc.)
A Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend with evident yet not excessive oak treatment, this wine is drinking great right now and evolves quickly in the glass. To start, oak-derived flavors and matchstick were prevalent, but lovely white peach soon emerged. It was an interesting contrast to the Voyager Semillon which preceded it. People, such as myself, who complain about the price of California Sauvignon Blanc blends when they get over $30 or so should take note that this wine, a respected Bordeaux Blanc, goes for around $80.

This is a photo of the vineyard at Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte I took from my balcony when I stayed there a couple of years ago.

2000 Remoissenet Pére & Fils Puligny-Montrachet Les Combettes (14% alc.)
This was brought by a friend to whom we were all grateful; it’s an excellent wine. A white Burgundy with generous oak treatment, it had a lot of the flavors you’d expect from a California Chardonnay. It stopped well short of too thick, too oaky, too sweet or too anything though and wore the flavors like a silk gown. It was fleshy, but the richness was kept in shape by mouthwatering fruit. There was no sign of oxidation (which is sometimes an issue with white Burgundy of that period) and it seems like it still has some good years ahead of it.

For the main courses:
2003 Staglin Family Vineyard Sangiovese “Stagliano” Estate Vineyard Rutherford, Napa Valley
(14.8% alc.)
Well, I couldn’t avoid California entirely! I pulled this one out of the cellar because I thought it might go well with our dinner. One of the side dishes was a smoky tasting combination of cooked tomato and grilled eggplant. Sangiovese usually pairs well with rich tomato dishes and I didn’t have any Italian Sangiovese of a proper age. Perhaps that was fortunate, because everybody loved this wine. Some folks might have been concerned that, at seven years old, this wine would be past its prime. On the contrary, it was still extremely fresh with gorgeous plum, red fruit and a rich, silky mouthfeel. It went very well with both the tomato dish and the garlic- and dill-marinated, grilled leg of lamb. And it didn’t overwhelm the grilled chicken breast either.

1999 Veritas Winery Shiraz Mourvedre “Pressings, Binder’s Bull’s Blood” Barossa Valley, Australia (14% alc.)
This wine was a nice counterpoint to the Staglin. Whereas the Sangiovese was all about silky fruit, the Veritas was earth, leather and spiced meat. As the wine sat in our glasses fruit, including dried plum, emerged. It was also yet another good example of Shiraz from Australia that isn’t jammy and over-oaked. There have been loads of really good wines made there, and have been for decades, but they’ve been overshadowed in the public’s perception by the huge volume of cheap, sweet wines and a few low-volume but high-profile expensive wines that focus on maximum ripeness and extraction at the price of super high alcohol. Don’t throw out the baby with the Kool-Aid!

1996 Chateau Montrose, St. Estephe, Bordeaux (12.5% alc.)
I had a quartet of this wine and wanted to open one as they are just now supposed to be entering their prime drinking window. According to Robert Parker, that window should extend for at least 15 years, so I’ll leave the rest in the cellar and not even think of opening one until the next World Cup, or perhaps the one after that. [It’s totally drinkable now, I’d just like to see how it changes.] It is a very good wine that probably would have shown even more complexity given more than the quick splash in a decanter that I gave it. Aromas and flavors of earthy, smoky black plum and currant fruit were matched with powdery tannins that are fairly well integrated at this point. In one of his notes on this wine, Parker says that it’s 72% Cabernet Sauvignon but, due to the ripeness of that fruit, tastes as if the wine includes a lot more Merlot than it does. We hadn’t seen that note prior to the tasting and we all did, in fact, peg it as mostly Merlot.

1993 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Steiner Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County (12.1% alc)
Note the low alcohol! This wine was a stunner. The color was ruby with pink overtones and it was a bit cloudy. I suspect that it is unfiltered. There were loads of juicy strawberry on the nose and palate and enough other things going on to make it pretty interesting. You’d need a lot of willpower to swirl and sniff it over an extended period of time though. It just tastes too darned good and disappeared in a hurry. I’m really glad I’ve got another bottle or two in the cellar.

For dessert:
1969 Baixas D’Agly Rivesaltes Vin Doux Naturel
(17% alc.)
Another wine brought by a friend, this was dangerously good. A dessert wine that could have been made from any of about half-a-dozen different grapes but probably includes quite a bit of Grenache Noir, it tastes great and is far too easy to quaff for a wine with this much alcohol. It had a red-orange color and smells and tastes similar to Australian Rutherglen Tokay, though the Rivesaltes is much more restrained. I got stewed cherry, raisin, wood, cold tea and very complex spice. Though the wine is of the 1969 vintage, it will have been recently bottled, the wine quite possibly having been stored in big (20 gallon or more) glass jugs for decades. High sugar, alcohol and acidity mean that it will last for decades even now that it’s in bottle. But why wait? [I can't find a good link for this winery, but here's the wine at J.J. Buckley.]

NV R.L. Buller Rutherglen Tokay (18% alc.)
Since someone had mentioned that the Rivesaltes reminded them of Rutherglen Tokay, I just had to pull out one of those. The similarity is definitely there — especially the cold tea — though, as I mentioned above, the Rutherglen Tokay is much more concentrated. I also get a lot of sweet, stewed rhubarb and caramel that I didn’t get at all in the Rivesaltes. Rutherglen Tokay has nothing to do with the Tokay, more properly “Tokaji,” of Hungary. The Aussie wine is made with late-harvest Muscadelle grapes that are further dried, fortified early during fermentation to retain sugar levels, and then left to further concentrate in wood barrels for an extended period of time. The final product is a blend of wines from multiple vintages. It has a dark amber appearance with a slightly greenish rim and is almost like syrup. The sweetness of these wines is very, very high though it is prevented from being cloying by high acididty. That said, it’s still not a wine that you drink a lot of at one time or that would disappear as quickly as the Rivesaltes.

NV Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (18% alc.)
Of course once we started discussing Rutherglen Tokay, the topic of Rutherglen Muscat came up so I had to open one of those for comparison too. This particular example is from an older selection of vintages than the Buller Tokay and was therefore darker in color — nearly mahogany. While the two wines have similar levels of sugar and alcohol, the flavors and aromas are very different. Rutherglen Muscat is made from Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, often called Muscat Canelli or Muscat Frontignan in California. This grape is distinctive for the floral and sweet white grape aromas and flavors it gives to wine. These characters give the Rutherglen Muscat what some might consider a feminine bearing while the Rutherglen Tokay is masculine. Of the two specific wines we tried, the Yalumba is definitely the highest quality, though both are quite good (in small doses — they come in 375ml bottles and we have more than half of each left).

It was a fun and tasty dinner with excellent, wide-ranging conversation. Sometimes we even talked about the wine! My favorites from the evening were the non-sparkling French whites, the California reds and the Rivesaltes. I’m looking forward to the next time I need to recalibrate my frame of reference.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

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 outour 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 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved

Deal of the Day: Siduri's Moving Sale

This just in from Siduri... You need to sign up for their emails to take advantage of the deal. As always, NorCal Wine isn’t compensated in any way for making you aware of this.


The much anticipated (dreaded?) winery move is largely complete -- and we are just across the parking lot at 981 Airway Court, Suites E & F.  We've still got a lot of unpacking to do, but the big stuff has mostly all made it over and we are now doing tastings and conducting business out of our new winery!  And, despite the dread, it is a pretty fantastic facility which will give us the best opportunity to produce better wines than ever before!

Of course, in the moving process we found a few things - and we wanted to share some of them with you.  Here's what we discovered:

2008 Siduri Russian River Valley Pinot Noir                $30 per bottle
We came across 15.58 cases of one of our favorite 2008 Appellation Pinot Noirs.

2007 Novy Garys' Vineyard Syrah MAGNUMS & 2007 Novy Rosella's Vineyard Syrah MAGNUMS Regularly $74 per magnum --- Special Price on What's Left $69 per magnum
These two highly reviewed Syrahs are sold out (in the case of the Garys') or just about sold out (in the case of the Rosella's) - but we came across 28 mags of the Garys' and 19 magnums of the Rosella's.  94 points from Robert Parker on the Garys' and 92 points on the Rosella's.

2006 Novy Russian River Valley Syrah:
Regularly $27 per bottle --- Special Price on What's Left  $19.50 per bottle
We thought we were sold out of this wine -- 93 points in Wine Spectator - but found a row and a half - 22 cases - during the move.

The wines offered about are all very limited in supply and will undoubtedly sell out quickly!

Give us a call to get on the mailing list and place your order at 707-578-3882.

Also, as a reminder, we are holding most orders for cooler weather.  The only exception is within CA where, weather permitting, we are still shipping orders via GSO (Golden State Overnight).  Throughout the rest of the country we are holding your order until cooler weather arrives in the fall to protect the quality of your wine

Deals of the Day: Ceja and Eagle Eye

Here are deals I’ve come across in the last day or so that I thought might be of interest to you. NorCal Wine isn’t compensated in any way by the vendors involved.

Ceja Vineyards "World Cup Celebration"
Vineyards is offering 30% off all online purchases (3 bottles or more, 
regular size 750ml bottles) from now through the end of the World 
Cup on Sunday July 11th (sale ends at Midnight).

Order online at You can pick up the wine at their Downtown Tasting Room or have it shipped (shipping 
not included).

Eagle Eye
Eagle Eye is running a "Summer Sale" for their 2005 Truchard Vineyard Merlot, $16.00 per bottle (plus shipping) with a 6 bottle minimum. The regular price is $21.99.

The Merlot is from the Truchard Vineyard in Carneros. Eagle Eye’s Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon makes up 10% of the blend.


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 outour 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 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Deals of the Day: Meadowood and Donati Family

These are deals that I’ve come across in the last day or so which I thought may be of interest to you. NorCal Wine isn’t compensated in any way by the vendors involved.

Meadowood Napa Valley (St. Helena)
When you reserve a stay for July 2010, you’ll enjoy a complimentary American Classics breakfast for two each day during your stay and two sixty-minute spa treatments once during your stay. To qualify, you must make your reservations on


This offer may not be combined with other offerings, is not available to groups, is subject to availability and excludes July 16 and 17, 2010

[Note: Meadowood is a beautiful property with prices to match. Even if you can't afford to stay there, it's still worth seeing. You might try the award-winning restaurant, one of Napa's best. Or you could just go up to look around and get a tasty beverage or two in the bar. - Fred]

Donati Family Vineyard
July 1st through the 5th take advantage of our “Oh Say Can You Save” sale. Mix and match your case of whites for $100.00 Mix and match case of reds and whites for $180.00 (this includes Ezio and Tal Padre! 2006 vintages only).

Tempted, but worried about the shipping cost? We’ve got you covered there too! If you live in California or Nevada we’ll ship you at $5.00 a box! Only want 1 bottle? It’s going to be $5.00. Want 3 cases of wine? That will be a total of $15.00 for shipping.

Kathryn Teale
Phone: 877-511-9463 (toll free)
Phone: 805-238-0676 (local)
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

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 outour 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 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.