The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2014

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34  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2014 2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignons E ach year the Rutherford Dust Society holds a blind tasting of the latest Rutherford AVA Cabernet Sauvignons for the wine press. I'm there every year because, in the interest of full disclosure, Rutherford grows my favorite Cabernet Sauvignon. There is sentimentality involved: My wine palate was originally honed, in the mid-'70s, on the taste of Beaulieu Private Reserves from the 1960s. In those days there really wasn't such a thing as a big, "opulent" Napa Valley Cabernet. Grapes were trellised under California sprawls, and harvest sugars rarely exceeded 23° Brix. 12.5% alcohol was the norm; anything near 14% considered freaky. The good, or bad, news about the 2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignons shown at this past July's "Day In the Dust" media tasting: It was a wet, cool, shortened vintage, producing wines lower in alcohol (by today's standards, closer to 14%), higher in acidity and milder in intensity. According to main- stream press, a "below-average" vintage. Or is it? I don't "rate" wines on intensity scales or point systems. Although my taste is, admittedly, old-fashioned, I thought the 2011 Rutherford's were the best I've tasted in years—make that decades. Anticipating that my opinion might conflict with fellow members of the press, I received permission to invite two sommeliers to crash this party. Christopher Sawyer, who has just recently left Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar, wrote afterwards: "Most of the wines were not typical. But for what was lost in ripe fruit flavors and the natural mocha or choco- late notes usually associated with 'Rutherford Dust' was made up for by more emphasis on acidity and better tannin management." I agree with Sawyer, but not quite 100 percent. I found increased mocha/chocolate qualities in the 2011s precisely because there was less overweening ripeness and dominant oakiness—at long last, some actual "Dust" in Rutherford Cabernets! Jorge Tinoco, of The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, tells me that his favorite 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was the Hunnicutt Beckstoffer George III, showing "blackberry, forest floor, mushroom, tea and cola/ cocoa powder." What he didn't like so much was the 2011 Quintessa— citing its "green grippy tannin, primary nose and high acidity." The Quintessa happened to be my number-one pick: I loved its acid edge, and herby yet lush sensations. If anything, according to Sawyer, "The bright red fruit flavors in the 2011s drift away from conventional pairings with beef, lamb and blue cheese." Sawyer suggests "creative cuisines," such as "tuna seared with ground espresso, chicken with savory spices or medium-bodied cheeses like Laura Chanel's truffled chèvre, which can handle higher acidity in wine." Not every sommelier will find the sharp, sinewy 2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignons to their liking; but I have the sneaking suspicion that many of them will. The winemakers and critics may beg to differ, but I wish every year was more like 2011! "WEAK" VINTAGE OR A SOMMELIER'S "DREAM"? story and photos by Randy Caparoso The Rutherford Dust Society's annual "Day in the Dust" tasting was held this year at Inglenook Estate. Christopher Sawyer, foreground, felt that the 2011 vintage was "not typical." Jorge Tinoco, of The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, takes notes at the tasting.

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