Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes


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Rutherford Dust Society Tasting Notes

Every year, the wineries of Napa's Rutherford appellation host a trade tasting to show off their recent releases. The Rutherford Dust Society tasting includes some of the more high-end wines in Napa, and offers a benchmark for each vintage of the valley's "Big Cabs." It's easy to get saturated by tannin and oak at these events, and most of the subtleties of these wines get lost amidst the crowding. But then some would argue that many of these wines aren't subtle. A generic profile of black cherries, tobacco, leather and chocolate becomes apparent throughout all of these Cabernets, so I personally tend to notice wines that show something different. Since many of these wines cost over $50, I also give special attention to wineries willing to charge less.

Rutherford Dust, July 2006

Overall, I felt that more of the wines this year stood out as excellent, with better balance between fruit, tannin, acidity and oak, fewer over-oaked wines, and almost no overpriced duds. My personal favorites included Staglin, Fountainhead, Quintessa and Martin Estate. A few of the wineries showed off a library Cabernet at its prime, such as Heitz's 1992 Trailside which impressed as usual.

An odd difference from previous year's Dust, the glasses provided by Rubicon Estate were taller, with straighter sides, and actually made it a bit harder to discern subtleties in the nose. I felt that my notes were not as detailed as before, perhaps for this or other reasons.

Beaulieu Vineyard

2002 BV Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 337
This Bordeaux clone often shows the more black-fruit and leather side of Cabernet, in true form here with nose of liquorice and tar, blueberry, and dark loam. Lingering tannins stay just short of overpowering the fruit.

2002 BV Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6
Leathery red cherry and cassis nose, with a palate completely overtaken by tannin. Scrape this one off your teeth with a putty knife and move on. Should be reserved for blending into something flabby to create some balance.

2002 BV Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 4
The opposite side of clone 6, with round, smooth velvety fruit, chocolate and an oily rich mouth feel. Big tannins don't overpower. This would blend well with Clone 6.

2003 BV Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford ($16 street price)
A soft floral nose like milk-chocolate covered rose petals, or perhaps a distant draft of Hershey's syrup. Light open red cherry palate without the fullness of the pricier wines in the room, and a soft herbal finish. Still a good value food wine for the price.

2003 BV Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour ($100)
This early release shows smoother tannins than years past, with chocolate and creme de cassis nose, rich layers of leather and liquorice, which should expose some dust and deeper layers over the next five years or so.

Conn Creek Cellars

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon , Hozhoni Vineyard ($45)
Always a strong performer for the price at the Dust tasting, this year Conn's Cab is still quiet in the glass, with subdued fragrances of balanced red fruit. On the palate this offers rich, balanced oily red cherry-berry with a smooth chocolatey ending. Not a big tough wine, more on the sensuous side.

El Molino

2003 Pinot Noir ($57)
A satisfying but expensive, spicy bright Pinot, with enough stuffing to hold its own in this context of Big Cabs. Flavors of rich earthy red cherry fruit, touches of strawberry, liquorice and duff, but in a framework of crisp acidity and fragrances hinting at sandalwood. Excellent.

2004 Chardonnay ($47)
Avoiding Malolactic to retain the crisp apple profile, this clean tasting Chard is nevertheless rich and nutty, with warm butterscotch tones from 50% new French oak. Good but expensive compared to other Chardonnays with similar character.

Elyse Winery

Elyse made some of the more balanced and food-friendly wines of this year's tasting. A lighter and more elegant style than many others in the appellation, I liked the clean spicy quality that ran through these wines.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Tietjen Vineyard ($65)
Spicy and fresh, with a nose of bright cherry and black pepper. Hint of brambly berries fill the mouth. Pair with a rare pepper steak.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard ($65)
Showing more chocolate and liquorice than the Tietjen, with rich dark fruit and a burlwood finish dusted in cinnamon oak. A more masculine profile.

2004 Zinfandel Morisoli Vineyard ($37)
Brightly flavored strawberry covered in dry chocolate and black pepper, with a crush of some brambly leaves. Fat rounded chocolatey palate with a spicy tannic finish. A big yummy beast.

2004 Petite Sirah Wood Vineyard, Rutherford ($37)
Sweet oak profile shows a bit of a heavy hand, with nose of smoke and caramel, butterscotch, with a rich dark toasted quality around strawberry fruit. The tannins overtake the palate almost immediately, but the ripe fruit is so full as to put these huge flavors in balance, like boulders on a seesaw. A standout wine today for its hugeness and fair price, perhaps a bit over-oaked.

Fleury Winery

2004 Merlot Rutherford Estate
intense brambly blackberries with chocolate and other red berries. Black pepper and big tannins fill the palate

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Estate
Warm and spicy with black pepper, soft and smooth on the palate at first, but then the tannins start to grow toward the back of the mouth and get almost overpowering in the end.

Fountainhead Cellars

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)
Lighter than the '04 barrel sample below, showing elegance and refinement. Peppery nose hints at a more tannic profile than it shows on the palate, as a floral (violet) quality with strawberry/raspberry fruit rounds out the fragrances. A richly textured mouth feel finishes smoothly. Very inviting. Good value in context with this tasting.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli-Borges Vineyard ($45)
This barrel sample shows riper heavier character than the '03, chocolate and tar with sweet cherry-cassis liquer filling the nose and mouth, and a rich milk chocolate finish.

Frank Family Vineyards

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Reserve ($70)
Pointed aromas of black liquorice and mint within red cherry/cassis, gravel dust and oceanic smells. A salty mineral sensation accompanies red and black fruit in the palate, along with more austere leathery dusty tannins, which increase toward the back of the mouth.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Reserve ($70)
Differing from the 2001 with more blackberry fruit, peppery spice and somewhat astringent tannins that impart a coarse texture in the mouth, almost like cork taint but without the chlorine smells.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Reserve ($70)
Tannins are more in control than the '02, with nose of strawberry, pepper and dust, a fruity blackberry and chocolate palate. Should develop nicely over time.

Freemark Abbey Winery

1991 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Estate, Rutherford
Showing more effects from age than the '92 Heitz Trailside described below, this has a delicate dusty nose, oily tones of wet tarmac and Red-Vines liquorice, with some asparagus and mustiness. Smooth and open palate, with just a hint of stuffing left.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Estate, Rutherford
Austere smells of a dusty street in the rain, a library with pipe smoke and old books. Smooth leathery tannins. In fact, quite a bit like a younger version of the '91 described above.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Sycamore Vineyard, Rutherford
Smooth and rich, with ripe fruit showing chocolate, black cherry, cassis, with a light round oily mouth feel, lingering with winter spices, milk chocolate and creme de cassis.

Heitz Wine Cellars

1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside
Every year at Dust, Heitz pulls out a library vintage of its Trailside Cabernet, which has managed to impress me every time. Elegant and round, showing beautiful effects of age, with a bouquet of creme de cassis, smooth chocolatey mint and barely any hint of the menthol that Heitz is famous for in its Martha's Vineyard Cabernet. Oily and smooth in the mouth, with some tannins still quite noticeable at the back of the palate.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside
The young version of Trailside shows plum and black cherry with a big ball of ripe black fruit on the tongue and lingering toasty tannins.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Oaks
Nose of bright red fruit, cinnamon red-hots candy, a hint of liquorice. Smelling a bit hot (14.3% alcohol isn't unusual for Napa, but it's showing more here.) Light bright finish with good acidity, and lingering tannins which hide well under the clean fruit.

JRE Wines

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford ($65)
Fruit-forward and supple, with nose of strawberry, cassis and red cherry. Low tannins in the mouth with a round juicy mid-palate and soft finish.

Long Meadow Ranch Winery

2005 Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford
A standout among the Sauvignon Blancs featured in the center of the room at the tasting, with an especially fragrant tropical nose. Floral character with predominance of li-chi and a bit of chalk, lighter on the palate with lemon grass flavors and a smooth bright finish. Well made.

Martin Estate

I featured Martin Estate in my Dust notes last year because their wines stood out boldly from the standard Rutherford profile. These are unique and intense wines, well-made and with loads of personality, a bit more rustic than their neighbors.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Estate ($65)
An earthy nose with black clay, leather, blueberries and rust, graphite, black pepper, a bit of bell pepper. On the palate shows muscular black fruit: blackberry, brambles and tar. As before, I would need a lot more time with this wine to fully describe its layers.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Reserve ($100)
As it was for the '01 vintage, similar in profile to the Estate but with more generous fruit flavors and more mouth-filling texture, more chocolate. Cassis liquer qualities enriching the flavors, slightly more woody lingering tannins which I expect will fall into good balance after a few years.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Estate barrel tasting
Following well in the footsteps of the '02, but with more of a red berry and cassis profile. Should be very good.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Reserve barrel tasting
Blackberry, chocolate, black liquorice, earthy tar fragrances. Surprisingly smooth and chocolatey in the mouth, with a creamy fullness and tannins well hidden within the fruit. Becoming an inviting and warm "big cab" with loads of complexity.

Piña Napa Valley

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain
A strong rich wine with a hint of eucalyptus in the nose, dark fruit flavors and strong minty tannins.

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (barrel sample)
Already smooth at this early state, showing rounded black cherry fruit and a spicy finish. Hopefully maturty will introduce some more dimensions.

Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge Winery

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
Pine Ridge typically makes wines with a lighter style than its neighbors, approachable and easy on the palate. This Cab has light ruby color, smooth chocolate and cassis in the nose, with a palate rich in liquer-like fruit, almost a blend of creme de cassis and... Cointreau, with that distant hint of orange peel? Sweet oak profile of caramel and vanilla lingers toward the end.

Provenance Vineyards

After a series of corporate mergers, Provenance now falls under the umbrella of Diageo, a very large multinational beverage company. I wonder if corporate accounting will affect the quality of these wines, which I have often mentioned as among the better values in Rutherford. I recently found '03 Provenance Cabernet selling at Costco for only $24, a bargain, and a probable result of these mergers.

2005 Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford Estate ($18)
A trace of Semillon imparts some spicy undercurrents to this bright and clean profile of granny smith apples, grass and pineapple. Clean finish with a subtle nutmeg-like warmth.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford ($40 retail, $24 Costco)
Protoypical Rutherford Cabernet, with bright cherry fruit fragrances, some woody, brambly raspberries, creme de cassis, cinnamon oak. Light and crisp on the palate with a flavor combination like cherry cobbler - black cherries, butter, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla. Smooth finish, not big but balanced, if a little bit loamy.


Although Quintessa has been part of a large multinational company for a while, and their wines hover in the $100 range, every year they stand out among the best at Rutherford Dust. These big reds always impress. This year I was happy to see them show a library sample:

1995 Red Meritage ($100)
A complex floral nose reminiscent of star jasmine and gardenias, with creamy cherry and cassis fruit still clean and bright. An oily mouth feel with rich black cherry and liquorice, rounded and supported by very smooth tannins. Excellent balance.

2003 Red Meritage ($100)
Generous and deep, with rich creme de cassis, chocolate, vanilla and warm spicy fragrances, like sandalwood; similar ripe warm full flavors. This wine fills every corner of the mouth with its depth and richness. A treat.

Raymond Vineyard & Cellar

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford ($40)
Almost a textbook profile of Rutherford Cab: black cherry, liquorice, leather and mineral dust, finishing in gravelly tannins and spicy oak.

Round Pond

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford ($50)
Another pure Rutherford profile: black cherry, cassis, pepper, liquorice. Centered mid-palate with peppered strawberries and chocolate, cocoa tannins.

Rubicon Estate

I don't really like the new vibe at Neibaum-Coppola. It's starting to feel like a Disneyland "Wine Country Adventure" ride mixed in with the Village from "The Prisoner." Attendants sell tickets in kiosks and offer informational maps and brochures. They changed their name to Rubicon in order to highlight the high end wines, while the Coppola label remains for the mass produced table wines. Many of their wines are very good, especially the flagship Rubicon Meritage, but others are flabbby. I guess it's just not my scene. Anyway, while waiting for Rutherford Dust to start upstairs, I spent a moment tasting the new line of Rubicon wines downstairs in the public tasting room. Not bad...

2005 Sauvignon Blanc Captain's Reserve ($19)
Sweet tropical overtones in the nose, pineapple, li-chi and straw. The palate starts out with a bitter twist then smooths out into a tropical buttery texture.

2004 Chardonnay Captain's Reserve ($25)
Classic Chardonnay profile of apple and hazlenuts, a hint of butterscotch but thankfully not overoaked, with good crisp acidity, lemons and nuts, buttery finish.

2003 Zinfandel Captain's Reserve ($28)
Spicy strawberry liquer with white pepper nose, bright peppery red-fruit palate with lingering tannins and the slightly bitter twist on the finish typical of Zin.

2004 Merlot Captain's Reserve ($36)
Brambly blackberry and plum fruit with chocolate and earthy black pepper. Slightly cooked flavors on the finish.

2004 Pinot Noir Captain's Reserve ($42)
Rich chocolate and black cherry nose with some spicy sweetness from the oak (cinnamon, nutmeg.) Clear acidity on the palate with blackberry brambles and bright spices with a chewy finish. Surprisingly dense for a Pinot.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Captain's Reserve ($45)
Rich oakey nose with creme de cassis, and a sweet oily quality reminiscent of cooked jam. A bit woody in the mouth with ripe dark fruit and smooth lingering tannins in the finish.

2002 Rubicon (Meritage) ($110)
Intense nose of blackberry, blueberry and cassis, black pepper and dark chocolate, liquorice and tar. Balanced and open on the mid-palate, chocolatey rich dark fruit with well controlled tannins creating a rounded lingering smooth finish. Supple, ripe and well-crafted.

Garen Staglin

Staglin Family Vineyard

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Estate ($135)
Lovely rich fruit nose, with tones of black cherry and creme de cassis, caramel, bubblegum, christmas spices and rose petals. The palate has the smooth texture of creme de cassis liquer, with layers of spicy ripe fruit, mellow tannins totally in balance with the sweet oak. This is a sensual wine, one of the most approachable, mouth filling, and immediately appealing of the tasting (also one of the most expensive.)

2003 Salus Cabernet Sauvignon ($65)
Staglin's second label, still among my favorites in the room, with a brighter profile than the flagship, plummy fruit with more mineral chalk in the nose, more peppery, showing earthy depth and elegance.

William Harrison

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45)
Red berry fruit and woodshop smells rise up into the nose, with leather and ash-tray. Rather austere and tannic in the mouth, with a spicy finish tinted with tobacco, leather and smokey oak.

2003 Rutherford Red ($60)
More tar and liquorice than the Cabernet, with much smoother more velvety tannins, black fruit and liquorice flavors. Excellent, but apparently $15 more expensive than last year, which had been one of my favorite Bordeaux style blends of the day.

2003 Cabernet Franc ($40)
Spicy nose with violets, black pepper. Rich red fruit palate, ending in rose hips and slightly bitter tannins.

Zahtila Vineyards

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer Vineyard ($48)
Seems a bit smoother with less herbal complexity than last year's release (2002 vintage). Based on Clone 6 grapes, this Cab lands in pure Rutherford profile, on the rich and oily side of the spectrum, with chocolate, cassis, black cherry, cinnamon spice and a round finish with oaky sweetness. Pleasant and approachable.

Rutherford Dust, July 2005

Extremely hot weather had everyone feeling somewhat melted in the Niebaum Coppola tasting room. This may have affected some of the wines, but overall quality was high. My favorite wines this year included Martin Estate's Cabernet and Reserve Cabernet ($60, $100), Quintessa ($100), and William Harrison's Rutherford Red Blend ($45), with kudos to Provenance for charging only $35 for their excellent Cabernet. Heitz Cellars also impressed me with their library sample of 1989 Trailside Cabernet. Here are my notes:


Beaulieu Vineyard

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($18)
Bright and light on the palate, with red cherries, strawberries and a characteristic dusty nose.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour (tasted 7/05) ($100)
Much softer and smoother than the Latour vintages from the late '90s. This wine used to show intense steely blueberry fruit and black olive acidity, but 2002 vintage has more chocolate and anise, with warm black cherry fruit. I would not expect this to age as well as the tighter style, but it's certainly pleasing right now. Not for the price, though.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 4 (tasted 7/05)
Here's the tight black olive fruit of the old Latour, leathery and rusty. I find this more interesting.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 (tasted 7/05)
Soft, round and herbal, black cherry and cassis fruit with a hint of Band-aid in the nose.


Bell Wine Cellars

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Clone 6 (tasted 7/05) ($40)
Slightly vegetal nose, with Cabernet profile of roasted sweet peppers and pencil shavings alongside dark cherry fruit. Not a standout.


Conn Creek Winery

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Hozoni Vineyard (tasted 7/05) ($50)
One of my favorites at the tasting, with a complex nose of blueberries and rust, rose petal perfume and a touch of iodine. Balanced palate exposes dark toasted oak, bright oily cherry fruit and black liquorice, with well integrated tannins.


El Molino Winery

2003 Chardonnay Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($40)
An excellent non-malolactic Chardonnay that avoids the soft buttery style that I personally find a bit cloying. This shows crisp sweet apples and dust in the nose with a palate showing hazlenuts and ripe meyer lemon.

2002 Pinot Noir Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
An unusual and complex Pinot, with nose of strawberry and sandlewood, palate showing tropical flavors of li chi and berry fruit, at once bright and deep, with a finish dominated by new French oak.


Elyse Winery

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Tietjen Vineyard (tasted 7/05) ($60)
Earthy nose with rust, salt, blueberry, trout skin. Palate full of oily bright red fruit with hints of strawberry.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard (tasted 7/05) ($60)
Softer than the 2002, more earthy, with gravelly minerality, tar and some rich loamy mushroom qualities.


Fleury Estate WInery

2003 Merlot Fleury Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Sweet cherries and rose petals in the nose, soft chocolate-cherry palate with some herbal character. Round and supple in the mouth with a smooth finish.


Flora Springs Winery and Vineyard

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($100)
A big supple wine with dry cocoa, black cherries and cassis on the nose with fresh herbal grassy characteristics. It fills the mouth with rich chocolate and coffee qualities and finishes rather smooth. Very polished but overpriced.

2002 Cabernet Trilogy Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Mild nose, still closed at the time of tasting. Palate shows bright spicy red cherry fruit, leather, crisp acid backbone and a tart finish with Christmas spices. Needs a few years to wake up.


Fountainhead Cellars

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli-Borges Vineyard Rutherford (tasted 7/05)($45)
An excellent wine, especially attractive at around half the price of other wines at this tasting. Interesting nose of dry tobacco, cigarette smoke, dark oily cherries and Belgian chocolate. Round mouth feel with a slightly minty finish. Excellent.


Frank Family Vineyards

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Reserve (tasted 7/05) ($65)
A tough and rather tannic wine that will probably age quite well for a decade. Bright red cherries with black pepper and saddle leather with a light chocolate-cherry palate, some tobacco.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford reserve (tasted 7/05) ($65)
Similar to 2001 but with more chocolate profile to the fruit.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Winston Hill Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Restrained and tight, still young, but with a smooth ripe mouth feel. Slightly bitter strong tannins linger in the finish. Needs a few more years to find its center.


Freemark Abbey Winery

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosche Vineyard Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Green pepper dominates the nose followed by blueberry, cassis, black pepper, brambles and cinnamon from oak. Complex and good for those who like green pepper in their cabernet.


Frog's Leap
I have often liked Frog Leap's wine for its good value, and I respect them for their honest practices and pursuit of organic grape farming. They buy some of their fruit from the Del Bondio family, who speak highly of Frog's Leap as a business partner. At this particular tasting, I was a bit surprised to learn that their Rutherford Cabernet costs about the same as others in the room (they used to keep their prices lower) and while I like it, I didn't think it stood out at this price point. Good folks nevertheless.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($65)
Within characteristic black cherry fruit, layers of leather, black pepper, minerals and dust join with a hint of Band-aid.



2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Kathryn Hall Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Deep ripe cherries, chocolate and Christmas spices surrounded by tough grainy tannins that take over in the finish. Hopefully the tannins will soften in a few years, but this tastes very tough at this young age.


Heitz Wine Cellar

Famous for the eucalyptus tones in their Martha's Vineyard Cabernet, Heitz remains one of the old-guard leaders for quality Napa wines. This year they showed their confidence by opening some 1989 Trailside Cabernet, which pleased the palate after a roomful of young upstarts.

1989 Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside (tasted 7/05)
Madeira oxidation in the nose with related toasted almond nuttiness. Deep warm earthy cherries coat the palate with good viscosity and an old wine minerality. Veering away from the graphite profiles of a tougher old Cabernet, this shows rich oily character with clear remnants of supporting acidity.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside (tasted 7/05)
Light fresh nose with red cherry, limestone and iodine, showing warm chocolate on the palate. Still fresh and young at five years.

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Oaks (tasted 7/05)
Dusty cherry nose with wet road tar, artichoke, mint. Showing some age.

2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Bella Oaks (tasted 7/05)
Oily smooth black cherries, pepper, menthol, bay leaves, perhaps some of that eucalyptus profile that one expects from Heitz?


Hewitt Vineyard

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($75)
An excellent, complex, musky wine with smells of deep fruit, earthy loam, rust and sweat. Liquorice and soft chocolate on the palate with lingering cocoa tannins.


(Greg & Petra Martin)

Martin Estate

I was so impressed with these wines that I called the Martin family after the tasting to arrange another meeting. Although I often sort my wine impressions by price, the Martin Estate wines jumped out at this tasting in a way that made price irrelevant. Not cheap by any mark, but not the most expensive either, Martin's wines have the type of complexity that makes me take special notice. These wines show pure Cabernet profile of blueberry-cassis, graphite, green pepper, oregano, tar and more, with an immediate appeal supported by the kind of structure that will help them mature for a long time. Regardless of price, these are beautiful wines.

Greg and Petra Martin bought the building that housed one of the oldest wineries in Napa's history, a lovely stone mansion dated 1887, built by Henry Harris and later used by George de Latour for some of the first Beaulieu vintages. The Martins refurbished the old building in 1996, returning it to its original intention as a winery.

Greg Martin grew up in Morgan Hill, south of San Jose. His parents owned a restaurant near the main road, plus a prune and walnut orchard in the hills. Since he was 14 years old, Martin started making wine from grapes growing along the border of his parents' orchard, teaching himself winemaking from scratch. Later he built a career as an antique auctioneer, and followed his calling into Napa.

2001 Martin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($60)
Tasted next to the Martin Reserve Cabernet, this has a similar profile with slightly softer structure and more of a black olive mouth-feel. Otherwise, refer to the notes for the Reserve, but imagine a lighter, more grainy texture. Excellent and well structured.

2001 Martin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($100)
Immensely complex wine that opens up into layers of flavor as it breathes. Nose of blueberry, rust, oregano, earthy tarmac; changing into graphite, a bit of green pepper, a hint menthol - bay leaf or dusty eucalyptus, saddle leather, dried tobacco, liquorice, coffee, dry haystacks, alongside the more obvious black cherry, with caramel and cinnamon oak. The palate unfolds over time with blackberry fruit, bittersweet chocolate, mint, and a lingering subtle bitterness that resolves into soft coating tannins. Over time it opens up to add green pepper and pencil shavings, with reminders of blackberry jam that protrudes after the other flavors have passed. A beautiful wine. (14.8% alc.)



2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Vineyard Clone 6 (tasted 7/05)
Almost dead center in the profile of a textbook Napa Cabernet. That's both good and bad. It's a really good wine, with no flaws and generous complex fruit; but it has few characteristics that actually call attention to it. Bright red/black cherry fruit, cassis, liquorice, tar, black olives, with a finish of gravelly tannin and cinnamon red-hots from a big dose of new French cooperage.


Neal Family Vineyard

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Soft and slightly vegetal, with good chocolate and spice character. Something's wrong here though. Either this bottle has gotten cooked or it's a soft and flabby wine.


Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery

I have been hard on Coppola in the past for charging too much for soft drab wines. They make their reputation on Rubicon, wich had better be good for $100. This year it was very good. A hundred bucks good? Well, at least it stood out from the middle of the pack, but I still think it's overpriced.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Rubicon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($100)
Oily black fruit, tar, peppery Greek oregano, black liquorice. I expect this will age into a dark earthy intense wine. Has few of the green-pepper nor graphite characters of Cabernet, showing mostly the tight but ripe tarry profile of big black fruit.

2002 R.C. Reserve Syrah Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($65)
Salty spicy black fruit with an echo of smoked fish skin. A big sulking dark wine, with smooth tannins considering it's Syrah.

2003 Edizione Pennino Zinfandel Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($40)
A lovely, austere but fruity dark Zin, with black pepper, dust, blackberry jam and chocolate. The tannins show good balance with the fruit. Pretty darned expensive for a Zin, but one of the better Zinfandels out there, showing rare balance.



2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Barrel tasting showing bright cherry, Red-vines liquorice, chocolate, pepper, and Sweet-tarts candy sharpness. Could turn into something interesting.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain (tasted 7/05)
(Not a Ruthorford appellation, they sneaked this one under the table.) Showing characteristic traces of eucalyptus common on Howell Mountain, with bright chocolate, cherry spice, black pepper and minerals. Might be a better wine than their Rutherford.


Pine Ridge

I have tasted through a few of Pine Ridge vintages, and generally find that they make light and balanced wine. They didn't stand out at this tasting among the big guns, but I still like their wines.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Creamy, light and smooth, with strawberry-raspberry overtones in the fruit, hints of sweet rose petals, liquorice and chocolate. Not big in the mouth, but finishing clean and light. A refreshing break from the big tannic Napa Cabs.


Provenance Vineyards

Recently purchased by the Chalone group, Provenance showed one of the best value wines at this year's Rutherford Dust. Not the best wine at the tasting, but full-bodied, solid and without flaws. I liked it as much as many of those costing twice as much.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($35)
Woody cherries, black liquorice, white pepper, salty ocean breeze and limestone. Cherry-cassis fruit, basic Napa profile, fresh but full-bodied, with slightly granular tannins and cinnamon oak finish.



2002 Red Meritage Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($100)
An absolutely satisfying wine, full-on flavor from start to finish. After hours of careful spitting during the tasting, this was the wine I returned to for actual sipping. Deep black fruit with smooth chocolate mouth-feel, complex and earthy with rich liqueur-like flavors resembling creme de cassis and kahlua, perhaps a touch alcoholic, with giant but well-integrated chalky tannins in the finish.


Raymond Vineyard & Cellars

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($50)
Somewhat predictable Napa profile, a good wine that didn't stand out in a roomful of giants. Cherry/cassis fruit, coffee, leather, with a touch of Band-aid in the nose and drying tannins at the end.


Rutherford Grove Winery

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($40)
A slightly odd wine in this context, with a bright nose showing red cherries, menthol and tar. The oily mouth feel shows good acidity, with minty bright red fruit.


Sawyer Cellars

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($46)
A very good wine - I marked a star by their name while taking notes. Nose shows Creme de Cassis, red and black liquorice. The rich, deep earthy palate offers chocolate and sweet spices with a warm cinnamon finish. By using only the free-run juice and leaving the pressed portion for other purposes, Sawyer has built a rich and smooth wine with softer tannins than many.

2001 Red Meritage Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Warm ripe cherry fruit with brighter acidity than the Cabernet, with balanced oak treatment and smooth tannins. Still young and slightly simple.


Sequoia Grove Winery

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($60)
On the smooth and chocolatey side of the spectrum, with some alcoholic heat and liqueur-like fruit. Rounded nose with blueberry, coffee, chocolate and tar. The rich, rounded palate shows Kahlua and smooth cassis, with hefty lingering tannins.


Slaughterhouse Cellars

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($60)
Bright cherry fruit, leather and pencil shavings, with dusty tannins. A tight wine with a mineral profile.

2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($60)
Fruit shows more of a raspberry quality alongside the cherry, with pepper and pencils.


St. Clement

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Star Vineyard Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($80)
A hint of Brett in the nose adds a softening touch of wet hay to warm rusty blueberry smells, tar and black cherries. The palate is soft and rich, with black liquorice overtones and mouth-filling fruit, with a minty finish and supple tannins.


Staglin Family Vineyard

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
A deeply layered wine with fragrances directed both towards the bright and dark sides of the spectrum. The nose offers ripe fruit profiles of blueberry, liquorice, coffee and cream, but also a sweet-tart quality that resembles sour grape candy (concord grapes.) The flavors are deep and spicy, with leather, mint, tobacco, and a rusty finish, then resolving toward the trinity of coffee, chocolate and liquorice.


Sullivan Vineyards

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($55)
Nose of bright red/black cherry fruit, anise and cassis. The palate shows black oily qualities with lingering chocolate.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($100)
Musky black cherries, more earthy than the Estate Cabernet, with a clean open palate and strong lingering tannins.

2002 Meritage Couer de Vigne Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($90)
A generous and detailed wine, with deliniated and balanced flavors. Spicy red fruit fills both the nose and palate with full ripe character, chocolate, cinnamon and mellow tannins.


Tres Sabores Vineyard

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Perspective Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Red berry fruit - strawberry or raspberry - with a big jammy palate that one could almost mistake for a Zinfandel, which is a bit ironic considering that most of their other wines were Zinfandel. After a double-take, I confirmed that this was indeed Cabernet.


Trinchero Family Estates

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Chicken Ranch Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($27.50)
One of the lowest priced wines at this tasting, and certainly not the worst. Nose shows strawberry fruit, coffee & cream, with a big black cherry palate and a trace of lingering bitterness within the tannin structure.

2002 Merlot Chicken Ranch Rutherford (tasted 7/05)
Not complex but yummy, with rose petals, pepper and cherries in the nose and deep earthy cherry fruit on the palate.


William Harrison Winery

2002 Cabernet Franc Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($35)
Light floral nose, a good expression of the aromatic qualities of Cab Franc. Smooth and light on the palate, with an oily tar quality and hint of strawberry.

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($39)
Coffee and chocolate, big ripe black fruit, a finish that almost feels slightly sweet. Seductive.

2002 Rutherford Red Estate Rutherford (tasted 7/05) ($45)
One of my favorite Bordeaux style blends at the tasting, with complex layers of herbal smells and rich ripe fruit. Nose shows a trace of Bretty wet grasses, iodine, coffee, leather. Rich and round in the mouth with dark cassis fruit, leather, tobacco, mocha and big lingering tannins.


Witt Estate

2002 Merlot Repartie (tasted 7/05)
A big smooth Merlot with port-like overtones, nose of rose petals and chocolate. Palate shows oily ripe fruit with sweet cherry juice, coffee, and good tannic structure, perhaps a fraction of residual sugar?


Zahtila Vineyards

2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer, Georges III (tasted 7/05) ($48)
Bright spicy nose with black cherry and traces of oregano, tar-weed or menthol. Deep earthy coffee and cola palate, round and rich.


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