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Eating Rutherford Dust

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					Eating Rutherford‟s Dust
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
By Scott W Clemens

When the Rutherford Dust Society was formed in 1994, it was with the thought that the
Rutherford appellation brought with it that ineffable sense of place. Legendary Beaulieu
winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff coined the term to describe the unique expression of
Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the district.

Unfortunately, the society‟s annual tasting held this year at Rubicon Estate, merely
reinforced my belief that the over-ripe style of winemaking entirely masks a sense of
place. Power and spectacle are valued more highly than elegance and nuance. We tasted
27 wines from the 2005 vintage, of which only two were under 14% alcohol, three were
over 15%, and the average was 14.7%. They were, almost without exception, big, dense,
jammy wines — “fruit bombs” that could just as well have been from Australia or Chile.
They were aromatic and powerful, in the mold of rum and Coca Cola. They were also
expensive, ranging in price from a low of $30 to a high of $225. The average was $84,
with 8 over $100 a bottle. I don‟t know about you, but a wine has to be extraordinary
before I‟ll shell out $84 a bottle. Most of these were small-production Cabernets; only
Beaulieu, Provenance, and Quintessa produced more than 5,000 cases.

I gave only three wines 90 points:

• Frog‟s Leap, $75, an absolutely lovely wine in all respects, with an expansive cherry
nose, sweet ripe fruit on the palate, substantial though soft tannins, and subtle vanilla and
milk chocolate notes rising on the finish. It‟s good now and promises long development.
And it‟s only 13.8% alcohol, so you can enjoy more than a glass or two.

• Freemark Abbey Winery, Cabernet Bosché, $75, is a Cabernet with elegance and
restraint, showing cherry, vanilla, subtle soil notes and lovely sweet spice notes rising
through the lingering finish. This is mature winemaking. 14.1% alcohol.

• Provenance Vineyards, $45, was the only high alcohol wine to which I gave high
marks, because of all the insanely ripe table wines in this tasting, it came closest to being
balanced. This wine is all about the texture, and it has layers of complexity with its green
olive, pepper, coffee and mocha notes over vibrant blackberry fruit. As good as it is, at
14.9% alcohol, I‟ll only be able to enjoy one glass without regrets.

A complete listing of the wines tasted appears with scores but without comment at the
end of this article.

Vineyardist Andy Beckstoffer gave a speech which shocked me with its audacity.
Speaking as President of the Society (which is made up of 42 wineries and 43 growers),
he said that global warming should actually help, because the night time temperatures
would rise, giving more flavor development, so the wines could be picked earlier, at
lower sugars, and would thus be lower in alcohol. This was spin-doctoring at its best. I
cornered him after the tasting and called to his attention that for 30 years all of the
premium wine regions in the world have emphasized that cool night time temperatures
are essential to making fine wine, as it helps the grapes retain acidity. Well, yes, he
agreed, that was true, and then did some back pedaling — it seems there‟s a narrow band
of over 40 degrees, but under 45 degrees that would actually be of benefit. Theoretically
speaking.

SOUR GRAPES
In our subsequent conversation, when I questioned why winemakers persist in making
these alcoholic monsters, he said, “Well, they get the points.” I pointed out that I didn‟t
give them high scores, and a host of other writers at the tasting didn‟t give them high
scores. They‟re not making these wines for me, so whom are they making them for? It
was a rhetorical question: the answer was, of course, Robert Parker. “I have winemakers
tell me all the time they don‟t want to make these kinds of wines, but they have to if
they‟re going to get high scores from Parker. High-rollers come into the winery and say „I
only want to taste wines over 92 points,‟ and they buy ten cases.” I suggested the
winemakers hire a hit man and get on with the task of making the best wine they can, or
as an alternative, band together to discredit Parker.

Everyone seems to know the scores. They appear as “shelf talkers” in your local wine
shop. The Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are sometimes credited as well. My
arguments for giving wines point scores have been noted elsewhere (see What the
Ratings Mean). I think a point system is useful. However, they reflect only one critic‟s
view. Few people actually read Parker‟s newsletter, but they still look for Parker points
on “shelf-talkers.” I don‟t agree with his taste — I‟d rather know what Hugh Johnson
thinks. So why do winemakers do somersaults to please him? The answer is because
there are those people with more money than sense or taste, who cannot be bothered to
appreciate a wine‟s nuances, and they love Parker‟s penchant for jammy wines. They
simply want the biggest, the boldest, the highest scoring, and they‟re willing to pay big
bucks for it. That‟s why wineries in Rutherford can justify such enormous prices. It is a
business, after all. It‟s why their wineries now look like palaces, and why Napa Valley
has developed the orchestrated air of a theme park.

Other 2005 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignons Tasted and Rated
Raymond Vineyards, 88 points, $55
Trinchero Family Estates, Chicken Ranch Vineyard, 87 points, $30
Rutherford Grove, Estate, 84 points, $45
Piña, Firehouse Vineyard, 83 points, $78
Frank Family, Reserve, 88 points, $85
William Harrison Winery, Rutherford Red, 86 points, $80
Quintessa, 87 points, $135
Pedemonte Cellars, 88 points, $50
Round Pond Estate, 83 points, $60
Honig Vineyard & Winery, Mitchell Vineyard, 80 points, $75
Zahtila Vineyards, Vineyard Georges III, 80 points, $65
Sullivan Vineyards, Reserve, 83 points, $100
Sawyer Cellars, 88 points, $48
Peju Province, Estate Rutherford Reserve, HB Vineyard, 86 points, $225
Slaughterhouse Cellars, Reserve, 86 points, $60
Monticello Vineyards, 87 points, $58
Flora Springs, Hillside Reserve, 89 points, $100
Tres Sabores, 87 points, $64
Fountainhead Cellars, Morisoli, 89 points, $50
Hewitt Vineyard, 86 points, $85
Staglin Family Vineyard, 81 points, $175
Beaulieu Vineyard, Georges de Latour Private Reserve, 82 points, $115
Rubicon Estate, 82 points, $145
Scarecrow, 82 points, $100

				
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