On July 12, the Rutherford Dust Society [Rutherford AVA’s association of growers and wineries[ reprised their annual tasting. It was an illuminating event, focused on 2014 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. I was among a small group invited to attend a blind tasting and seminar prior to the broader walk-around tasting.
The seminar, hosted by Inglenook, was led by sommelier Chris Sawyer and included three expert panelists: Trevor Durling (GM/winemaker of Beaulieu Vineyards), Andy Beckstoffer (longtime owner of top vineyards throughout Napa Valley) and Joel Aiken (owner/winemaker of Aiken wines who previously served 27 years as winemaker at BV). The seminar included three segments: a verbal overview of the vintage, a tasting of three 2016 barrel samples from different parts of the Rutherford AVA (which I’ll discuss in a post next week), and a blind tasting of twelve 2014 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2014 vintage fell in the middle of California’s big drought. Rutherford only got about half the “normal” rainfall, which came almost exclusively in February and December. Not a drop fell in May-August.
Fortunately, while typically warm, 2014 didn’t bring any extended spells of extreme heat which would have taxed the vines and necessitated more irrigation. A chart showing heat accumulation for both 2013 and 2014 seems to show just a single line until the very end. 2014 gained just a little more heat in the last few days of the season. On average, the 2014 harvest was about two weeks earlier than “usual.”
In general, the 2014 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted at the seminar showed even better than the 2013s did this time last year. The newer wines are even more balanced, despite being fuller in body. The alcohol and oak are better integrated. Flavors and aromas are more complex.
That said, there are many variables beyond vintage. For one thing, the producers and vineyards are different. Therefore, there little value in making comparisons between the two blind tasting. Let’s just say 2014 is a stellar vintage for Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon. You can feel confident buying the wines to drink now or to age.
Here are my thoughts on the wines from the blind tasting, in the order they were tasted. I have not included my scores on a wine-by-wine basis, but I rated one of them a 92 and everything else was between 93 and 96. Note that some of these wines have not yet been released.
2014 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Vineyard, Rutherford
Full-bodied with a plethora of firm, fine-grained texture. Flavors include briary dark berries and herbal spice. This wine gets better and better with air. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, all from Bosché on the Rutherford Bench, directly southwest from Grgich-Hills.. 14.7% alcohol. 1,509 cases produced.
2014 Foley Johnson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Full-bodied with plenty of fine-grained, softening tannins. Generously flavorful palate of earthy dark fruit, coffee and dark chocolate. Very long finish. The Foley Johnson estate vineyards, formerly Sawyer, are on the valley floor, just east of Hwy 29, in southern Rutherford. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 4% Mystery Grapes. 15.3% alcohol. 2,414 cases produced.
2014 Sullivan Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Estate
A unique and deeply flavorful, Syrah-like wine with ripe black fruit, black olive, licorice and herbal spice. Full-bodied in the mouth with soft, fine-grained tannins and a very long finish. 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot from the valley floor, northeast of Franciscan. 14.8% alcohol. 1,262 cases produced.
2014 Inglenook Rubicon, Rutherford
The leanest wine of the day and a blend from many parcels, this Rubicon has great bones but needs time to harmonize. Medium-plus body with a slew of very firm, fine-grained tannins and vibrant acidity. Aromas and flavors include super-ripe black currant and black cherry with tart notes of lemon and orange peel. Drink from 2022 to 2050. 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot from several blocks in the western part of Inglenook’s expansive, Rutherford bench, estate vineyard. 14.2% alcohol.
2014 Quintessa Proprietary Red Wine, Rutherford
Savory, balanced and flavorful without shouting, the 2014 Quintessa offers black cherry, blueberry, cocoa, wood, spice and vanilla. Body and tannins are medium-plus with partially softened, persistent, fine-grained tannins. Very good aging potential. Includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenére from 11 blocks in the huge, estate vineyard in northeastern Rutherford. 14.6% alcohol.
2014 Alpha Omega Cabernet Sauvignon Thomas Vineyard, Rutherford
A full-bodied wine with plenty of persistent structure coming from softening, fine-grained tannins. Flavors are on the savory side with dark chocolate, leafy spice and currant leaf enveloping the core of black fruit. The vineyard lies at about 400 feet in the Mayacamas foothills of northwestern Rutherford. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all barrel-fermented. 14.7% alcohol. 220 cases produced.
2014 Flora Springs Hillside Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
Full-bodied and massively structured with fine-grained, chalky texture. Ripe dark fruit along with mint, charred oak, spice, dry leaves, violets and geranium. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Block J in the estate Hillside Reserve Vineyard on Rutherford Bench. 500 cases produced.
2014 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard, Rutherford
A delightful wine showing black currant jam, dark cocoa, spice, toasty wood and vanilla. Medium-plus body with loads of sensuous, very fine tannins. The finish is long and juicy. This wine will age, but is drinking very well now. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Campbell Vineyard which is on the Rutherford Bench, lying against the hills at the tail end of Whitehall Lane. 15.1% alcohol.
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Long Meadow Ranch Rutherford Estate, Rutherford
Aromas of black cherry, herbal spice, cured beef and violets. The palate is nearly full-bodied with intense flavors of spicy dried leaves, coffee, chocolate and mint. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Long Meadow Ranch Rutherford Estate Vineyard, on the valley floor directly across Hwy. 29 from Grgich-Hills. 13.5% alcohol. 228 cases made.
2014 Piña Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard, Rutherford
Full-bodied and savory with flavors of meat, earthy spice, nicely ripe dark fruit and chocolate. Texture is fine-grained and persistent but soft. The finish is quite long and very juicy. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a sloping vineyard on the eastern bench, near the border with the Oakville AVA. 14.4% alcohol.
2014 Rutherford Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
This wine, coming from the Vaca hills north of Conn Creek, offers aromas of black fruit leather, blueberry, spice and candle wax. The full-bodied palate is plush with soft, chalky, fine-grained texture. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 14.5% alcohol. 664 cases produced.
2014 Martin Estate Collector’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford
A gorgeous, age-worthy wine and my favorite of the day, the nose shows dried blackberries, black currant, spice, coffee, dry earth and violets. The palate has medium-plus body with a soft attack followed by persistent, fine, grainy tannins. Flavors include sweet herb, black fruit liqueur, spice and dark chocolate. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate vineyard on the edge of the eastern bench, northwest of Caymus. 15.4% alcohol.
While most of these wines are not yet on the market, JJ Buckley has a nice selection of Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from other vintages.
You can read my article on the 2013 Rutherford Dust Tasting here.
JJ Buckley guest blogger Fred Swan is a San Francisco-based wine writer, educator, and authority on California wines and wineries. His writing has appeared in The Tasting Panel and SOMM Journal. Online, he writes for his own site, FredSwan.Wine (formerly NorCalWine), PlanetGrape, and GuildSomm. He teaches at the San Francisco Wine School. Fred’s certifications include WSET Diploma, Certified Sommelier, California Wine Appellation Specialist, Certified Specialist of Wine, French Wine Scholar, Italian Wine Professional, Napa Valley Wine Educator and Level 3 WSET Educator. In 2009, he was awarded a fellowship by the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. In that same year, he was inducted into the Eschansonnerie des Papes, the honorary society of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOC.