As long as I've been tasting wine I've wondered what the hell "Rutherford dust" is. What makes it different from any other dust? And isn't dust mostly just dead human skin cells? Why do I want to smell that in my Cabernet? "Hmmm, smells like cassis, green olive and a nasty case of eczema--must be from Rutherford." I think it was Andre Tchelistcheff (I just call him "the Sheff") who first coined the expression, and even he didn't know what it meant. I, personally, think it was in response to the famous Oakville Litterbox character everyone was talking about, though it could have been the Stags Leap Greasy Fingerprints. No one knows what the Sheff was thinking.
I weaseled an invite to the "A Day in the Dust" tasting of, primarily, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rutherford District held at Rubicon Estate last Wednesday. I attended under an alias. I went as "Dusty Rutherford." Only one person asked me if I sang "The Look of Love." I said Yes.
Industry tastings are more about social networking than they are about the wines being served. Since I relocated to Sonoma from Southern California I go to tastings and know only a few people, mostly winery owners and winemakers. In Los Angeles at a tasting like this, I would have spent 60% of my time shaking hands and catching up with other folks in my line of work. You taste the wines in between conversations. It's crowded, it's loud, and very difficult to judge wine at these things. But that's not what they're for. They're like FaceBook gone awry. Imagine having to actually talk to your FaceBook friends in person! Gawd, what a nightmare. You don't want to talk to them, you just want to have them! Like children. And now here they are with stuff all over their face demanding your drinking time. Not at all how you'd imagined it.
Since Dusty Rutherford knew so few people, I was able to focus a bit more effectively on the wines. It's still a crappy environment to judge wine. It's dark, it's dank, it's filled with sweaty people. It's like judging wine in John Wayne Gacy's basement. Which really makes me nervous now about those hors d'oeuvres. But I put on my serious evaluation face, took copious notes, tried really hard to pay attention and discovered what everyone has been saying all along is true--2007 is a great vintage for wine in Napa Valley (and other wine-growing regions in California as well). I tasted about 25 Cabernets at the Rutherford Dust tasting and the only one I wouldn't consider buying (were money no object, which it fucking is) was the Heitz 2005 "Bella Oaks" which I thought had far too much Brett, though it brought back childhood memories. Of petting zoos.
I'm not going to bore you with a bunch of tasting notes. No, I'm going to bore you the way I usually bore you, with poorly conceived humor. The wine blog world is overflowing with amateurishly written tasting notes, and, frankly, I'm not good at tasting notes. They all taste like paper to me. (See what I mean about poorly conceived?) I hate reading the tasting notes on blogs. They're awful. I read just one of the longwinded and pretentious tasting notes on "Bigger Than Your Head" and I am awestruck at the remarkable ability he has to wring every last bit of pleasure out of drinking wine. It's wine with a side order of anhedonia. But at least he doesn't match up wine with music. This is the realm of genuine idiots. Wine doesn't need music and music doesn't need wine. And they go together about as sensibly as literature and perfume. So I won't dull your senses with poorly written wine descriptions. But I will tell you which wines I thought were the best, and the not so best.
Let's start with the best. Much as I hate to agree with STEVE!, I think he's right that the real dazzler of the event was the Staglin 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. But Staglin has made brilliant Cab after brilliant Cab in recent years, so it's hardly surprising. The '07 may be legendary. Wow. If Rutherford is known for elegance, the '07 Staglin is damned Fred Astaire.
The first wine I tasted at the event completely surprised me. When the first wine you taste is sensational, it's always disconcerting. You start to think you're being too easy on it, that there has to be something you're missing, that it can't be that good. It's like losing your virginity, which, sadly, I've only done once. But I kept tasting it, and tasted it again later, and it's terrific. It's the 2007 from Round Pond, not normally a producer I would seek out. But this is seamlessly luscious and rich Cabernet from Rutherford. And then it was nice to see some of the legendary names of Napa Valley perform so well in 2007. The 2007 Rubicon is breathtaking, and the 2007 Beaulieu Georges de Latour returns to greatness after some time away. Finally, among this top five, I'd list the Meander 2007 Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet for it's sheer power and purity. For those of you who haven't been in the wine business for a long time, or ever, let me tell you, it is very unusual to go to an event and find five wines that are absolutely classic. You're usually lucky to find one or two. These five were topnotch, and a joy to taste.
Maybe just a notch below these five winners were a handful of other wines, all very worthy and memorable wines. The 2007 Long Meadow Ranch was very seductive, Rubicon Estate's 2007 CASK was almost hypnotic, Honig's 2007 Campbell Vineyard is by far the best wine I've ever tasted from them, the once famous Freemark Abbey Bosche Vineyard was the best it's been in years and I like very much the suppleness of 2007 Quintessa though I'm not normally a huge Quintessa fan.
And there were some disappointments as well. Flora Springs 2007 Hillside Reserve, Hewitt Vineyard, Martin Estate's Reserve, Provenance, Freemark Abbey's Sycamore Vineyard--all nice wines, but hardly in a league with the others.
Any of the top ten wines is worth considering for your cellar. The prices vary considerably, and some haven't been released yet, but I think all of them are worthy if your budget allows. You're welcome.
And now back to our regularly scheduled stupidity.
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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