I’ve written about Napa Valley’s earliest vineyards from St. Helena to Howell Mountain and Stags Leap, but no region’s vintners have had such an enduring reputation for quality than Rutherford. Men like Capt. Gustav Niebaum and John Daniel, Jr. from Inglenook and Georges de Latour and André Tchelistcheff from Beaulieu Vineyards are legends in Napa Valley for quality, and they chose Rutherford to plant their vines.
Beyond quality though, I’ve always been intrigued by the regional character in each of Napa Valley’s appellations. Howell Mountain is big and brawny while Stags Leap is more feminine with red fruit and suppleness to it. As far as Rutherford is concerned, I searched for years for the elusive taste of “Rutherford dust” in my Cabernet Sauvignon before I realized that the dust wasn’t a minerality in the wines but a metaphor for great terroir.
Still, I had an aha moment last week at the Rutherford Dust Society’s annual tasting at Beaulieu Vineyards when I tasted the 2010 D.R. Stephens Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from the Walther River Block in the rocky eastern foothills of Rutherford. It was mineral alright, dusty, graphite with intriguing spice of white pepper. The Cabernet character was pure, rich in cassis, hint of floral and lots of chewy tannins. The balance was perfect and the finish long, really an excellent example of Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon.
It’s exciting to discover a full-bodied, fruit-driven Cabernet that’s complex in youth since it will only get more interesting with time. This little gem ($135, 180 cases) will be released to their mailing list customers in spring 2014.
For more information on the Rutherford appellation, check out the Rutherford Dust Society website at rutherforddust.org