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Great Wines In A Great Vintage: 2012 Rutherford Cabernets

By Stephen Eliot

The 2012 vintage in California was generating a good deal of positive commentary before the first grapes were harvested, and, if declarations of superior quality are the norm almost every year, 2012 has lived up to the hype. It is old news to some that most every variety in most every appellation seemed to excel and that weather could not be blamed for any wine’s shortcomings, but there is a rekindling of excitement for 2012 as the marquee-name Cabernets are finally making their ways to the market. Even the most vocal critics of ripeness and generous fruit have been comparatively quiet of late, and hard-to-accept praise for the Cabernets of the cold, rain-soaked 2011 harvest as heralding a much-needed shift in style has pretty much disappeared now that the top wines from 2012 are turning up on wine lists and retailers’ shelves.

The point was driven home a couple of days back at the annual “Day in the Dust” celebration of Rutherford vintners held at Napa Valley’s historic Inglenook estate. Following a retrospective tasting and discussion of a half-dozen Rutherford Cabernets from 1994, all of which incidentally had reached or in some cases had passed their best days, the topic turned directly to wines from 2012. Chosen from two dozen candidates by a group of advanced professional sommeliers led by Master Sommelier Fred Dame, fourteen wines were presented. (During a brief chat with Fred later on, he admitted that logistics alone prevented our tasting all twenty four; they were that good.) They were met with palpable enthusiasm by media tasters and sommeliers alike, and, at least from where I was sitting, clichéd commentary about high-alcohol fruit bombs and overdone oak was happily absent from the room.

I was particularly taken with the sommeliers’ reactions insofar as they spoke mostly of how the wines would be well received by their restaurant patrons, rather than what their customers should or should not like. It may in part be that discussion did not dissolve into partisan debate over style because most all of us in the business have wearied of such wastes of time, but it was more likely that the wines were downright delicious, and all but those with dulled axes to grind would be hard-pressed to disagree.

Now, if its sounds like I am cheerleading, I apologize, but when what is in the glass is very good, applause is not out of order. I admit to having my favorites, and one or two left me wanting a bit more, but the morning confirmed my thoughts and critiques both of the wines poured and the vintage as a whole.

If lean, high-acid Cabernet is your thing, the au courant crowd will supply what you need, but those who value the richness, fine structure and articulate fruit that typify Napa’s best need to know that vintages like 2012 do not come along all the often. Just ask your somm.

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