A Tale of Two Cabs
Terlato Family's Rutherford and Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignons
There are myriad qualities that make wine special, but one of the most fascinating is the way it can capture and convey a sense of place. Think about it: Just a whiff or a sip can transport you to where a great wine was grown. It’s pretty magical.
An excellent demonstration of this phenomenon is seen in two benchmark wines from the Terlato Family Vineyards portfolio – the Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon and the Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. We like to call it “A Tale of Two Cabs.”
But a little background first.
Rutherford and Stags Leap are American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), discrete patches of land where the combination of climate, geology, soils, topography and elevation is deemed “distinctive” by federal regulators. They’re both within the Napa Valley – in fact, you could probably ride a bicycle from Stags Leap to Rutherford in a quarter-hour without breaking a sweat.
When it comes to Cabernet, these appellations have few peers. Rutherford was home to the storied early-Napa wines like Inglenook and Beaulieu, and a Stags Leap wine won at the famous “Judgment of Paris” tasting in 1976.
This history, and a longstanding appreciation of the importance of place, drew the Terlatos to Rutherford and Stags Leap, where the family now owns estate vineyards developed with the goal of producing world-class Cabernet Sauvignon.
While vintages will vary to some extent, the Rutherford and Stags Leap Cabernets always display classic Cab elements – fruit purity, depth of mouthfeel and longevity – but tasting them side by side, peeling back the layers of aroma, flavor and texture, the distinctions emerge.
The Rutherford Cab offers an intriguing note that might fall somewhere on the spicy-floral-herbal spectrum. On the palate, it has real muscle, almost brawn. Clearly this is a wine that will age well and gracefully. The Stags Leap Cab is a bit more forward in offering up its bounty of blackberries and cherries, and while hardly lacking in structure, has a slightly broader, rounder mouthfeel.
These descriptions fit generally with the characteristics that tasters have long identified in Rutherford and Stags Leap Cabs, no matter the vintage, no matter the winemaker. What accounts for the consistency?
Speaking about Rutherford, famed vintner André Tchelistcheff reportedly remarked, “It takes Rutherford dust to make great Cabernet.” Some read that as a comment on a specific element in the soil, or perhaps in the wines themselves. More likely, though, it was a gorgeously evocative way of saying that the appellation has the goods.
For Terlato Family Vineyards, those goods come in the form of an estate vineyard in the eastern hills of the Rutherford AVA, where well-drained, low-vigor soils help produce small, intensely flavored berries. The vineyard, above the late-afternoon shadows cast by the Mayacamas Mountains, also receives an extra dose of sun, boosting ripening and upping the flavor ante.
Stags Leap wines, meanwhile, have long been described as “an iron fist in a velvet glove.” A leading theory behind their impeccable balance and approachability points to geology.
The district is nestled against the southeastern foothills of the valley, against the “Stags Leap Palisades,” the east-facing mountainside studded with big, rock outcroppings. While marine air from San Pablo Bay provide cooling late-afternoon breezes, winemakers believe those rocks gather in afternoon heat and then radiate it out after sunset, giving the district warmer nighttime temperatures.
Are these the true explanations for the greatness of Rutherford and Stags Leap Cabernet? Nobody has figured out a way to scientifically test the theories, so it’s hard to say with certainty. There is, however, a way to verify the final results, to experience the magic these two appellations perform: The Terlato Family Vineyards Rutherford and Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignons.