1997 Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery Rubicon Rutherford
Expert Ratings
WS 95 points
WE 97 points
(Read the full reviews below)
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Scott McLeod and Rubicon Vineyards The Wine Spectator's "Greatest Rubicon EVER"

When James Laube's vintage report hit the press in early 1999, all bets were off. The 1997 vintage for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon would receive the highest rating in Wine Spectator history -- a whopping 99 points. One of the greatest beneficiaries of that Spectator bonanza was the greatest filmmaker in American movie history.

The Spectator described Francis Ford Coppola's 1997 Rubicon as "loaded with complex, concentrated currant, black cherry, mocha, toasty oak and chocolaty flavors … the BEST RUBICON EVER," before lobbing on the 95-point score that sent distributors scrambling. Every bottle disappeared from Coppola's cellar on release, fetching upwards of $125/bottle.

When we called the author of that perfectly chiseled Cabernet Sauvignon and asked Scott McLeod to explain both the vintage and the winemaking behind the '97 Rubicon, one of the most inventive Cabernet-makers the valley's ever known didn't miss a beat. "In many ways, 1997 was like 2012. The summer was warm and dry with few heat spikes. The crop was superb, both qualitatively and quantitatively. As to the winemaking," McLeod laughed, "that was strictly old school."

In the early days of Niebaum-Coppola, McLeod was working out of a threadbare cellar. There was a single must chiller, capable of cooling just one ton of fruit at a time. With little automated temperature control in the winery, if McLeod wanted to warm barrels so as to speed up fermentation, he rolled the French cooperage outside to sunbathe. "Today, we really 'build' wines piece by piece. Back then, we made wine like the Burgundians always have -- with seat of the pants intuition."

If you've ever met Scott McLeod, listened to him dodge and weave as he elaborates on the vagaries of Napa Valley winemaking, you quickly understand why the filmmaker who lured the likes of Brando, Pacino and De Niro to the screen chose McLeod to craft Rubicon. But, a half hour into Scott's monologue, he stopped, finally asking the question we thought would have been posed twenty-five minutes before. "Why are you guys asking me about the 1997 Rubicon. Did you find a bottle?"

No. We found 300!

In the Fall of 1999, just as Scott said, Niebaum-Coppola sold every bottle of its 3000 case production to fifteen wholesalers across the country. Most of those distributors used the Laube 95-point review and 99-point vintage report to launch pre-release offers, turning the '97 Rubicon into quick cash. But one East Coast wholesaler took a different tack. With an allocation of 1800 bottles, he pre-sold 1500, then held back the remainder, burying a half pallet in a corner of the refrigerated warehouse. Then, it seems, he promptly forgot where he put it.

Unlikely? Yes. Improbable? For sure. True? Absolutely. Last week, we were FedEx'd two bottles of the most highly praised wine ever released by the maker of "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now." The labels and corks were perfectly intact. We poured each bottle into Zalto Bordeaux glasses. The color was matching purple, bright and shimmering, showing no sign whatsoever of the wine's 13 years of cellar slumber. The nose was still PRIMARY(!), locked in suspended animation, a gorgeous mix of crushed blackberry, mountain blueberry and underbrush. The attack was just as Laube described almost fifteen years ago, "rich and sharply focused ... sleek and sophisticated." The finish was soft, yet vibrant, showing no signs of letting go. We bought every bottle on the spot.

Tasting Notes

1997 Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery Rubicon Rutherford
"Sleek and sophisticated, rich and sharply focused, loaded with complex, concentrated currant, black cherry, mocha, toasty oak and chocolaty flavors. Finishes with thick, well-integrated tannins, boding well for the future. Best Rubicon ever."
95 points -- James Laube, Wine Spectator, November 2000

"A masterpiece from this near perfect vintage. Completely ripe, classic and fresh, with oodles of red cherry and blackcurrant flavors that are generously oaked. Amazingly, the wine is still young and tannic. So beautifully structured, so smooth and polished, firm yet soft, just a gorgeous wine. Hold onto it until at least 2012, if you can."
97 points -- Wine Enthusiast

"Deep purple to the rim showing no signs whatsoever of its age. Lush, plump and astonishingly primary on the nose, infused with a juicy mix of crushed black fruits, black cherry and underbrush. Rich, sleek and beautifully delineated on the attack, packed with blackberries and mountain blueberries, all bracketed by ripe, supple tannins. Drinking beautifully now, but don't hesitate to lay this one down for ANOTHER 3-5 years."
-- WineAccess Travel Log


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