The Return of Rutherford’s Best Bargain Cabernet
The reviews for Britt Nichols’ 2013 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon came in hot: 187 4- and 5- star ratings. In Robert Parker’s “greatest vintage in 37 years,” Britt turned out an explosive, blue-black stunner that held its own against Rutherford’s heavyweights at a fraction of the cost.
In 2014, Britt went further. How? Wine Spectator called 2014 in Napa a “dream vintage, with quality along the lines of 2012 and 2013.” Robert Parker reached the same verdict, labeling 2014 a “game changer,” the knockout blow in quite possibly the best three-vintage combo the valley has ever seen.
Last month, when we met Britt at the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Co. for a triple espresso — a necessity after an overnight flight — she was happy to give the vintage all the credit for her brilliant 2014. “In Rutherford, the weather was ideal for ripening. There was almost no pressure from rain or heat on the fruit, which came out perfectly — deep purple colors, thick skins, massive concentration.” She put down her cup and smiled, “The wine practically made itself!”
Of course, we knew better than to be fooled by Britt’s humility. The young winemaker has more pedigree than many twice her age (which we won’t disclose), with time spent at Jordan Winery and alongside winemaking legends Nicolas Morlet and Philippe Melka. Like those of her mentors, Britt’s Cabernets are deep in color, rich, and intensely concentrated. Yet unlike all too many Napa Valley Cabernets, these are also wines of great class, sleekness, and polish.
Tasted in a lineup of Rutherford Cabernets with higher profiles and MUCH larger price tags, Britt’s 2014 was right at home. As it turned out, this wasn’t a coincidence. Britt’s stunning 2014 tasted like a Rutherford heavyweight because it was made from the SAME FRUIT! “I’m under non-disclosure, so I can’t be exact,” Britt would explain, “but the source is one of Napa’s most historic vineyards — a stone’s throw from Caymus and Staglin.”
The 2014 Nichols Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford is composed of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Opaque purple in hue. Typical Rutherford aromas that provide a luscious mix of blackberry, mountain blueberry, graphite, and violets, tinged with French-cooperage cedar. Plush, dense, and condensed on the attack, soft yet chewy in texture, loaded with black-fruit preserves and crème de cassis, finishing with a superb, age-worthy backbone. Drink now for its primary hedonism — if you can't resist — or do as we’re doing, and lay down Nichols’ finest effort to date until the early 2020s. It could truly use the rest.
Gifted winemaker on the rise, “dream vintage,” fruit drawn from a coveted Rutherford vineyard, stunning value at just $28 … surely there has to be a catch, right? There is. Judging from the response to Britt’s 2013, we know demand for the 2014 will be high. But in this case, no amount of WineAccess buying power could squeeze more bottles where there were none to be had. While 2014 was off the charts in terms of quality, yields were uneven up and down the California coast — and way down where Britt sourced her exceptional 2014 Nichols Cabernet Sauvignon. This may be the best bargain you’ll find from Rutherford, but this year, there’s a lot less to go around. Strict limit of one case per member.