| A Vertical Comparative of Napa Valley Merlot Vintages: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997
1994 Napa Valley: 20th Anniversary
83% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot & Cabernet Sauvignon
One of the best vintages to come along this decade was also a breakout release of one of the best Merlots to come from Rutherford Hill in quite some time. A dry, cool summer and fall allowed for an extremely long "hang time" allowing for full fruit maturity. The forward cherry nose and light tones of tobacco and cedar are delicately framed in a round, soft texture and lingering finish of very mature tannins.
Improvements from previous vintages:
- More fruit and less green aromas/flavors
- Better texture and softer, longer finish
- Better use of oak
1995 Napa Valley: 21st Anniversary
80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc
A vintage similar to 1994 (except for some high temperatures) produced a Merlot with aromas of cherry, berry, plum, and fresh herb notes that persist on the palate. The fruit components are nicely balanced by the vanilla and cigar box aromas which reflect the aging in medium toasted French oak (primarily from the forests of Allier), and a small percentage of carefully selected American oak from Missouri. This wine is a quality reflection from the Terlato family's initial influence as they chose to select only the best lots for the final blend, and thus eliminated over 14,000 cases of wine lacking the proper quality standards.
Improvements from '94:
- Better concentration of fruit and less herbal
- Darker color
- Increase in structure and overall extraction
1996 Napa Valley: 22nd Anniversary
77% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot
A very warm and short vintage produced wines of less structure and texture due to lack of tannin maturation. A shorter growing season, such as this one, would normally produce wines of lower fruit intensity if not for the meticulous vineyard and lot selection throughout the winemaking period. However, the careful lot selection of the final blend, and subsequent dismissal of lesser lots, created a Merlot with aromas of black cherry, plum and roasted coffee notes. Similar flavors are carried on the palate along with sweet, vanilla oak nuances. Most noticeable is the round and supple body in a balanced acid/tannin framework that leads to a long and soft finish.
A greater amount of Cabernet Sauvignon was used in this somewhat difficult vintage to help achieve the structure this wine possesses.
Improvements from '95:
- Darker, richer fruits (i.e. black cherry & plums vs. cherry & berry)
- More body and silkier texture
- Longer, softer finish
1997 Napa Valley: 23rd Anniversary
84% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petite Verdot & Cabernet Sauvignon
Amazingly, one of the largest crops of the decade also produced wines of exceptional depth, color, and concentration. It was a vintage that required incredible planning and organization from the winery to pick and ferment grapes at the peak of their maturity, and not allow the fruit to become overripe and the subsequent wine too alcoholic. The ripe fruits of black cherries and plums dominate the heady aroma along with subtle nuances of bay, mint, and roasted coffee. Spicy vanilla oak notes are also evident on the rich, velvety palate. The balanced tannins frame the structure of this wine leading to a long, persistent finish. Over 40,000 gallons never saw the final blend in order to elevate the quality to an unprecedented level for Rutherford Hill.
Improvements from '96:
- Bigger style with more depth and extraction
- More weight on the palate
- Richer, forward fruit more evident than any Merlot previously produced (no herbaciousness)
- Deeper, darker color
- Increased perceived oak and better integrated