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A Stunning New Napa Valley Cabernet

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Dec 10, 2008 5:09pm ET

Jeff Ames first crossed paths with us at Wine Spectator 10 years ago, when he applied for a job in our tasting department in San Francisco.

We liked his knowledge and passion for wine and even though we didn’t hire him for the assistant tasting coordinator position, we figured he would go on to bigger and better things, which he did.

(As an aside, the woman we hired we later learned worked part time as a nightclub stripper. But two others who worked in our tasting department went on to successful careers in wine—Wells Gutherie of Copain in Sonoma and Tom Garrett of Detert, Revana and Bugay wines).

Ames headed to wine country, working in Oregon before settling in Napa Valley, where he is now winemaker for Kenward Family Vineyards, producers of the Tor and Rock lines of wines.

He also started his own label, Rudius, where he produced an excellent Syrah and earned him a spot in our list of rising star California Rhône-style producers earlier this year.

While the 2005 Syrah was excellent, his 2006 wines are extraordinary and merit one of those sprint don’t run buying endorsements. The Napa Valley Cabernet I tasted yesterday is simply phenomenal—rich, layered, impeccably balanced, long, pure and focused.

Ames knew he had a hit on his hands with his 2006s, which include a pair of delicious Syrahs from Mendocino great Alder Springs Vineyard: the Spirit Rock (92 points, $45) and Emerald Pool (94, $45).

In hindsight, he says he may have released his 2005 vintage too early, as it was a tight, closed wine when I tasted it a year ago.

But the 2006s are hitting on all cylinders right now.

"I knew when I tasted those wines out of barrel that I had something special," Ames said today. He’s mum about the source of the Cabernet. It is 100 percent Cabernet and could carry the Howell Mountain appellation, he said, and has a few grapes from a Yountville vineyard. But it’s one of those arrangements where he can buy the grapes but not disclose the source. At $62, it’s one extraordinary wine that will more than hold its own against Napa’s finest.

All three of Ames’ wines are well worth the search.

Loren Jones
December 10, 2008 10:15pm ET
James, why no rating on the 2006 Cabernet?
Pauline Decloedt
canada —  December 10, 2008 11:43pm ET
James, Visiting Napa for New Years - is the Cabernet under the Rudius Label and where can it be found.Pauline DeCloedt, Vancouver, Canada
Mark Lewis
Napa —  December 11, 2008 1:35am ET
James,Is this a Rudius label or Tor?
Scott Rynkowski
Grafton, MA —  December 11, 2008 10:08am ET

OK, so I'm committed. I bought 3 bottles online last night from the Rudius site. Should be here in a couple of weeks. I don't have anywhere near the palate that you have James, but I tend to like the same wines that you do.

parker on the otherhand - sometimes I wonder what he sees in a wine. Nearly everytime I buy on his recommendation or rating, I'm disapointed. Perhaps he's offshoring his tastings to increase his margin on the ratings he gives out.

; )
Andrew J Grotto
December 11, 2008 11:40am ET
Hi James, thanks for the tip. I took your advice last time you wrote such a glowing review about a new winery (Shibumi Knoll) and was not disappointed. So I bought three bottles of the Rudius '06 cab. Looking forward to trying one of them!
Tyler Mcafee
Houston, TX —  December 11, 2008 12:49pm ET
Scott, other than the fact that if you spent any time on the Parker board you would have already known that Jeff Ames makes great wine, what does this blog entry have anything to do with Robert Parker?
Chris Kolodziej
Reno,NV —  December 11, 2008 1:23pm ET
James,Thanks for the tip it's fun when a Napa cab comes out with some exciting reviews and its under $100 so someone can actually buy a three pack. Looking forward to trying it.
David Peters
Mission Viejo, CA —  December 11, 2008 3:55pm ET
James....Thanks for the heads-up on this one. Usually when the production is so limited (137 cases) it's almost impossible to obtain any of these gems by the time of discovery!! Just ordered a three-pack from the winery, with no shipping charge, no less. I'll be looking forward to your formal review and points awarded; hopefully SOON, huh.
Scott Rynkowski
Grafton, MA —  December 11, 2008 5:37pm ET
My point, Tyler, was that I tend to agree with JL reviews on new wines and will base purchase decisions on his recommendations, such as this wine. I just like the stuff that JL does, event without the points. lighten up, have a glass of wine. :)
Paul Northrop
Thousand Oaks —  December 11, 2008 9:44pm ET
Hi James, It is good to hear there is a really good wine at a reasonable price coming out of Napa Valley. Can you speculate on how this Cabernet will age. Is it one to lay down and forget about, or can I drink it soon?
Loren Lingenfelter
Danville, CA —  December 12, 2008 12:18am ET
Rating? Last time I heard something like this you were raving about the 2005 Ovid. Obviously a great wine but at $225 a bottle 94 Points just does not justify it. You need 96+ for that price. I would rather buy 4 bottles of Caymus or Shafer One Point Five at 92 Points. Thank god I did not buy the Ovid.
Dennis D Bishop
Shelby Twp., MI, USA —  December 12, 2008 9:02am ET
Hey guys, go to the WS ratings search and you will see ratings for these 2006 wines - DAH.
Chris Kolodziej
Reno,NV —  December 12, 2008 12:02pm ET
Dennis, Before you throw big words out there like DAH check again the cab was not rated, just the syrahs. More important what happened to "hey I tried a great wine you should try it." and we try it based on the recommendation not the points? If we base all our wine purchases on 90+ we will have missed out on many great wines.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  December 12, 2008 12:13pm ET
Paul, this wine should age well. If I only had one bottle I'd drink it and if I loved it I would seek another. If you have the luxury of a couple, then you can drink or wait. We don't print scores in blogs before the reviews are posted. In the case of Rudius the Cabernet rating will be posted on-line ASAP.
Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  December 12, 2008 12:44pm ET
I too purchased my 3 bottles of Rudius. I do trust Jame's "ravings". Kosta Browne & Shibumi Knoll immediately come to mind. Loren, his raving over Ovid was well over a year ago & Ovid was $175 not $225. In todays market still very expensive & unfortunately I don't believe I can taste the difference between a 94 & 96 point wine. I know I would enjoy both though.
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  December 12, 2008 1:09pm ET
There is an article in the Cronicle that may give away the source of the Yountville grapes. As for the Howell Mountain grapes . . .I'm guessing Dunn if it's as good as you indicate.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/12/11/WI9B14L54S.DTL&feed=rss.wine
Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  December 12, 2008 2:41pm ET
james, because of your recommendation i've entered into the world of joining a small production winery's mailing list! i ordered 6 bottles. my only fear is that living in florida, as the shipment makes its way from california it might be cooked when it gets here :( anyway, thanks for your insight! i can't wait to see what the hype is about!!
Elyse J Ward
Buffalo Grove, IL —  December 12, 2008 8:10pm ET
The Rudius website must have experienced a rush last night - I bought my 3-pack as well.
Jeff Ames
Napa, ca —  December 13, 2008 3:52pm ET
Elyse, it has been a little busy to say the least. Hope everyone enjoys the wines.
Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  December 15, 2008 11:54am ET
update - i checked the rudius website to see if i could tell when my item would ship and i noticed that they are sold out of the cab. tough luck for you slackers!!
Charlie Fu
December 15, 2008 4:43pm ET
It's only sold out if you bought your full allocation so if you bought 6 bottles it'll look as though there are no available =).
Jordan Horoschak
Houston, TX —  December 15, 2008 8:12pm ET
96 points for the Rudius (maturity: now-2017) Congratultions to Jeff Ames on an outstanding, value-based offering! Looks like there still might be some available on the website (but probably not for long)...
Scott Rynkowski
Grafton, MA —  December 15, 2008 9:40pm ET
Nope, all gone. I bought 3, tried to get more, sold out.Very excited about this wine. Thanks James!!!!!
Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  December 15, 2008 10:25pm ET
looks like i was wrong about them being sold out. that's good news! i really appreciate jeff's willingness to debut his cab in this relatively oversaturated market and allow his wine to speak for itself rather than manage its image with an inflated entry price. i hope other producers take heed.
Elyse J Ward
Buffalo Grove, IL —  December 15, 2008 10:51pm ET
I tried for an additional three bottles with no luck - all gone. I'm thankful for my three!
John Kmiecik
Chicago, IL —  December 16, 2008 8:54am ET
I agree with Chris about Jeff not inflating his prices. I got my offer for Dana Estates yesterday. Only $825 for a 3 pack! At that fair price I think I'll grab a few.....and if anyone else wants some it's on me....Merry Christmas
John Wilen
Texas —  December 16, 2008 1:01pm ET
Got my Dana offering yesterday as well, with the Philippe Milk'em surcharge. Talk about misreading the current market....
Jeff Ames
Napa, ca —  December 16, 2008 11:01pm ET
Sorry for those of you who tried to buy and were not able to, I sold out pretty fast once the score hit. Thanks to those of you who did buy the Syrahs and the Cabernet. Past purchase history goes a long way for allocations of the following vintages. I plan on releasing Cabs again from the '07 and '08 vintages so there is more to come but in small amts again. Glad y'all like the pricing on the wines. I always want my wines to be able to be consumed without breaking the bank.
Scott Rynkowski
Grafton, MA —  December 17, 2008 12:42pm ET
Thanks Jeff!!!!!!! Looking forward to it and Happy Holidays!!
Paul Pashley
Middletown, CT —  December 18, 2008 9:10pm ET
Yes, Jeff ~ Thank you very much! I'm off the wall excited about the new Wizard of Christmas! 6 bottles of cab! I am stoked! - Merry Christmas to all & to all a good night.....
Juan Pedro San Martin
Coral Gables, Florida —  February 7, 2009 10:52am ET
Jeff,when can we expect delivery? I purchased some 05 Cabernet and 05 Shiraz back in December...
Juan Pedro San Martin
Coral Gables, Florida —  February 7, 2009 10:56am ET
The correct vintage I purchased was 06...Waiting for delivery?

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