Wine Review: Vineyard Block Estates—Howell Mountain (Block 925) vs. Rutherford (Block 345)

I want to start by referring to the Block 512 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir review from the day before as an introduction to this review. The 512 was the first example I tasted of these generic district wines bottled under the title, or name, Vineyard Block Estates. The concept behind these wines is simple: purchase excess barreled juice from prominent, but anonymous, wineries whose supplies are in surplus. The wine is then bottled and sold exclusively through a handful of outlets at reduced prices. Each vintage is unique, each district is acclaimed, and each block stands only until the last bottle is sold—mostly likely never to be repeated again.

I know a lot of diehard California Cabernet lovers. I am one of them—but not on a full-time basis. I don’t have the money to always be drinking the good stuff. The reality is, when you have less to spend, the searches for quality and value become synonymous, and this often steers you away from Cabernet Sauvignon, and out of Napa Valley.

This is one reason I got so excited about these wines. It’s easy to get a non-specific Napa Cabernet for $20—but a district-specific Rutherford or Howell Mountain Cabernet for that price? Almost impossible.

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We pulled both corks at the same time and poured tasting portions into a row of glasses. Both wines were very similar in color, with the Rutherford showing slightly darker and rustier than the deep ruby and garnet Howell Mountain. We started by tasting the Howell, which smelled brighter and riper with a seemingly more approachable nose than Rutherford. Hints of brown sugar, caramel, mixed berries and maple on the nose was followed in the mouth by an acidic juicy nip that settled high in the back of the throat.

Age could easily pull the Howell Mountain Cabernet into equilibrium. It was clear from the start that this wine was showing the essential components of a great mountain Cabernet: leather and tobacco, mixed dark berries (sweet, tart and lush simultaneously confused), cedar and baked goods, spice and dried flowers. Each sip was delicious and unique, confident but still immature.

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The Block 345, produced from grapes grown in the Rutherford bench, was exceptional. A little more burly than the Howell Mountain, the Rutherford was deeper, sophisticated, and operating with better control—lumbering earth and leather sweetened by black cherry and mocha at the pinnacle. The tannins were strong, but reigned-in—rounded slightly, demonstrating form over function. Deep fruit, pepper, and cured meat—the flavor profile was not overreaching. I was inclined just to sip, rather than scribble.

Howell Mountain, the small sub-appellation of Napa valley, is known for producing thick-skinned, small, tightly-clustered berries responsible for uniquely concentrated, intense wines heavy in tannic structure and dark, briery mountain fruit.

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The Rutherford Bench, situated on an alluvial fan of fast draining sandy gravel and volcanic sediment, provides textbook conditions for growing some of the most sought after Cabernet Sauvignon.

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Enjoy!
-Rob

Florida residents can purchase the Block wines at the 150 ABC Fine Wine & Spirits stores or online. Unfortunately ABC cannot ship out of state. The only option for the rest of us is Specs Liquor, the original Block merchant. Sometimes their site works, sometimes not.

I was just informed from the folks at Bottle King in New Jersey that they, along with Applejack Wine & Spirits in Colorado, can also be added to the list of Block wine sellers, bringing the total up to 4 states carrying these wines. If you has access, go pick up one of each block, work through them, choose your favorite(s) and purchase more!

Florida (ABC Fine Wine & Spirits—no out of state shipping), Texas (Specs Liquors—check shipping policy), New Jersey (Bottle King—ships to most states), and Colorado (AppleJack Wine & Spirits—ships to most states).




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17 Responses to “Wine Review: Vineyard Block Estates—Howell Mountain (Block 925) vs. Rutherford (Block 345)”

  1. ken
    September 25, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    Actually, the Block wines have been around for about 2 years in 4 states. Bottle King in New Jersey, Specs in Texas, ABC in FLorida, and Applejacks in Colorado.

    The first Block they had was a Stags Leap wine that was fantastic. They sold out of it in a few weeks. The latest is an Oakville Cab and a Spring Mountain merlot.

    • corksandcaftans
      September 25, 2009 at 1:18 pm #

      Hey Ken, thanks for the info, I changed it up on my post. I was just wondering the other day if a Stags Leap Block had ever, or will ever be released—I wish I had known about it. I grew up in Ridgewood, so I am familiar with your stores (even thought those were the beer days, not the wine days) and am still in town from time to time. Let me know if anything new comes about, I’d love to write more about these wines.

      -Rob

  2. September 25, 2009 at 5:45 pm #

    For those poor souls out there in states that don’t have these wonderful wines. Applejack’s ships to most states.
    http://www.applejack.com (303)233-3331

    • corksandcaftans
      September 25, 2009 at 6:18 pm #

      Brilliant! Thanks for the comment, I’ll add your contact info into the post. Do you have any Stags Leap still in your coffers or was it sold out as fast as it was in NJ?

  3. ken
    September 26, 2009 at 7:13 am #

    Bottle King will also ship to most states.

  4. andy morrell
    October 2, 2009 at 7:42 pm #

    Sorry. The Stags Leap was the first to go.

  5. ken
    October 3, 2009 at 8:18 am #

    check the stores on friday, OCt 9th.

  6. October 10, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    You can visit http://www.thewinebuyer.com which is run by Bottle King and carries all of the currently released Vineyard Block Estate wines.

    http://www.thewinebuyer.com/main.asp?request=PRODUCERPAGE&sel_producers=vineyard%20block%20estates

    There is a new 2007 Stag’s Leap Cab from this label that will be introduced to the web shortly as well.

  7. Ceeking Wine
    February 28, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    does anyone know what label the Block 512 comes from?

    • corksandcaftans
      February 28, 2010 at 8:26 pm #

      The Block 512 is the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. I wrote a review about it, and along with the 613 Yountville Cabernet, I think it is the best Block wine. Since my father lives in Florida he is able to pick it up at ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, but sadly there is no out of state shipping.

  8. ken
    March 1, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    coming soon is a Block 511 Russian River Chard. It’s from THE RR producer and will be available in about 2 months.

    • chris
      August 3, 2010 at 7:18 pm #

      i’ve had the 511 (2008 vintage) and it’s a wonderful, full-on california chardonnay. tastes barrel-fermented with close to 100% ML. also, for rob’s post back in september of 2009 lamenting about a stags leap wine, they just released the 2008 block 707 from stags leap for $23.99 and it’s a big one. don’t quote me, but i’m pretty sure it’s 24 months in oak and then released with no bottle age, so it needs a good decant now or 6 months to come together. i tried it, and the finish is gorgeous, it just needs time for the wood to integrate.

      • Corks and Caftans
        August 3, 2010 at 8:47 pm #

        Chris, Thanks for the info! My parents and in-laws live in Florida so they are going to stock up on the Stags. Honestly, I would be thrilled if it was as good as the latest Rutherford Block Cab. The 345 Rutherford along with 512 Sonoma Coast Pinot were my two favorites last year and the Rutherford is even better this vintage. Keep tasting the Blocks and we’ll compare notes! Thanks! -Rob

  9. maureen
    October 8, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

    What do you think of Block 77?
    We have two cases left and is a well received by all.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] response from the first three Block reviews (512 Sonoma Coast, 925 Howell Mountain, and 345 Rutherford) has been amazing. People try these wines—not knowing much about […]

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  3. Wine Review: Vineyard Block Estates · Block 106 · Meritage · Napa Valley & Block 625 · Meritage · Yountville « Corks + Caftans - December 21, 2009

    […] fan of these wines and have openly lauded the four bottles I have reviewed thus far: 512, 613, 925, […]

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