Dunn Vineyards Winemaker Dinner

26 January 2013, 21 Warren Street, Tribeca

In late January, Diane and I along with Cohen and Michelle had the privilege of meeting Mike and Kara Dunn at a winemaker dinner hosted by New York Vintners. Down to earth., friendly and knowledgeable, they demonstrated how some Napa producers, like their Bordeaux brethren, have figured out not only how to make subtle, age-worthy wines but also how to pass that knowledge down through the generations.

The vineyard began with Randy Dunn, Mike’s father, acquiring a small parcell of land on Howell Mountain in 1978. Today they produce two wines: the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon made exclusively from their own vineyard site, as well as a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that can include purchased grapes. The Howell Mountain Cab is the more serious of the two wines and has the greater aging potential. From a 30 acre plot with average yield of 2-3 tons / acre, the wine is aged for 30 months in barrels with minimal racking. Shockingly, despite their Bordeaux style of more austere, less fruit-driven wines, theirs are exceedingly approachable at a young age.

Three flights and 14 wines wines later, I was infatuated with the wine and loved their vintage variation and how incredible their older wines showed:

Part of the 14-wine lineup

Part of the 14-wine lineup

  1. *** 2003 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – herbaceous and structured with tannins just starting to integrate into the otherwise austere wine. Would still give it another 3-5 years but expect this to be a great example of a restrained, elegant wine in years to come. $107
  2. **** 2007 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – much more fruit than the 2003 with a dark chocolate/mocha finish. Closer in style to a rich California Cabernet but delicious today and something I’d like to taste over the next 10-20 years. My wine of the first flight. $98
  3. *** 2008 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – a more classic style for their wine, very astringent and more tannic than the 2007’s which have yet to integrate. Could drink today but would be a waste – wait at least 5 years although I suspect it will require more time before hitting it’s peak. $95
  4. *** 2009 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – tastes younger than the structured 2008 but still needs time to develop. Could still be an interesting wine in the future but 2008 and 2007 are superior years. $90
  5. **** 1997 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – earthy aromatics of cedar and leather, sweet red fruit, balanced and well-integrated with the tannins and acid. My wine of the second flight. $125
  6. ** 1998 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – wine was shut down at this phase, decent fruit but not the same expressive aromas or secondary flavors. $115
  7. ** 1999 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – highly acidic and very tart on the palate. Not as balanced as the better wines of the night. $90
  8. ** 2001 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – more well balanced than the 1999 but still lacking the secondary aromas one would expect at this point. I’d guess that the 1998 and the 2001 have shut down in the bottle but could be interesting in the next 5-10 years to see if they break out and plateau after this phase. $110
  9. **** 1986 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – the wine of the night for me; balanced perfection with complex floral aromatics, sweet red fruit and tertiary flavors of cedar and tobacco. Delicious. $200
  10. **** 1987 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – a close second to the 1986 but not as complex or as developed. Still, on any given night given bottle variation this is right up there. $200
  11. *** 1993 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – silky smooth tannins and still showing great structure. May eventually get to the level of drinkability of the 1986 and 1987 but would wait another 3-5 years. $150
  12. *** 1995 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – more herbal than the other wines in the final flight, austere and feels like it’s just coming out of a phase where it’s been shut down in the bottle. Like the 1993 but a few years behind in development. $150

The last two wines of the night (as if we needed more) were the 2004 and 2008 Napa Valley Cabernets out of magnums. While these wines were great in their own right, they reminded me more of typical valley floor Cabernets and I didn’t take notes on them. The salient memories of this tasting were both the ability of Napa to produce truly incredible, restrained and elegant Cabernets as well as the great value these wines offered compared to other top tier Napa or Bordeaux labels. Shockingly, I bought a huge vertical and can’t wait to try them going forward.

The food prepared by Ryan Smith was a great pairing and delicious as always:

  • Antipasto – assorted cured meats and cheeses
  • Garganelli with sea urchin and wild mushroom (good enough to go up against any Italian restaurant’s best pasta dish)
  • Springer Mountain Farm’s free range chicken with gigante beans and berkshire sausage
  • Birthday Cake – it was Mike’s birthday this weekend. What a great way to celebrate his wines!
Myself, Diane and Mike Dunn

Myself, Diane and Mike Dunn

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