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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A Bordeaux Tasting

23 January 2013, 21 Warren Street, Tribeca

On a frigid weeknight, a group of us gathered in the wine cave at New York Vintners to eat, drink and learn about Bordeaux. The guidelines for the night were: only Left-bank Bordeaux and vintages from 1986-1995 (years we felt were at their peak for drinking). The goal was to understand the differences between the various sub-appellations and vintages. I was shocked at how different some of these wines tasted – not something you’d expect from vineyards which are 5-10 miles away from each other.

The food, as always, was incredible – we started with some assorted meats and cheeses followed by a Brandt Farms sirloin steak with tons of sides including heirlooms carrots and a fried polenta dish that was probably my favorite of the night.

Not to be outdone, the wines delivered – 8 reds, 5 in the first flight followed by 3 blind, finishing with a dessert wine:

The Lineup

  1. ** 1989 Lynch Bages (Pauillac) – probably the one wine of the night that didn’t show well relative to expectations. Even those who had this wine before thought it was bottle variation or just a bad showing – vegetal as is indicative of Pauillac but with an additional layer of funkiness – not the good kind. Structurally sound but couldn’t make up for the odd aromatics. $300
  2. *** 1990 Cos d’Estournel (St. Estephe) – like the Lynch Bages, this started with a funky, closed aroma with good structure and a better palate than implied by the nose. All the bottles had been open for several hours before the tasting but this wine changed the most throughout the night. Started as a disappointment but by the end of the meal was showing brilliantly. $250
  3. *** 1986 Leoville Las Cases (St. Julien) – structured, huge fruit and despite being one of the oldest wine of the night, expect this to continue to develop. I always thought of St. Julien as being more fruit driven but this wine demonstrated the heft and body their wines can develop as well. $300
  4. **** 1986 Chateau Palmer (Margaux) – big, red fruit, with earthiness and mustiness. Someone accurately described this as “licking the side of a basement wall, but in a really good way.” To me, the biggest, most opulent wine of the night. $250
  5. **** 1995 Chateau Margaux (Margaux) – my red wine of the night. Delicate, feminine with balanced fruit and extremely smooth tannins. A great example of subtlety being more expressive than sheer power. It still feels like this one is in the very early stages of being ready to drink – would love to try this wine again in another 10 and 20 years time. $500
  6. Blind #1: *** 1995 Leoville Las Cases (St. Julien) – our first blind wine of the night was also our first vertical comparison of the night. Sweeter and fruitier than the ’86 and more prototypical of a Bordeaux from St. Julien. Great wine but won’t be as long lived as the ’86. $190
  7. Blind #2: *** 1995 Ducru Beaucaillou (St. Julien) – our second blind wine was another ’95 from St. Julien. Also very fruity and floral aromatics. I got more red fruit sweetness on this wine than the other St. Juliens. Also a great wine but don’t expect further development at this point. $175
  8. Blind #3: *** 1995 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain – the only non-Bordeaux wine of the night was thrown in by Shane and Jesse and it completely fooled me. A handful at the tasting correctly guessed this was a California wine (including Diane) but it tasted too reserved and almost austere to be compared to the richer, more-extracted California style. My loss, as I hadn’t tasted much Dunn before. Biggest surprise of the night for me. $150
  9. **** 1995 Chateau d’Yquem (Sauternes) – as always, arguably the best wine of the night even with the incredible reds that preceded it. Balanced, light with honeysuckle and stone fruit with decades of life left, I still have yet to find a wine that is definitively better than a well aged bottle of d’Yquem. $250