More California Cabernets
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (these days he's Jerry Brown's
Lieutenant Governor of the state of California) and his buddy Gordon
Getty own some Napa Valley vineyards and wineries.
One of them is called CADE. These guys are Shakespeare fans and
their first enterprise in Napa was, and still is, called Plumpjack after
Sir John Falstaff, who was cited as "plump Jack" in one play.
Cade, they'll tell you, is a reference to a barrel which contained wine
being shipped from Bordeaux to England. We thought this was a bit
fishy and, it turns out a CADE is a barrel. And if we're talking
seafood, a Cade of herrings contained 500 of those little suckers.
If we're dealing with sprats, a Cade contained a thousand of
those. And in Shakespearian times, you might be familiar with a
British rebel named Jack Cade.
- Whatever the name refers to in literature or history, in the Napa
Valley it refers to a pretty good Cabernet producer.
We've been fans of their Napa Valley Cabernet, though their Howell Mountain
bottlings have been good. The Napa bottling, though, comes from vineyards
in Calistoga, Oak Knoll and St. Helena. The blend
has 12% Petit Verdot and 9% Malbec. Oak comes from about11 different
cooperages and they buy woods from different forests and have these toasted in a
range of intensities.
All these little nuances, we feel, add to the complexity of the wine.
The 2014 is nicely balanced for fairly immediate enjoyment. It's a
full-bodied, nicely woodsy Napa Cabernet. There are plenty of dark fruit
notes to stand up to the wood. It ought to cellar well for 5+ years, maybe
longer if you've got a cool storage space.
- Currently in stock: 2014 CADE "Napa Valley" CABERNET
SAUVIGNON SALE $79.99
2013 Napa Valley "41st Anniversary" Cabernet Sauvignon List $90
2014 Special Selection "Napa Valley" Cabernet
Sauvignon SALE $189.99
Wagner family has been farming in the Napa Valley for a long time. We've known
Charlie and Chuck since their initial vintage back in 1972! They've always made
good Cabernets and the wines have improved steadily over the years.
In their first years the winery made quite a range of bottlings.
They were especially proud of their Pinot Noir Blanc, a wine they called
"Eye of the Partridge," a term you might find on a light pink
wine in France or Switzerland. There they were, in the middle of
prime Cabernet country--and they were fooling around with Pinot
Noir. (The Inglenook winery used to buy fruit from the Wagners in
I recall stopping in one day with my sister, Ellen, whom you might know
if you stop by the shop these days. Old Charlie, who passed away
some years ago, proudly was pouring wine in their tasting room. He
was really angry, as I recall, that the price of a cork had escalated
from around a few pennies to a nickel or a dime. He thought his
competitors ought to stop using so many corks and switch to screw
When I suggested he bottle his little "Eye of the Partridge"
Pinot Noir with a screw-cap he groused some more claiming that wine aged
well and wouldn't be right with a screw-cap.
And yet, old Charlie was ahead of his time and numerous vintners around
the world are embracing screw-capped bottles or those sealed with a
In those old days, the winemaker was a youngster named Randy Dunn. He
started his own enterprise up on Howell Mountain in the late 1970s and
he still makes good, old fashioned Cabernets. His, though, are
quite different from what Caymus makes today.
decade of the 1990s, their wines have pretty much "kicked butt" in just about
every blind-tasting they'd been in. While they had been slow to increase their
prices, they sure caught up in one vintage, moving the 1995 Cabernet to its $68 price, up
from $37 the vintage before! With many people crying about this increase, take a
look at the situation from the Wagner's perspective: Your wine aces out $50-$100
bottles of your neighbor's wines on a routine basis. People are lined up to buy your
product. You spend a small fortune on fruit and oak barrels. Why not ask a
premium price when you're offering a premium product?
Today's wines, though, are quite different from the Cabernets made in the
1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
In the old days, they made classic Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Today they're giving the people (and wine critics, apparently) what they
The photo above shows a test tube with a sample of the 40th Anniversary wine
and you can see the color chart matches it the 1% level (or 10 grams per
liter) of residual sugar.
This is a little gizmo called Clinitest (or Dextrocheck), a way to
measure small amounts of sugar in blood, urine or wine.
You add 5 drops of wine, 10 of water and a little reagent tablet...let
the liquid bubble and after 10 to 20 seconds, compare the color of the
liquid in the test tube with the color chart...
As you can see, then, the 2012 Anniversary bottling weighed in with about
(1%) 10 grams of sugar per liter. Most palates cannot detect 5
grams, but ten is certainly apparent although these days many California
winemakers are leaving a modest level of sweetness in their wines.
Kendall Jackson has made a lot of money producing wines with relatively
low levels of sweetness. Rombauer is famed for its distinctive
Chardonnay and Zinfandel, both with a bit of residual sugar. And
now Caymus is entering this arena, producing a pricey Cabernet with some
The 2013 Napa Cabernet was released in June of 2015. We were
told we'd be allocated something like 25% of the quantity we sold of
the 2012 vintage.
Napa Cabernet crop levels were about 4.4% lower than 2012 according to
the Napa Register newspaper.
But Caymus bought loads of extra grapes for their 40th anniversary
bottling and did not thing to duplicate that with the fairly bountiful
2013 harvest, according to one winery representative.
((This, of course, is in the wake of Caymus building a 100,000 square
foot winery and cellar/bottling line in neighboring Solano
County. The Wagner family wants to bottle its various brands in
one location and the County of Napa was not thrilled with the idea of
so much wine being run through the original Caymus' facility. As
a result, Chuck Wagner bought a 260 acre parcel for both vineyards and
The young marketing people who work for the Wagners have the idea that
the customers who best support ALL their brands (regardless of quality
or appropriateness of the wines to a shop or restaurant) deserve the
best treatment and biggest allocations. Of course, an account
selling a lot of the sweet blended wines called "Conundrum"
might not have customers for Caymus' extravagantly-priced Cabernets.
On the other hand, given that everything seems to be 'sweet', maybe
And so, a shop such as ours, is now viewed as a second-class (or
lower) account since we don't recommend wines we don't find to be
worthy. Despite being a supporter of the brand when it made its
debut and made a good quality product at an honest price, that counts
for very little these days.
Even though we had been offering the Caymus wines since the very first
The 2013 Napa Cabernet took a substantial price increase. The
wholesale price increased something like 28% from 2012 to
((Maybe some of that increase will be used to pay the one-million dollar
fine incurred by Caymus for exceeding the
production level ceilings imposed by Napa County?
We understand Caymus didn't view production levels as being out of
bounds, since wines were actually being made elsewhere, but being
trucked to Rutherford for bottling. Napa viewed this as exceeding
The wine is certainly in the category of "fruit bomb" or
"gobs o'fruit" style of California Cabernet. The crew
here found the wine to show "prune juice" sorts of character,
meaning the grapes were picked at very light levels of sugar and,
possibly, in a state where they're dehydrated a bit.
And the wine shows a touch of sugar, too.
The sweetness used to be a detraction for critics rating wines on a 20
or 100 point assessment scale. But it seems few of these people
are sensitive to the sugar.
Will consumers pay a premium price for this sort of wine or will Caymus
have to return to its old style of Cabernet?
That chapter remains to be written.
We'd sold out of a recent vintage of Special Selection Cabernet...the kid who's the winery
marketing guru is, like many "executives," uncaring about past
history it seems. We'd sent numerous missives to the winery (mistakenly
thinking the owner, Chuck Wagner, whom we've known since the early
1970s, would read our modest plea) asking if
they'd kindly allow us to buy a dozen bottles...finally we sent a note to the
"kid," saying we just woke up to the fact that we've been buying
Caymus wines for more years than he's been alive.
The kid called to "reach out to us" and see about twisting our arm to
buy some of their other wines.
We had sufficient inventory of their Belle Glos Pinot Noir and a number of
leaky bottles of their Conundrum white wine, so he was unwilling to accommodate
"We need those remaining cases of Special Selection for corporate chain
restaurant accounts." he explained.
Knock yourself out, kid.
- Chappellet was one of the first "new" wineries in the Napa
Valley back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At the time there were mostly just the big, famous
cellars: BV, Inglenook, Christian Brother, Beringer Brothers, Charles Krug...some guy
named Robert Mondavi had started a place in Oakville.
The Chappellet family had built a triangular-shaped winery way up in the eastern
hills of Napa at a place called Pritchard Hill. Chenin Blanc was popular in those
days and Chappellet still makes a lovely dry version of that Loire Valley
grape, though today's version is a bit higher in alcohol than the wines made
Cabernet Sauvignon from this area is special and uniquely flavored. I
remember with great fondness wines from 1973 (stunning!) and 1981. Now Chappellet
has neighbors such as Bryant Family, Ovid, Melanson, Continuum and David Arthur, so the 'hood is
getting crowded. Much of the fruit comes from vineyards on Pritchard
Hill where they own more than 600 acres of land. About 102 of those
are planted to grapes, leaving a wonderful natural ambiance in the
When we began exploring California wine regions, we noticed most vineyards
were planted in the lush, fertile valleys. Yet in researching European
wines, it was routinely noted that grapevines would typically be planted in
locations where farming other crops would be difficult, if not
impossible. Napa Valley, back in the 1960s and 1970s, was carpeted on
the flatlands. Chappellet was one of the few newcomers to start
planted in a relatively difficult, rugged "mountain"
They were also early in cultivating grapes utilizing organic or sustainable
methods well before those became a tool to sell wine. The Chappellets
did this because they thought it was simply the right thing to do.
They've been certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers as
"organic" since 2012.
Chappellet has always had good winemakers. Tony Soter and Cathy Corison were
associated with Chappellet in previous lifetimes. So was Philip
Phillip Corallo-Titus is the current winemaker. He's been at the helm
for 20 years, or so (and makes his own wine under the Titus label).
As with so many Napa wineries, the wines have followed the trend towards
bigger and riper.
We really like Chappellet's 2016 "Signature" Cabernet. This
is dark in color and has intense red and black fruit notes with a touch of
wood. The bouquet is sweet with some mocha and vanillin tones.
It's full-bodied and despite its youth, the wine is quite drinkable.
It will be interesting to see if it cellars well, as it's already rather
supple on the palate.
They seem to have polished or smoothed out any rough "edges," as
the wine is very showy presently.
It's the sort of wine which will likely garner impressive numerical scores
if you're into that sort of stuff.
We are not and don't care...we're just looking for good wines to recommend
and this will please a wide range of palates.
- They make a special bottling of Estate Grown Cabernet
called Pritchard Hill. We currently have the 2014 in
stock. It's 14% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec and the wine spent 22 months in new French oak. It's a potent, massive bottling, being
quite full-bodied and intense.
Our former staffer Kareasa shared a bottle of 2008 Pritchard Hill with us...
- Aside from being fairly potent, the wine was a rich, full-bodied
Cabernet of fine quality. It was one of those wines which makes you
understand that Napa is a special place for Cabernet and
even more so: Pritchard Hill is a special place for
In the realm of "budget-priced," Chappellet makes a blend called
"Mountain Cuvee." The 2016 is currently in stock,
sale priced at $31.99
(Keep in mind that Napa vintners view $50 as "everyday-priced"
A few years ago they changed the name from Chappellet to Cervantes.
We sent them a note to suggest this was not a good marketing idea.
They persisted with the Cervantes brand for a couple of vintages before
deciding keeping the Chappellet name on the label was a better idea.
The current vintage of Mountain Cuvee is 2016. The blend is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon,
24% Merlot,9% Petit
Verdot, 13% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc. It's matured in oak and the wine
shows some nice brown spice notes from the wood and some dark fruits of the
various Bordeaux varieties. This is drinkable now and it's not intended
for lengthy cellaring.
- Currently in stock:
2014 "PRITCHARD HILL" CABERNET SALE $219.99
2016 "SIGNATURE" CABERNET SALE $69.99
2016 "MOUNTAIN CUVEE" SALE $31.99
Chateau Montelena started operating in its current incarnation, Mike Grgich was the
winemaker. Grgich had been affiliated with Lee Stewart at Souverain. He also
worked with the Christian Brothers and then as a protégé of Andre Tchelistcheff at
Beaulieu. A stint at the University of Robert Mondavi at Oakville came next before
he started as the winemaker at Chateau Montelena.
The first wine made at Montelena was a lovely Napa Riesling. This is still
made in tiny amounts and you can find it at the winery's tasting room and an occasional
wine list in a Bay Area restaurant. Chardonnay was Grgich's next success, followed
by Zinfandel. Cabernet Sauvignon never really achieved a significant degree of
notoriety in the early days. Mike departed and was followed by Jerry Luper, previously the head
winemaker at Freemark Abbey winery. Bo Barrett, son of the major investor in
Montelena, had been somewhat of an "understudy" (I think he took over with
the 1982 vintage). By the late 1970s, Montelena's Estate vineyard, predominantly
planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, became the backbone of what is now a highly-regarded Napa
I should point out that Montelena is at the northern end of the Napa Valley in
Cabernet Sauvignon from this vineyard tends to display a ripe character which I
find reminiscent of blackberry or black cherry. While they use a percentage of new
oak, you won't find Montelena's Cabernets resembling those of Caymus or Silver Oak, for
example. Bo Barrett does a fine job of capturing the fruit and crafting a rather
big, intense red wine with a moderately tannic spine. Older bottles we've
opened, from time to time, always seem remarkably well-preserved.
Montelena offers its Estate Cabernet along with a secondary wine that used
to be called
"Calistoga Cuvée." The latter is a more forward, simpler wine with a
significantly simpler price tag. It is now simply sold as "Napa"
The 2015 "Napa" is a very fine bottle, showing plenty of nice dark
fruit notes. It's 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 1% Cabernet
Franc. You can drink it now, if you like, and it will cellar
well for up to 5-10 years as it has a moderate level of tannin.
The Montelena Estate Cabernet from 2013 is a lovely wine. They're
typically around 14% alcohol or a bit lower. This vintage is just a
tad about 14%.
The wine is showing well in its youth and it seems to hold good promise if
you're interested in cellaring it for another 10-20 years. It's a wine
with a bit of backbone and yet it's nicely balanced and enjoyable now with a
At a vertical tasting of Montelena Cabernets, the 2011 was
exceptional. This was a bit surprise, as many wineries in Napa will
tell you the vintage was really challenging and it was difficult to make
But that's what separates the men from the boys.
In fact, Bo Barrett was explaining how all the years of experience have
helped him (and Montelena) make good wines every year, despite the
curveballs lobbed at them by Mother Nature.
It's 99% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc. Twenty-two months
in French oak, about one-third of the barrels were brand new. Well
under 14% alcohol, too.
It's charming now and will live for a decade or two.
An earlier vintage received an absurd score from the Wine
Spectator critic, Jim Laube. This fellow must have had an
"off" to rate this a score of 69 out of
a possible 100 points. The 2007 vintage is the current release,
similarly styled and showing nice, dark fruit all the way through the nose
to the palate...
Mr. Laube arrived at the same score for Montelena's "Estate"
Cabernet from 2001 as well. We had it in a blind-tasting and the wine
was very nice. I had it highly ranked as did my colleague Bob
Gorman. I was pleasantly surprised by the elegance of the wine, since
these are often pretty hefty and brawny. Not one taster mentioned
any of the curious, supposedly "musty" notes Laube finds so
prevalent in Montelena's wines.
The Wine Spectator's Laube has, apparently, trained himself to look for
notes of a musty character. It can be detected at really low
concentrations if you care to develop this tasting acumen. Most people
are not that sensitive and so, to 98% of wine drinkers, the Montelena
Cabernets are fine.
This reminds me of the comment from a friend who pointed out that dogs can
hear things which are inaudible to human beings. "You know,"
he said, "The New York Times does not send a dog to critique the
- We opened another bottle of the 2001 with a prominent
winemaker friend from Italy in July of 2012. It was paired with a
steak and served amongst some other wines and, frankly, the wine was
In February of 2008 we opened a bottle of Montelena's 1995 Cabernet and
found the wine to be exceptional. It was clean, showing lovely dark
fruits and the oak was well in the background. At 12+ years of age,
this was still youthful and capable of additional cellaring....We had
another bottle in May of 2010...dark fruit, mildly woodsy and thoroughly
Montelena embarked upon a program of selling its wine on a "futures"
basis, asking customers to put their cash on the barrel-head a couple of years in advance
of the release of the wine. They have, apparently, stopped this
program and it's probably a good idea.
In the Spring of 2008 rumor swirled around the industry of the impending
sale of Chateau Montelena. In late July of 2008, the winery announced
it was being sold to Michel Reybier, a fellow who acquired Chateau Cos
d'Estournel in 2000. The sale fell through, however, as the exchange
rate in favor of the American dollar significantly increased the price for
the French buyer.
- In July of 2010, I was invited to taste 25 vintages of
Montelena's estate Cabernet...Click
here for that report.
- Currently in stock: 2015 Napa Valley Cabernet SALE $54.99
- 2013 Napa Valley "Montelena Estate" Cabernet SALE $149.99
2011 Napa Valley "Montelena Estate" Cabernet SALE $159.99
Carrying this interest in rock music even farther,
Lede has named the various vineyard parcels after classic tunes.
- Cliff Lede
(pronounced like "lady") is a
Canadian-born fellow who made a few bucks north of the border and is now
dabbling in a serious Napa Valley enterprise. Lede had visited
the Valley once or twice on California get-aways and business trips and he
enjoyed his jogs in and around vineyards in bucolic Napa.
He purchased the old S. Anderson winery and vineyard and has hired some good
folks to run the place in a serious, quality-driven fashion. Anderson
was a retired dentist from Los Angeles who dabbled in winemaking and
sparkling wine production.
I have enjoyed some bottles of S. Anderson bubblies over the years, but none
has seriously challenged the sparkling wines of France's Champagne
region. The table wines from S. Anderson have been
well-made, but not especially compelling (as in "compelling me to buy
Their 2001 was a bit ordinary, but they hit their stride, perhaps, with the
2002 vintage. We liked the 2003 Cabernet very much, as well.
We had been, then, an early supporter of the Cliff Lede wines, but they made
a poor marketing decision in the middle part of that decade when they sent
their wines to some wine publications for review. The wines fared well
and suddenly they had requests from all corners of the country for their
wines. They decided to abandon their early supporters such as Weimax,
in favor of selling wine to new customers who were in search of high
We stopped carrying the wines. A decade later, though, the Cliff Lede
ambassador stopped by and we tasted a number of really smart wines and
decided the wines were good enough to end our little embargo.
Lede is a big fan of rock & roll music and if you visit the place,
you'll undoubtedly see evidence of this.
Some vintage posters for the Grateful Dead band.
I'm amused that while I'm fairly clueless about today's pop music scene, even I
recognize most of these names!
Here's a bird's-eye view of the Cliff Lede vineyard.
We wondered if this parcel was named to honor some numerically-challenged
Abbey Road in the Napa Valley!
There's interest art scattered around the property, in addition to their
The cellar seemed to be designed for efficiency and during
the harvest, it was in good condition (sanitation goes a long way towards making
a good bottle of wine, so we were impressed to see the place beautifully clean).
Winemaker Chris Tynan has an impressive
résumé, though we prefer not to sell wine based on the affiliations people
have had in the wine business.
Suffice it to say he ought to be making good wines and, in fact, he is.
The tasting room and outdoor tasting patio are impressive and comfortable.
We tasted a number of good wines made by Cliff Lede under his
Napa label and his "FEL" label from Mendocino.
The Napa wines include a good Sauvignon Blanc and a rather nice Napa Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon. We currently have the 2013 Napa Cabernet from the
Stags Leap District. The wine saw extended skin contact and the grapes are
fairly ripe, so the resulting wine is deep in color and showing dark, black
fruit fragrances. Some of those same elements transfer to the
flavors...and there's a nice bit of oak here, as well. The final blend is
78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec and 2%
Merlot. Twenty-one months aging in French oak, with half the barrels being
brand new. It's a showy Cabernet...probably best now or for
short-term cellaring, this wine can be paired with a good steak or rack of
Best to serve the wine lightly cooled to cellar temperature.
in stock: 2013 CLIFF LEDE Stags Leap District CABERNET
- CATHY CORISON
first met Cathy Corison when she was the winemaker at a rather new estate in
Napa called Chappellet.
She made good wine for the Chappellet family eons ago and she's been making
wine under her Corison label since 1987. Over the years Cathy has been
affiliated with a flock of good estates, including Staglin, York Creek and
Long Meadow Ranch.
The style of her Cabernet, which comes from several vineyards, I believe,
may be considered a bit "old school." We consider it to be a
traditional style of Napa Cabernet and one you don't find much these
days. For one thing, it's not pushing 15% alcohol. For another,
it's not a "fruit bomb" with "gobs of fruit."
Another unusual feature: it will age gracefully.
At a trade tasting I told Cathy "You know, if you'd add gallons of
Mega-purple (a grape concentrate) to your wine, your Cabernet would be just
like everybody else's!"
We had a good laugh.
It's really great to taste a wine that's not fussed with and tastes
distinctively different from the masses.
- Her wine is always 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
It's typically matured in French oak barrels, with 50% of the cooperage
being brand new.
Cathy's wines have typically had a firm structure and plenty of
That's what you get when you're dealing with an "old timer."
Dunn. Forman. Togni. Corison.
The 2004 seems to have brighter fruit, a shade more wood and a
sunnier, even smiling disposition than many of her vintages. The wine
now has had time to develop and evolve and it's done so beautifully.
You can enjoy a bottle now paired
with a roast or steak, but cellaring this for 5 to ten more years is
- A bit of a surprise is how approachable Corison's 2013 Napa Valley
Cabernet is showing.
It displays beautiful Cabernet fruit. Dark berries. Maybe some black
cherry. Black plums? Mildly woodsy, too. Cedar.
Vanilla. It's got layers of flavors and blossoms quite handsomely on
the palate. Don't miss it.
Currently in stock: 2004 CORISON Napa Valley CABERNET
2013 CORISON Napa Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON $93.99
- ROBERT CRAIG CELLARS
Craig worked many years as a vineyardist in the Napa Valley before launching
his own label in 1990.
He had come to California and enjoyed the Napa Valley when there were but a
handful of wineries there. After obtaining an MBA at the University of
Chicago, he returned to California and set out to go work for a
winery. But wineries in Napa were few and far between and the staff
positions were typically occupied by family members as these were smallish
After working in real estate, Craig and a colleague took the plunge and
bought a vineyard property on Mount Veeder. He ended up selling it to
a Swiss guy named Donald Hess who had come to Napa in search of water.
Hess ended up buying the property and asking Robert Craig to stick around
and manage the vineyard. And so Craig worked for Hess for about a
Over the years, though, he helped establish vineyards on Spring Mountain and
Howell Mountain. A prominent entertainer had a new property atop Mount
Veeder and Craig was recommended by John Shafer as a good candidate to plant
that site. Hess mostly wanted to sell grapes, but, of course, he ended
up establishing a winery and making some wine. But Craig saw Hess
going in a direction he didn't appreciate, so he left after ten years.
The entertainer was a fellow named Robin Williams and he thought planting
grapes might help cover some of the costs of having this country get-away
property. It's called Pym Rae and Craig has had a handshake agreement
to get the grapes to make his "Mount Veeder" appellation
Cabernet. Now that property was sold, in the wake of Williams' death,
to the owners of Chateau Pontet Canet (and Tesseron Cognac)...two really
good products in our view.
It's not clear if the Tesserons will continue to sell Craig some of the
fruit from Pym Rae.
Craig had been instrumental in the establishment of both the Mount Veeder
and Spring Mountain AVA's (American Viticultural Areas). These days,
getting up in years, Craig is said to be semi-retired.
The winery seems to be in good hand, though, and the wines they make a
We currently have the 2013 Mount Veeder Cabernet from Robert Craig.
It's a fairly high octane red wine, possibly due to the relatively low
yields. Though we read that the 2013 vintage produced a rather
abundant crop in Napa, the yields were lower on Mount Veeder and they
calculated getting less than two-and-a-half tons to the acre.
The wine offers lots of dark fruit tones...oak is lingering in the
background, though. It's fairly full on the palate and you can
certainly pair this with a steak or prime rib tonight. It ought to
cellar nicely for a decade, or so. Maybe longer if you've got cool
- Currently in stock: 2013 ROBERT CRAIG Mount Veeder
CABERNET SAUVIGNON $89.99
story of the Dancing Hares winery is quite remarkable and it has a few
elements common to many Napa Valley cellars: Its owner made a small
fortune in the high-tech world.
His name is Robert Cook and he's the son of a US Postal worker, hailing from
Pennsylvania. Dad, apparently, insisted his son take off his welder's
mask and head to college to make something of himself. And, boy, did
- Cook attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania (this is halfway between
Pittsburgh to the west and Altoona to the east) and got a good education
before a military stint in Vietnam. From there he was in high tech and
had a company called VM Software which he sold for a bazillion
He and Mrs. Cook (Paula Brooks) invested in a small vineyard property in the
eastern hills of the Napa Valley. They're below Howell Mountain and
there are two little vineyard parcels. And to add to the confusion,
wouldn't you know there's a "Cook Family Winery" just up the road
from the Cooks!?!
In addition to being a gentleman farmer, Mr. Cook is also a writer and he's
created a character named Alec Cuchulain who's a hedge fund manager and,
imagine this, CIA special-ops warrior! "Cooch"!!!
So they make this Dancing Hares wine which sells in the triple-digit
range. We're fans of their "entry level" wine (if $59.99 is
'entry level') called Mad Hatter.
The 2009 vintage is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with nearly 60% Merlot
and some Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Sixty percent new French
oak cooperage gives a sweetly woodsy note to the wine. We like the
wine for immediate drinking, but it may hold on nicely for a few more
- Currently in stock: 2009 MAD HATTER Sold Out
The marketing company representing this
brand has a sales rep who stops by on a very sporadic and unreliable
basis. The fellow, whom we suspect is on commission, has not thought
to bring by any of the succeeding vintages, so we've filled that spot in the
shop with other wines.
UPDATE (January 2019): Dancing Hares is now distributed by one of the
large liquor houses. They have a "fine wine" sales rep but
this fellow has no clue about wine and has never mentioned they even carry
the products from this winery.
Khaledi is a Persian émigré who left Iran around the time of the Islamic Revolution.
I don't know what bit of insanity caused him to choose to set up a winery and
vineyard in the Napa Valley, but perhaps the hot sun in the Middle East had something to
do with it.
He had been passionate about wine for much of his adult life and had a fondness for
vineyards since they had been so prolific in the winegrowing region of Shiraz (said to be
where the Syrah grape was born).
The winemaker is Steve Devitt, whom we first met eons ago at his folk's winery out
in Pope Valley. Steve has worked at a variety of places since, including Newlan
Vineyards & Winery and Signorello Vineyards. Steve is in charge of the Darioush
vineyards as well as the cellar.
They're developing a rather good track record for Cabernet. The wines
are stylish, nicely oaked, packed with dark fruit notes and balanced enough
to be drinkable young, yet structured to have a bit of cellaring
The 2013 is in stock...and it's showing the usual Darioush character. French oak. Lots
of berry fruit. It has 17% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit
Verdot. They do a moderate amount of "whole
berries" in the fermentation tank and this may be one key to the fruit
fragrance of their wine. It's a big, fully-oaked Napa Cabernet...
make a second-tier wine called Caravan.
The 2012 is quite nice and while it might not be quite as complex as the
Darioush-labeled wine, it's still thoroughly charming and well-priced.
This Cabernet has 14% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 4% Malbec. It's been
matured in a high percentage of brand new French and "European" oak
cooperage (that's a fancy way of not saying the barrels might be from Hungarian
or Russian forests).
It's a charming bottle of Cabernet and is showing well in its youth. We
don't expect it's a wine for lengthy aging, so drinking it young is probably
Currently in stock: 2013 Darioush Napa Cabernet
Sauvignon SALE $99.99
first met Randy Dunn when he was the winemaker for some little place in
Rutherford called Caymus. He's not one for "singing and
dancing," so you won't find him pouring wine at "winemaker
dinners" or "Meet The Geek" events. His efforts are
solidly on viticulture and winemaking rather than showmanship.
Dunn's first vintage under his own label was the 1979 if I recall
correctly. The wine was well-received and was one of the first
"cult" Cabernets in the 1980s version of the Golden Age of Wine in
California. Before that, of course, BV's Private Reserves, Heitz,
Ridge and some Louis Martini wines were those chased after by
"serious" wine drinkers.
Caymus and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars made the next "must haves"
and Dunn was on the scene shortly after that. And his wine remains a
seriously good bottle into the 2010s...
Dunn's wines have been full-throttle, massive Cabernets. He offers two
bottlings, the "Napa" Cabernet and one from vineyards on Howell
Mountain. The latter is typically the bigger of the two and the most
costly. I can't say it's necessarily the better of the two, though, so
please don't think of the Napa bottling as a lesser wine than the massive,
brawny Howell Mountain bottling.
We have had delicious bottles of Dunn's Cabernets. The Napa bottling
is usually lovely at about 10-15 years of age.
We've yet to have a
Howell Mountain Cabernet from Dunn that's hit a point of maturity where
you'd say "Better drink these up right away." That's because
they have a lot of intensity and plenty of tannin and structure for
February of 2007 I opened a bottle of 1982 Dunn Howell Mountain for a
visiting winemaker friend from Italy. The wine was impressive for
about 30 to 40 minutes, just long enough for us to enjoy the grilled slab o'
beef we paired with it. After about an hour the wine was spent,
growing tired and old...it was great, though, when first poured.
In March of 2007 we had another visiting European dignitary and we opened a
1994 Howell Mountain...this was a youngster, but beautifully evolved and
probably on a plateau. Deep, dark and with youthful black fruit notes,
this was a delight.
The 1999s are showing well these days.
One feature of Dunn's winemaking is that he strives for keeping the alcohol
to sensible levels. Instead of making big, flabby, ready-to-drink
immediately, sweet, "gobs o' fruit" wines, Dunn makes Cabernets
for adult wine drinkers.
We have the Napa Valley bottling which used to be predominantly from Howell Mountain
grapes with a small addition of valley floor vineyard juice. This
vintage is predominantly from fruit grown in the Coombsville area with
about one-third from Howell Mountain. It may not have quite the
structure of previous Dunn Napa Cabernets, but it is very good,
- The 2011 Howell Mountain is showing well presently and will be a
lovely wine if you have a bit of patience and good storage conditions.
The wine offers lots of dark fruit notes with a shading of cassis or an
herbal streak and lots of blackberry and stony notes.
The 2012 Howell Mountain is excellent and you'll find the tannins to be
more tame than Dunn's wine from a decade ago.
Mike Dunn says this was a conscious decision to refine the style of the
Howell Mountain wine.
- Currently in stock: 2012 DUNN "Napa
Valley" CABERNET SALE $89.99
2011 DUNN "Howell Mountain-Napa" CABERNET Sale $99.99 (magnums
2012 DUNN "Howell Mountain-Napa" CABERNET SALE $159.99
- Some Older Vintages are available...stop by and have a look.
In September of 2013 we opened the 1997 and 1998 Howell Mountain Cabernets,
side-by-side. The 1997 was quite good, but the 1998, on this occasion,
was even more showy!
Both had balance and finesse and were stellar with the prime rib roast...
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