Wine Talk

Snooth User: JonDerry

2008 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon hits the shelves

Posted by JonDerry, Mar 12, 2012.

The boards' favorite California Cabernet Sauvignon producer has recently released their 2008 Howell Mountain and Napa Valley wines. Randy Dunn is one of the most respected winemakers in California by those "in the know". Though he keeps a low profile and his wines aren't known for being hyped, I get the impression that his wines are slowly increasing in popularity. 

Critics: As far as I know, only Galloni's scores are in from the Wine Advocate, and they're pretty high. 

98+ Howell Mountain  -  96 Napa Valley

Price: This has been known as one of the great values in Napa for years, but with these 08' releases, we're seeing the pricing inch closer to the $100 level. Average pricing is $80 for the Napa Valley, and $94 for the Howell Mountain

According to Dunn's website they typically produce 2,500 cases of the Howell Mountain and 1,500 cases of the Napa Valley release. With 2008 being a lower yielding vintage for California, but also one of high concentration and quality, it's probably pretty safe to say there's not a ton of this stuff at the retailers, especially if you factor in that the winery has their own private club members.

So, with all that said, will you be buying?


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Reply by GregT, Mar 12, 2012.

If I buy it will be because I've had a lot more of this than Galloni and over a much longer time.  I wouldn't buy because a guy who doesn't know the wine or region shows up, tastes a wine, and announces that it's good. Maybe he's a good guy, but zero influence, at least to me. Why would I trust him more than you, who live there?  That wine has always been good. His recent discovery of it doesn't make it any better.

Reply by dmcker, Mar 12, 2012.

Here here, Greg...

Reply by Giacomo Pevere, Mar 12, 2012.

A little rant from Greg. Bad day? What Galloni did to deserve this? :)

Reply by outthere, Mar 12, 2012.

I may not live long enough to drink it though. Should mature by 2040 or so.

Reply by JonDerry, Mar 12, 2012.

Greg, i'd hope you'd trust me over Galloni!

I'll hopefully taste this Dunn Napa Valley soon and let you know how it is.

Actually, I could have left out WA's ratings, this just struck me as another great value wine transitioning towards becoming a luxury good. In fact, the average price of 2008 Leoville Barton is a few dollars cheaper than the 08' Dunn Howell Mountain ; )

Reply by dmcker, Mar 12, 2012.

Galloni (& WA) somehow expected, Giacomo, to be able to come in and take over a role that was significant in the hearts and minds of experienced drinkers in the 1980s, less the 1990s, not much at all further on, and now is not very relevant even with his predecessor. Little credibility, less expectable knowhow about CA. He was really bending over backwards to take every possible interview in Napa a couple of weeks ago, but that ain't enough...

Yeah, outthere, it'll be barely legal sometime second half of next decade

Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 13, 2012.

Hmmm.  I had been thinking about getting a couple more Dunn HM  '01s and '03s for the girls' birth year bottles.  This is going to drive the prices up, methinks.  Not a good thing.

Of course, there's the congnoscenti's other favorite, Togni, to check out.  The Napa bottling of that is less than the Napa from Dunn--neither is as ageworthy as the mountain bottling, I'm told. 

I'd be really doubtful these would show well this soon, JD, but let us know.  That's part of the prob with Galloni's reviews--does he have a 20 year window on these wines?

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Mar 13, 2012.

Awesome thread, and it didn't take a day to read. I say who gives a rat's ass what the points are once they're north of say 92. I've been buying, and drinking Dunn's wines since the early 80s. I loved them then and I love them today, though even these wines are riper than they were in the past. One thing I would point out is that the Howell Mountain is not the better wine for me, just different, and it takes forever to come around so I'm am just as happy buying the Napa Valley, which is of course 85% Howell Mountain fruit in any event.



Reply by JonDerry, Mar 13, 2012.

I'm curious to find out about this legend of how long lived Dunn's wines are. I wouldn't expect them to benefit much, if at all from more than 10 years in bottle anymore, especially with GdP mentioning they seem to be trending riper lately. Who knows though, maybe i'll get my hands on a Mag of the 2008 HM and set it aside for my 70th birthday party in 2050.

Fox, while I probably wouldn't touch the Howell Mountain until my kid starts kindergarten, it seems like the Napa Valley wine is made for earlier drinking. I'm not afraid to give this a shot after a couple years in bottle, in fact I expect it to drink well after a decant.

Greg, would be interesting to know how the Howell Mountain fruit is selected or divided between the two wines. That's the only significant difference I could think of other than the 15% valley floor fruit going into the Napa Valley, and perhaps a tweak in the winemaking.

Had a 2008 Turnbull Cabernet today at lunch, was actually a really nice example of the Napa Cab typicity/region, especially for $30 - $35. Good texture, dark berry taste, spice, smoke and the tannins had a kick to them, but sweet and fine enough, leading to a good medium finish. Paired well with mexican food (chips/salsa, enchilada's, shredded beef taco's). Seems like a good idea to taste against the Mondavi and Chappellet for reference.

Reply by shsim, Mar 19, 2012.

Wow we got hit! Haha it didnt get the post on spam.

Reply by JonDerry, Apr 5, 2012.

Another Dunn vertical at K&L Redwood City tonight, man I wish I was local.

Maybe this will get in time to NG or OT, but it's at 5pm tonight!!/events/335497523160382/

Reply by dmcker, Apr 5, 2012.

Fox is closer than either outthere or NG...

Plus there's the negative motivation (in my imaginings) for outthere as per the question 'why head south into that ratrace to taste wine that they're making up here anyway?'

Reply by JonDerry, Apr 5, 2012.

Yeah, I sent Fox a text in advance. Was hoping he could make it, but looks like a longshot.

I did go out and get 2 x Howell Mountain and 1 x Napa Valley...plan on opening the Napa Valley before long and will report back.

Reply by JonDerry, Apr 29, 2012.

Ok, so I opened the 2008 Napa Valley last night at a dinner party, and it was a pretty underwhelming experience. Double decanted and let it sit for a couple hours and drank slowly over another two hours, but I was left with the impression that this could very well be not worth the current pricing, the soil and fruit components were all but absent. Was expecting it to be a little green, but it was something like drinking pickle juice, with the acid overwhelming what else was there.

While it's great that it can age for a long while, and of course I'd be interested to see when the pleasure starts kicking in, but I don't think I'll be buying another. This I don't mind at all, seems like there are already too many wines that I feel obligated to stay in touch with. Anyway, I'm left with the impression that I'd much rather take my chances with another region like Bordeaux, Barolo, Burgundy, etc. 

Still have a few Howell Mountain's in the cellar so I'll give them ample time, now that I've seen first hand how green these wines can be early on.

Reply by dmcker, Apr 29, 2012.

" was something like drinking pickle juice, with the acid overwhelming what else was there."


If it was sour pickle juice than you've got a problem bottle. If it was only lots of acid with reticent fruit, tannins whatever they were, then welcome to a bottle built to age and evolve. No Dunns or good Bordeaux or Mayacamas or Diamond Creek or whomever and whatever else should be drunk and be expected to get up and dance at 3years and a few months of age. I tend to think they age on a human scale.  ;-)

That's a problem with modern expectations. It hurts Dunn (and Mayacamas and others), but in a good way for us, because this is what keeps the prices (relatively) down. All that wine that's made to be taken home from a store and drunk within three hours with fruit bombast galore has 'educated' the American palate. Lack of patience, desire for immediate gratification, etc. And that's why a lot of 'cult' wines (Silver Oak and Sea Smoke are only the most egregious) are crap, because they're something someone working on Wall Street, or wherever, who doesn't know much beyond testerone-driven (not to deny there are foolish females over there, too) groupthink about the cool/hot thing. I see it a lot for crappy-yet-overpriced Aussie shiraz and NZ sauvignon blanc in the banking community in Asia. I helpout when I can, but still regularly have head-shaking experiences out in that environment, and have stopped gifting good bottles of wine into it.

Try that bottle the next day, if there's any left. And try another of the same vintage (get a few of them) five, 10, 15 and 25 years from now. You'll be very, very surprised. I know I was the first half-dozen times I ran into how a wine could change in a half-dozen hours, much less a dozen or two years. It may be that you just don't like Dunn's wine, Jon. But my guess is that you rather haven't had a chance to taste it as it was meant to be tasted. As the case also with a lot of Bordeaux that gets drunk too young. Why would you want to drink a great Barolo at 3 1/2, or a great Rioja (if you could get it out of the winery), as other examples?

Oh yeah, and in regard to that recent thread about 'why cellar?', here we have one huge example why....

Reply by outthere, Apr 29, 2012.

Way, way, way too young. Where I come from its called infanticide. That wine has barely started it's first trimester. Look for an early 80s bottle.

Reply by JonDerry, Apr 29, 2012.

Ok, I suppose I deserve some "Told you so's"

I've heard since 03' Dunn's kids have had a bigger impact on the winemaking and they're not as long lived, but maybe that's not the case, or just a sign of the power of 08' in Napa/Sonoma.

What's interesting was the wine wasn't so tannic. Sure, it was a bit tight, but maybe I just have't run into a wine like this so young. Jury's still out on whether their wines suit my palate on maturity, but there was definitely more pleasure derived from the wines showcased at the 09' UGC just a few months ago.

Like I mentioned I have a few Howell Mountain's in the cellar and will give them some time before opening, though just to be safe I wont be devoting any more resources on Dunn for the time being.

Reply by dmcker, Apr 30, 2012.

But you should, now, while you can at these prices and this availability. Just lay them down and forget about them, for a very pleasant (much) later...  ;-)

Reply by EMark, Apr 30, 2012.

Sorry, guys, but I'm a tad confused, here.  In Jon's report he indicates (and I am paraphrasing a bit) that the wine is acidic (reference to pickle juice) and does not seem to have much tannin.

I am here to learn and, so, I am asking whether aging will do anything to tame acid.  I get the idea that age does wonders to tame tannins and to harmonize sensual characteristics, but here we have a report that the wine does not seem to be tannic.

There was a suggestion that the bottle was tainted as an explanation of the acid sensation.  This made sense to me.  The comment that the "wine is too young" does not explain the acid to me.

I am curious.  I'm I mistaken in my thoughts?

I do have another thought.  A few months ago there was a conversation here on the Forum about a wine's "awkward age."  That conversation was a tremendous learning experience for me.  Can the characteristics cited in Jon's report be attributed to the wine's awkward age? 

Reply by dmcker, Apr 30, 2012.

It was a question of the kind of acid. Acid is essential, in my experience, to a wine's longevity and evolutionary capabilities over time. Without plenty of acid there is no ageability. A large abundance of acid at infancy can signify very good potential, assuming other essential elements are also there. Jon didn't mention the tannins in the first of his two most recent posts, so I didn't address that issue in mine, but while I assumed they were there I also guessed they were subsumed by the overall attack of acidity.

This acidity as a precursor for ageability/evovlvability is something I've experienced in all great wines, whether red or white. Definitely in Bordeaux and Burgundy and Barolo and Rioja. Less so in the northern Rhone but it's lurking there, even if less obviously. Definitely there in Burgundy whites and Rhein and Mosel resilings. One of the fantastic elements of Tokaj whites is their acidity in amongst all that sweetness.

A wine's 'dumb period' is there for several types of wine, most famously for Barolos, but also many others. Modern winemaking seems to be trying to bomb it into submission. Many oldskool wines don't even start with a pleasant, easy drinking infancy before heading into adolescent ignorance, but are like a barrel of hammers when first rolling out the cellar doors. Welcome to the Dunn. The guy doesn't fuss around with irrelevancies....


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