Wine Talk

Snooth User: JonDerry

2008 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon hits the shelves

Original post 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 EMark, May 14, 2012.

Good to hear, thanks.  It's still buried in my cellar.  I have no plans to pull it out soon.

Reply by GregT, May 14, 2012.

Mark - depends on who you talk to about the tannins and mountain fruit.  Some say that it's cooler and consequently keeps the tannins present, others say it's above the fog line so that mitigates them, and I'm not sure anyone really knows.  WS did an article about a year ago or so on mountain vs valley floor fruit, and it seems to be a question that remains.

What I can say is that in some areas in CA, Spain, Italy, Hungary and France, the mountain fruit seems to be in general more tannic and less jammy. So if you look at Syrah for example, they grow it in the coolest places of generally warm regions - Cote Rotie gets pretty cold despite the name, Pic St. Loup plants Grenache but in the hill tops it's Syrah, in Hungary I've had great Syrah from mountainsides, and so on. Howell is known for producing pretty tannic fruit, but as to whether there's a direct correlation to elevation, honestly I don't know and I wish someone had a definitive answer rather than an opinion.

Reply by dmcker, May 14, 2012.

Aside from harsher temperature variations (it also gets quite warm in the daytime on that dirt in Cote Rotie), don't forget how mountain vines have to work harder than those on the bottom slopes or valley floors. Liquid refreshment is that much harder to get to, whether groundwater, or (heaven forbid) irrigation....

Reply by JonDerry, May 14, 2012.

And of course, not as much worry of flooding on the mountain.

Reply by dmcker, May 14, 2012.

Depends on where on the mountain... ;-(

Reply by GregT, May 14, 2012.

Yep, all that's true.  The theory is that there are bigger temperature swings as the nights are cooler and the metabolism of the plant slows, keeping the acidity higher while the sugars develop, there's more drainage on the mountainsides, usually more rocky dirt and less topsoil as that washes down so there's less nutritious soil producing smaller berries with more skin to juice and more tannins and flavor.

That's the theory and in places like Beaujolais you can see it - the crus are all on the hillsides and the lowlands produce the bulk wine that people have never respected.  Same in Rioja and obviously in CA. It's all a good theory but then you get to places like Bordeaux and they make pretty rough and tannic wine right on the riverbank, in the Loire they manage to keep those herbal and green notes with the acidity and tannin, and in Napa, they talk about "Rutherford dust" and the Oakville qualities and so on. And in Argentina, virtually all of the wine we get in this country is coming from pretty high elevations and some of it from extremely high elevations - their vineyards start where most of those in Europe and the US end. And much of their wine, from those rocky mountains, is pretty lush and fruity. Meantime, out in Long Island, there aren't even hills to speak of and they get tannic, green wine unless they're really good producers like Paumanok or Bedell.

I'd guess it's a kind of Chinese menu - take number 3, 5, 9.  You balance the sun load, the temperature averages and swings, the water or lack thereof, etc., and you end up finding the sweet spot for your wine.  I can't find the article and you probably need to be a paying member, but the WS article compared the valley floor with the mountains and interviewed a number of winemakers and there doesn't seem to be a real consensus. The arguments seem reasonable, so I'm good with those, but who knows.

So as to whether it's only mountain fruit that can produce those structured wines - I'm just back from a tasting today having tasted a few vintages of Palmaz, which is on Mt George, and a few vintages of Jordan, which is in the hills of Alexander Valley.  FWIW - I've always liked both of those and I have to say, the 2004 Jordan would hold its own in a tasting of good Bordeaux.  Palmaz also gets structure that a lot of wineries don't, and along with Corison and Dunn, would make a small grouping of wineries that have consistently been among what I consider high-quality CA wines. I think Dunn Howell is the only one that's really "mountain fruit", but I could be wrong. The others don't claim it, but they get similar qualities. And now I'm talking way beyond my firsthand knowledge so should shut up.

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