Dunn Howell Mountain, Through The (Recent) Years

I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to taste a vertical selection of Dunn Vineyard’s Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with cellar master and assistant winemaker, Mike Dunn.

I tasted the wine from the 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 vintages, and I have notes to share on each. What I can say at the very least is that Dunn is some very good wine. If you haven’t had it, get your hands on it. There are two labels: Dunn Howell Mountain and Dunn Napa Valley. The former is the more prestigious of the two, with 100% of the grapes coming from the Howell Mountain sub-AVA, whereas the latter will include up to 15% grapes from the Napa Valley floor.

Also a word of warning: these wines aren’t cheap. You’d be hard-pressed to find any of these vintages for less than the $75-$100 range per bottle. So keep that in mind as well. On to the wines.

2002 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

A dark ruby red in the glass, this wine really has the Cali Cab look to it. On the nose is a wonderful wet stone note, a general earthiness, marked with a very dark fruit note (perhaps rhubarb). On the palate are notes of raspberry and cranberry, and while I found the wine nicely structured, the tannins seemed a bit rough for a wine already 8 years from harvest. Perhaps it needs just a bit more time.

Verdict: 86/100

2003 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Even darker-looking in the glass than the ‘02, the 2003 Dunn is a dark, dark red. The nose is pleasantly subtle and complex, with notes of black fruit mingling with a leather note. On the palate, this wine felt more mature than the 2002, with softer tannins, good acidity, and subtle notes of raspberry. This is a pretty fantastic Cabernet, and not at all bombastic like some California cult wines seem to be.

Verdict: 91/100

2004 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Speaking of darkening wine… the ‘04 is almost black at its core, though it shifts to a brighter red at the edges, a more extreme shift in color than the first two wines showed. The nose here is a bit hot, either its youth or the 2004 growing season showing its stripes, but it is a bit hard to get around. The nose also shows off some red fruit and a dulled, almost like cooked, blackberry. The wine is clean but strong on the palate, with notes of red fruit and leaves. It’s still a bit too hot, and needs some years, but will probably be very good after some more time.

Verdict: 88/100

2005 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

This vintage shows off a bit more in the glass, the color is a rich ruby red in the core, and fades to an almost pastel color on the edges. And this wine is different from the previous three in other ways, as well: the nose is full of forest floor, mushroom and bark, and pine needles. Awesomely stinky in a way. On the palate this wine shows a lot of structure for its relative youth, soft tannins, a good balance of alcohol and acid, with pleasant notes of smoky leather, red cherry, and earth. My favorite of the bunch by a smidge, I think the 2005 Dunn will be exceptional in 10 years' time.

Verdict: 92/100

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