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.
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.
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.
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.