Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Wine Journey: 2001 Dominus

Our random walk -- a wine journey -- through Andrew McNamara's Wines of the Decade continues with the 2001 Dominus from Dominus Estate.

Dominus Estate is owned by Christian Mouiex who, in addition to his Dominus responsibilities, manages his family's properties in Pomerol and St. Emilion,  properties that include the likes of Chateau Petrus and Chateau Trotanoy.  Moueix, whose scholastic accomplishments include a Masters in Enology from UC Davis, was, upon his return to France, given responsibility for the family holdings.  While in California, he had developed a love for Napa Valley and enlisted the late Robert Mondavi to assist him in finding a property that would allow him to produce high-quality wine in Napa.  Robert introduced Christian to Robin Lail and Marcia Smith, daughters of the legendary John Daniels and current owners of Napanook vineyard (Napanook was the former Inglenook Estate and, under John Daniels, had become famous for its Inglenook Cask Selection.).  Grapes from this site were highly sought after for the production of high-quality Napa Cabernets.  Moueix entered into partnership with the two vineyard owners in 1982 to create an entity called Dominus Estate which would focus on producing a Cabernet-based wine.  Moueix eventually bought out the sisters and took full ownership of the property in 1995.

Napanook, located in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, has a history that goes back to 1836 when George Yount, who gave his name to Yountville, planted the first vines in the valley there.  The farm is 124  acres -- 108 of which planted to vines -- with volcanic, heavy clay, and loam soil types.

Chrtistian believes that the best wine is made from the best grapes and, to that end, the company expends enormous amounts of energy in the vineyard -- crop thinning, canopy management, separating clusters, leaf plucking, and rinsing, for example -- to ensure that the best possible grapes are produced.

The estate produces 6,000 - 8,000 cases of wine annually with one half of the production meeting the stringent requirements for Dominus and the remainder either being bottled as the estate's second label -- Napanook -- or sold off in bulk.  Dominus, in the Bordeaux tradition, is a blend.  Early vintages were 75% - 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder Merlot.  Cabernet Franc was added to the blend in1986 and Petit Verdot in 1989.  The first 13 Dominus vintages were crushed and aged at Rombauer Vineyards but, in 1996, production was shifted to a 50,000 sq. ft., Dominus-owned winery which was designed and built by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

According to Dominus Estate, the 2001 vintage is truly a classic and will benefit from years of aging.  This vintage was characterized by an early bloom and long growing season that yielded grapes of exceptional maturity.  This wine has the unique ability to be rich and complex while possessing a smooth and silky texture.  The blend for the 7,000 case production was 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, and 4% Merlot.  The fermented wine was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new.

Tasting the 2001 Dominus was an exercise in perseverance.  I had this wine in my cellar but, inexplicably, bought a bottle from an online retailer for the purpose of the tasting.  I took the bottle to our regular Friday tasting at Antonio's and was disappointed to see that only four of the regulars had shown up for this, my thought, blockbuster event.  It turned out to not matter.  The bottle was not good.  One member of the team thought it might be corked while another thought it was funk that would blow off.  We set the bottle aside and came back to it half an hour later.  The "corkiness" had disappeared somewhat but there was still an unidentified smell that should not have been there.  On the palate, the wine was disaggregated and phenolic with high alcohol.  A chalky residue persisted on the tongue.  This group has had extensive experience tasting both the 1991 (one of our favorite wines) and 1997 Dominus so there was a flavor profile that we were looking for and it was not showing up. Needless to say I was very disappointed and platitudes like "It's not your fault" and "better luck next time" did nothing to pick my chin up off the floor.

I had been invited by Keith M. and his wife Nancy to have dinner with them on the following night as my wife was going to be out of town.  I saw this as an opportunity to re-taste the 2001 Dominus and took a bottle out of my cellar for this purpose (I also took another bottle which I will discuss at a later date.).  So I show up at Keith and Nancy's at 6:30 pm sharp, walk into the kitchen, and begin opening my bag of goodies.  I begin telling Keith that we were going to revisit the scene of the crime, as I pull the 2001 Dominus out of the carrying case, when he points out that he already has a bottle (same wine, same vintage) in the decanter on the kitchen counter.  He had seen how disappointed I was the day before so he was giving me a piece of candy to make me feel better. Oh well.  By the way, he prepared the meal and a wonderful one it was:  Osso Bucco, butternut squash risotto, and roasted asparagus.

Keith had opened his bottle at 1:30 pm and placed it back in his cellar at 57 degrees until 6:30 pm.  We began tasting it at around 8:00 pm. Black fruit and black olives were dominant along with muted hints of graphite.  On the palate there was a distinct creaminess and a hint of coconut.  The wine was smooth and had a very long finish.

This wine is a baby and needs another 5 - 10 years to begin to reveal itself fully.

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