Having tasted a lot of wine lately from wineries I had never heard of before got me to thinking about the explosion of new California wine producers over the last decade or so. I’ve been working wine retail for about, oh gosh I’m about to age myself, twenty years, and though I do my darnedest to keep up, whenCalifornia had at last count over 3,000 bonded wineries how can you possibly know (let alone taste) it all?!? It is because of this that I am all the more thankful for the tried and true, the old guard, the legacy wineries like Dunn Vineyards. When Dunn Vineyards released their first vintage back in 1981 there were only 576 bonded wineries in California and Randy Dunn was finishing up his tenure at Caymus Vineyards. Randy moved his family up to Howell Mountain where he bought property that had 14 acres of planted vineyards. Howell Mountain was the first sub-appellation in the Napa Valley to be granted its own AVA (American Viticultural Appellation) in 1983. And unlike most AVAs that are often defined by waterways and property lines, Howell Mountain boundaries are defined by a 1400 ft. elevation contour line. When I came to work at The Wine House, all those years ago, Dunn Vineyards was one of those regaled Napa wineries that I had heard of but had never seen in shops. The red wax-dipped top and the sepia colored label draped across the bottle like a beauty queen’s sash has since come to symbolize for me quality, integrity and distinctiveness. I can’t argue with the prevailing opinion that Dunn’s Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon needs ageing but having tried recent vintages at release, I still find the wine far more enjoyable to drink now for its layers of flavor, structure and depth, much like I can find pleasure in a young Bordeaux that I know will have a long life ahead of it, than most gushy, juicy fruit-forward Napa Cabs. Just make sure you uncork a bottle when at the table with a proper meal-the civilized way to drink wine, or so I am told.

Below I have included the full tasting note from The Wine Advocates’ whopping 97-point score review.

Anya Balistreri
“The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain is unlike any wine I have ever tasted from Dunn. Layer after layer of flavor saturates the palate in this opulent, full-throttle Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 possesses dazzling textural richness, depth and sheer intensity. Purists may prefer more structured vintages, but for a producer known for such slow maturing wines, the 2007 is a huge pleasure to taste today. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2037.

I tasted a large number of wines with Randy Dunn this year. These are some of the most powerful, age worthy Cabernets being made in Napa Valley today. Dunn is very much an iconoclast who follows his own convictions. Picking is a bit earlier here than elsewhere throughout the valley. Dunn isn’t too concerned if stems occasionally make it into the fermenter. A fervent advocate of lower-alcohol wines, Dunn makes no apologies for removing alcohol from his wines if they come in above 14%. Personally, that strikes me as a totally unnecessary intervention, but it’s hard to argue with the quality of what is in the bottle, and ultimately that is what counts most. The Napa Valley bottling includes purchased fruit from the valley floor and is typically a slightly more accessible wine, while the Howell Mountain is a much tougher wine that typically demands 20 years to enter its early peak. These Cabernets are for the patient, but make no mistake about it, in top vintages the Howell Mountain is one of the great wines, not just of California, but of the world. Readers who want to explore these wines without waiting several decades may want to start with the 2005 or 2007 Napa Valley bottlings, both of which are somewhat accessible at this stage.”