It’s Valentine’s Day which calls for something special. In this case, it’s a bottle I’ve been holding on to for a while and it’s time to crack it open. This bottle of Dominus Estate Napa Valley Napanook Vineyard 1996 should be just about ready to drink.
I should write about Napa Valley AVA and Yountville, I should write about the Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet Franc, the Petit Verdot, and the Merlot, I should stick to my region, grape, producer, wine format, but this is Dominus, and that’s much more interesting right now. If I’m good, I’ll go back and put in a meaningful paragraph or two for each, but really, it’s Dominus (and it’s Valentine’s Day, so I have things I need to be doing).
Dominus Estate is quite the winery, with a long history and an impressive reputation. The vineyards date to 1836, which for an American vineyard, especially in California, is exceedingly old. In 1982 Christian Moueix entered into a partnership to develop the site, which had provided premium grapes for some of Napa’s iconic wines throughout much of the 20th century, and then in 1995 he took sole ownership of the property. Moueix’s family has been famous in the French wine trade for decades, and in addition to Dominus Estates, he manages Château Pétrus which Jancis Robinson describes as the most famous wine of Pomerol and the most expensive of Bordeaux.
So if you were in charge of Château Pétrus and had just taken ownership of an excellent winery in Napa, what would you do? Build a winery, right? And who would you get to design it? How about Herzog and de Meuron, the Swiss architects who went on to design the new Tate Modern in what had been the Bankside Power Station in London (which is possibly my favourite building in the world). More recently they designed the Beijing National Stadium, better known as The Bird’s Nest. The winery is pretty amazing – it’s worth checking out some pictures if you haven’t seen it before.
Dominus Estate makes two wines, Dominus which is has produced since 1983 and a second wine, Napanook, which was first released in 1996. The label on Dominus has been pretty standard since 1991, and featured the words “Napanook Vineyard” diagonally from the bottom left to the upper right through to 1996, the vintage year of this bottle. In 1996, there was some confusion between the premier label, Dominus, with “Napanook Vineyard” across the label, and the second wine, Napanook. As a result, the following year that confusing text was changed to “Estate Bottled”.
This wine is a treasure. It’s a deep garnet in the glass, and when I decanted it there was very little sediment, even though the bottle had been stood up for a few days. The nose is fairly intense with lots of tobacco and green herbs as well as some stewed currants. The palate is very rich – more tobacco, but also red meat, rich spice, and concentrated black fruit. The tannins are smooth and fully integrated and there is an underlying zest of acidity that keeps the wine feeling fresh despite the nearly 14 years in bottle. This wine was perfect with slow cooked beef cheeks, and didn’t let up when we were on to dark chocolate ganache bars with ice cream.