While there a number of Napa Cabernets Sauvignons that can be included in “cult” status, one that surely helped start this movement has come from the endeavors of highly respected winemaker Randy Dunn. Establishing his status at Caymus with their Special Selection Cabernet, he pioneered to plant vines on Howell Mountain. Starting in 1972 with a harvest in 1979, he began producing uncompromising wines to last for the ages and never looked back. We gathered to try some older vintages and marvel at such skill in the bottle.
Warming our palates with a rich tropical LIOCO Chardonnay and some tasty bites from Chef Michael “Funky” Forgus, we found our seats and sampled six vintages of the acclaimed Howell Mountain designations. The oldest was from 1985 and had a surprising angularity that indicated it could benefit from more cellar time. The 1986 had perfect balance and was perhaps the best of the group, while the 1987 had a dusty character hinting of wines from the Rutherford area.
Continuing through the 1989 with the lightest body of our selections, we headed into the next decade with a big shouldered 1991 and fantastic 1994. Is it absurd to think of a 16 year old wine as the baby of the bunch that was way too youthful to drink? Smooth and lush, it still seemed like we were robbing the cradle with a wine that had potential to best all the others! With some time in the glass all the wines grew even better and more flavorful as they aired out, leaving us in wonderment at the magic that lay before us.
Chef Forgus had prepared a sumptuous buffet and we dug into such delicacies as braised short ribs, pistachio crusted Ahi tuna, and duck breast in a kataifi nest. Our Vice Echason Gordon Hullar provided further comparison for the curious with a 1986 La Jota Cabernet, a fellow Howell Mountain pioneer and close neighbor to Dunn. Delicious as it was with massive fruit, it did not possess the Methuselah properties of the Dunn Vineyards. We felt great fortune for the opportunity to drink some of the fruits of labor from the wise wine guru of the mountain.
J.T. Mayer, Chargé de Presse Provincial Midwest