Some years ago, when Randy Dunn was about to release his first Cabernet from Howell Mountain, he offered to show me the wine, the package, label and closure. The bright red wax capsule that topped the 1979 vintage particularly pleased him; each bottle was hand-dipped in hot wax. It was striking.
Dunn and his wife, Lori, had a small vineyard near their home near Angwin, Calif., and their dense, chewy Cabernet was a huge hit in many quarters. Fans called it massive but elegant. Non-fans considered it prohibitively tannic.
I liked the wine and the label. The label is still unchanged. But I've come to dislike the wax capsule almost as much as I loathe corks.
A few years after the debut vintage, Dunn invited me to his winery to visit and offered to pour a vertical of all his wines. After an interview, we prepared to open and decant the wines. I forget exactly how many bottles we opened but I can still recall the mess.
I ended up in charge of uncorking the bottles. Dunn had told me it was easy to remove the wax. Just heat it up and it peels right off, he said. But he didn't and we didn't and the hard wax capsule was annoyingly difficult to remove.
What I recall is the wax capsules cracked and shattered and were strewn all over Dunn's kitchen floor. At one point I opened the bottles inside a paper grocery bag to minimize the wax from flying.
Beyond that episode, I've had plenty of experience opening Dunn's Howell Mountain Cabernets (his other Cabernet bottling, a Napa Valley wine, comes with a traditional capsule). I bought a case a year for a decade and knew the wines would age well and did. But opening them was a pain.
Dunn's Cabernets threw a heavy sediment and demanded decanting, so if you opened one spontaneously, it was always tricky getting the wax off. At least for me. You could turn the bottle sideways and use a lighter to melt the wax. But then you'd stir all the sediment.
You could melt and remove the capsule a day before and then stand it up for 24 hours. But that required planning. I've never seen a Dunn opened in a restaurant, and I hope some sommeliers and others will share their methods for removing the wax without stirring the sediment.
I found the whole removal process counter-productive.
One more aside: One night a longtime friend was visiting and recalled we had drunk a 1982 Dunn Cabernet years before and wondered if I still had a bottle.
I did and opened it. After messing around with the wax for a few moments, I chipped it off and luckily the cork came out intact. I decanted it off the sediment and the wine was fantastic. But there were chips of red wax all around the kitchen and even a few floating in the wine in the decanter.
I'm with those who don't like wax capsules. They may look pretty before they're opened, but oh what a mess removing them.
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — November 1, 2011 11:11am ET
Matthew Slywka — Seymour, CT — November 1, 2011 12:37pm ET
Mr Christopher N Solle — Marin, CA — November 1, 2011 1:45pm ET
Jason Fernandez — Boston, MA — November 1, 2011 2:32pm ET
Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA — November 1, 2011 3:54pm ET
Morewine Bishar — Del Mar, California — November 1, 2011 5:12pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — November 1, 2011 9:15pm ET
Raymond J Segat — White Rock, BC, Canada — November 1, 2011 11:52pm ET
Ted Henry — Napa, CA — November 2, 2011 1:15pm ET
Gregory Fleesler — ny, ny — November 2, 2011 4:48pm ET
Kelvin Low — canada — November 2, 2011 11:51pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — November 3, 2011 11:33am ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — November 3, 2011 12:23pm ET
Ted Henry — Napa, CA — November 3, 2011 1:33pm ET
Gavin Mchugh — Nor Cal — November 3, 2011 11:47pm ET
Todd Shreve — Cincinnati, OH — November 4, 2011 1:01am ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions