The wax came off and the cork came out of a 1989 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet on Saturday night.
This wine was from what Napa winemakers dubbed “the vintage from hell.” Part of it might have been their fault: They hung a huge crop, and then at about the time the grapes were ready to come off the vine, it rained and stayed damp. That rain led to some rot and it effectively ended the growing season. It went down in the books as an off-vintage. But of course, even in dicey years, excellent wines are often made—and the Dunn Howell Mountain bottling was true to form.
Opening that bottle was a massive and messy chore, the mess being the result of removing the hard wax seal that covers the bottle neck and cork. I’ve never liked wax seals. They almost always shatter when they're removed, leaving tiny bits of red wax everywhere—on my clothes, on the counter, on the floor. On top of that, the cork crumbled into a sawdusty mess when it was popped. Somehow the wine went into the decanter clear, which rarely happens when a cork is destroyed.
Inky in color and deeply concentrated, the wine had the hallmark Dunn Howell Mountain traits. It was still intense and tannic, even gutsy, with a bit more earthiness than you would find in a riper year. I’d had a 2000 Cos-d'Estournel the night before, and the Dunn had weightier tannins, despite being older.
Dunn fans—and even those who aren’t—often debate whether these Cabernets will ever soften and come around, and frankly, I don’t much care. When I drink a Dunn, I want the full Dunn experience, not some elegant, watered-down version. Most of the Dunn Howell Mountain bottlings age very well and they retain their massive, muscular form, which is part of their charm and exactly what I expect once I get through the hard part—getting the wax and cork out of the way.