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Senior editor James Molesworth joined Wine Spectator in 1997. He reviews Bordeaux, the Loire, the Rhône, South Africa and New York's Finger Lakes.
James Molesworth

A Memorable Magnum of Napa Cabernet

Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 1995

James Molesworth
Posted: December 11, 2009

During Thanksgiving, with a full table of 11 people, the wine solution was easy: magnums. They look majestic and make it easy to serve lots of people the same wine. Plus, they tend to age at a slightly slower pace than 750ml bottles.

Sadly, this magnum was the last of my Dunn 1995s, part of the mid- to late-90s run of superb California Cabernet vintages that I was lucky enough to stock up on when I was first building my cellar. Dunn’s Cabernets from Napa Valley and its Howell Mountain subappellation are known for their longevity, and this one was drinking beautifully, having hit its perfect stride now at age 14. It showed lots of smoky, loamy aromas, along with rich, well-sculpted tannins and loads of dark currant preserve, warm fig, tar, roasted vanilla and cedar notes.

While still powerful, the Cabernet was well-defined and had the underlying acidity to cut like a knife through all the Thanksgiving fare on the table. It was easily the wine of the long holiday weekend (and there were many). 95 points, non-blind.

WineSpectator.com members: Read previous blind-tasting reviews for the Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain 1995 (93, $45 for a 750ml on release).

• Plus, get our quick list of recently released Top Values in California Cabernet and read senior editor James Laube's 10-year retrospetive tasting of 1995 California Cabernets.

Louis-ann Gonzalez
Chapel Hill, NC —  December 11, 2009 2:48pm ET
James, happy that the 95 Dunn was so pleasing to you. We have been going through our big name 97 and 99 cabs and in general are disappointed we didn't get to them earlier. They have been stored in pristine conditions and corkwise are all fine. However the wines usually lack vitality and display a lack of ripe fruit. We have slowly drifted toward James Laube's preference for younger wines and find that many of our wine cohorts feel similarly. Thanks for your always insightful comments.
Vince Liotta
Elmhurst Illinois —  December 11, 2009 5:05pm ET

This must be one of the "very, very much in the minority" wines capable of aging. Sorry, had to throw that in. Have a good holiday.


Sorry to hear about your disappointing experiences with '97 and '99 Cabernets. Don't know what labels you were drinking, though. I drink more Old World than New, but I also put away a number of California wines and choose Cabernets specifically for their underlying structure--8 to 10 years is usually just about right. The disappointments I have come from corked or cooked bottles, the latter a result of wines that were delivered on non-air-conditioned trucks in hot weather.

James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 11, 2009 8:39pm ET
Vince: No worries - but it is in fact just that....of all the California Cabernet out there - how many could be this good after 14 years? It's a small percentage IMO.

I, like Louis-Ann have been left a little disappointed by more than a few Cali Cabs that were left too long in the cellar (including my own). I think most are best from year five to eight or so. Today, it's a rare few that can truly develop into something else (as opposed to simply enduring intact) after a decade or more...
Howard Kaman
Vancouver, BC, Canada —  December 12, 2009 1:44pm ET
Young vines due to replanting in the early-to-mid 1990's thanks to phylloxera, the increased quest in the late-1990's for over-ripe, high alcohol styles which usually comes with lower acidity (a component that lends freshness and definition to an aged wine). You can't replace old-vine intensity especially if ageing wines, IMHO. It was because of these reasons, not to mention how crazy the prices became, why I stopped buying these CA wines after the 1995 vintage.
New York, NY —  December 13, 2009 8:22am ET
I agree with Louis-ann although I had a 1997 Ridge Monte Bello recently which was still awesome. In general I agree with James - year 5 to 8 is the drinking window that my palate seems to enjoy the most.
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 13, 2009 8:57am ET
Sachin: I've had that wine recently and it's smoking good - another of the small group that truly benefits with age.

I'd put Diamond Creek, Araujo and Philip Togni in there too...

Any other nominations?
Todd Shreve
Cincinnati, OH —  December 14, 2009 11:57pm ET
Great story James.

Would you put Joseph Phelps in that last category?
I have 2 bottles of 2002 Insignia that I don't want to wait too long to open.
James Molesworth
Senior Editor, Wine Spectator —  December 15, 2009 9:34am ET
Todd: Personally I wouldn't count Phelps in that category. Since the late '90s, I don't find their top Cabs evolve much over time (they last, but don't develop into something different). There's definitely been a shift at Phelps since their vintages of the '70s and '80s, when their Eisele and Backus bottlings really kicked into gear after about 10 years of age...

But for your bottles, it's got to be your taste - try one and see where it's at...and next time, buy 6, so you're not stuck in this position!
Paul Manchester
Santa Cruz, CA —  December 19, 2009 9:58am ET
great topic James, I recently had the 1991 Ridge Monte Bello and was surprised at how great it was. It was not over the hill at all and I wish I had more. Those Monte Bello's are really something!
Robert Wile
Haworth, NJ —  December 21, 2009 6:58am ET
About 3 months ago, we christened our new cellar and opened a bottle of '97 Tom Eddy....I tell you what, it held up incredibly well. Great balance and structure and just enough fruit. Hey! Maybe it was the fact that I was just so happy to be standing in my new wine room, but the juice was outstanding!

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