The swings in temperature we had in Napa Valley in May—sunny, warm, even hot days and then cool, sometimes rainy periods—lent themselves to afternoons and evenings perfect for grilling and firing up the heat lamp.
At a small party on a recent Saturday night, friends helped me drink a mix of 2008 California Pinot Noirs, all of which were excellent. For a change of pace to go with the grilled beer-can chicken, salad and a cheese course, I uncorked and decanted a 1999 Duckhorn Howell Mountain Merlot, which is grown atop the mountain range east of Napa Valley proper.
This wine is in great condition, impressively youthful, complex and distinctive. Pure, rich, ripe and layered, it exhibited a mix of aromatic red and black licorice, blackberry, currant and a loamy, earthy herbal component that reminded me of the smoldering embers as the mesquite burned out. The texture is both smooth and structured, with the tannins having softened and allowing the fruit to flow smoothly until the final note, where the tannins then show their grip. This was one of the most memorable of many Howell Mountain Merlots I’ve tried. Wines from this appellation can and do age well. If properly stored, the ’99 Duckhorn should age another six to 10 years with ease. 94 points, non-blind.
WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for Duckhorn Howell Mountain Merlot 1999 (92, $65 on release).
• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated Napa Merlots.