A Wine Tasting Experience To Remember
I have been enjoying the wines from this estate for more than a dozen years now, and yet I have never managed to visit it. Now I finally get to check it off the list. It might be the most under-the-radar, big-name winery in all of Napa Valley. Oxymoronic, isn’t it, when the owner, Christian Moueix, is legendary?
Yet the name of the winery is not as easily recognizable as others in the valley. But, as I discovered, the wines are a pure and sincere expression of Napa Valley, and certainly some of its best.
That vineyard, estate and wine is Dominus.
The vineyard is one of the most historic in all of Napa Valley. The Napanook vineyard was previously owned by John Daniel, owner of Inglenook, who used grapes from these vines to blend into the legendary wines of Inglenook more than a half century ago. Moueix took over the estate in 1982, with 1983 being the first vintage. It lies on an alluvial plain that built up over eons from runoff from the hills to the west of the estate: the soils being a mélange of gravel, silt and clay with a unique subsoil of impermeable clay that traps the water, giving the vineyard sustainable water even in years of drought. The estate always has been farmed sustainably, with a focus on having the least impact on the land and preserving the natural balance of its environment.
It is apparent to me that the estate pores over every detail of the farming and winemaking at every turn in order to fashion what Moueix terms the “classic expression of the estate.” One significant point of difference I find is that the estate is completely dry farmed. I know of no other estate in Napa Valley that grows in this manner, especially when it comes to Bordeaux varietals. The resulting wine is generally more elegant, fresher and adds a mineral spectrum that is entirely missing from most Napa Valley wines.
In the winery, they also implement a state-of-theart optical sorter, which jettisons any unripe berries from the sorting conveyor belt. Moueix points out that this technology does not “enhance” the terroir but eliminates berries which they deem unworthy of making into their wine.
After a walk in the vineyard and a tour of the cellars with Moueix and technical director Tod Mostero, we sit down to a vertical tasting of the estate’s wines. The first is the estate’s “second wine,” 2011 Napanook. This shows very fresh black fruit in the nose with a hint of leaf and tobacco in the best way. The fruit is utterly fresh in the nose, almost like it was just crushed. There is ample fruit on the palate, with medium intensity and rich tannin. It finishes warmly. It is a softer-styled wine with fresh fruit that will be good to drink in the medium term.
Next came the 2011 Dominus. This has much wider amplitude, more blue fruit along with a cool freshness. It has thick structure, but maintains a very elegant style with a long finish. As Moueix says: “It is not trying to be something it is not.”
We then moved on to the 2006 Dominus, which had a much more developed nose and a complete array of fruit and flesh. It abounded with red and black fruit — a truly classic and expressive wine of the vineyard. There is still ripe fruit on the palate, with a seamless character of flavor with rich structure and still youthful. This wine has plenty of years of life ahead.
The 1996 Dominus came from a magnum with even more developed nose earthiness, something akin to gravel and espresso grounds. There also is a scent of meat, steeped fruit and wilted flowers. In the palate, the structure is apparent again, with a long, earthy finish and plump texture. This was my favorite of the tasting.
A 1986, also from a magnum, was the most developed, with leafiness and earth that reminds me a lot of a Left Bank Bordeaux. The wine has less fruit here, with more structure presenting itself. I would drink it now or soon.
I ask what the philosophy of the wine is, and Mostero sums it up so nicely: “It is to make a wine of dignity. I express the terroir and try to translate the spirit and the qualities of the place and Christian.”
Moueix chimes in, “to convey a sense of place and person.” That person is Christian Moueix, a legend and giant in the wine world yet a humble gentleman. Despite his clout and position, Moueix seems always to be learning and sincere in his exploration and development of the Dominus Estate. Dignified and genuine, he seems almost regal, much like the wine that comes from Dominus Estate.
You can find Dominus at Fujioka’s Wine Times.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.