In times when so much is happening in California, new movements presenting wines in a less alcohol driven style and with cooler fruit, there’s still the powerful and many times bombastic wines with limited production. Wines that represent the essence of luxury. Impeccably made in state-of-the-art wineries and built with generous use of new oak. Sure, these wines are to lay down and will reward patience, but just as much they have become speculative purchases. Wines that will switch owner more than once.
It’s the bitter reality for the world’s most renowned wines and as a wine-lover you’ll just have to accept it, if you want to drink the stuff. As a winemaker at such an estate, there’s not much you can do. Lower prices will only result in higher profits for the middle man and that’s not going to do it. Au contraire; why not go for higher prices from the producer instead, to perhaps scare off the middle man trade. Wines like these are of course also exposed to fraud but even provenance could become an issue.
Sometimes, when all the focus is on the super expensive premium wines in California – and when Bordeaux in some extent, today tastes less of Bordeaux – it’s easy to forget those who where a part of the Californian wine boom already in the 1980’s. Like Christian Moueix’s Dominus Estate. Yes, Dominus is not cheap, but in comparison to many others I’d actually say it is. And when every top wine seem to regard concentration and power as word of honors, it’s quite satisfactory to know there’s someone holding elegance higher. Dominus has changed style over the years, from the start in 1983 to the last released vintage of 2010. Nothing spectacular in that. You change winemaker, you replant, you learn. But still, Moueix has been strict in the use of new oak for example, where Dominus has moved from 25 percent new oak in the start to 40 percent in the last vintage. For a top wine it’s actually unusual – and such a relief at the same time! I will never ever understand why so many decides to spoil their absolute best juice with ridiculous amounts of new barrique casks instead of expressing a sense of place.
No, Dominus isn’t an American version of Château Pétrus. There’s no Merlot in it and last time Moueix and his winemaker used the grape in the blend was in 2002. 3 percent back then. The Dominus that has the most Merlot, is the 1984 with one fourth of the grape in the final blend. Christian Moueix simply considers that Merlot doesn’t perform well in the Napanook Vineyard in Yountville.
Tasting 16 vintages of Dominus Estate, 1987-2009, clearly leaves me with a few important observations:
First; this is an estate with an incredibly high level of consistency. There were off bottles in the tasting but that can only be blamed provenance or the cork devil. The rest were all very good wines with differing characters.
Secondly; I never thought about the presence of oak in the wines. In times when lots of new oak obviously is a sign of greatness, Dominus continues focusing on elegance and a sense of place in the wine. Bravo!
Third; Dominus develops beautifully and with age shares many similarities with Bordeaux as we used to know it. Only better in many ways.
Fourth; You can track it down as the production of around 6 – 7 000 cases a year makes it possible to pick up. Prices are also more than fair for a wine of such quality.
Fifth; Dominus represents what made Bordeaux so impressive. Being able to produce 70 or 80 000 bottles a year and keeping such consistency and high quality, is the ultimate sign of great wine-making. This is why Bordeaux still amazes when you look at the production size at the Premier cru chateaux. Christian Moueix has taken this philosophy to Yountville with great success!
Vertical tasting ranging from 1987 to 2009
(Reviews represents the content of a particular bottle which might not necessarily correlate with the general view of the vintage or wine. In this summary, a rating from the 100 p scale follows each wine.)
1987 Dominus Estate. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc & 5% Merlot. 25% new oak. 14 months in barrel.
A beauty! This is so much Bordeaux and I would never guess Napa Valley on this one. A classy and elegant bouquet with scents of dusty summer road, sun-drenched blackcurrants, grass, old wood and a dash of paint. Initially some soy sauce and mushroom which disappear after a while in the glass. Complex taste with refined tannins, good acidity structure and a mineral driven finish. Long, slightly green finish. 45 minutes in the glass and it didn’t fall apart. Will keep a few years but hardly improve. A class act! (94)
1988 Dominus Estate (slightly cork tainted). Difficult year. Only 3 300 cases made.
A slight cork defect in the wine. Attempting to look beyond the tainted bouquet and taste, it’s still a wine with life in it. In case anyone still own a few, drink it now.
1990 Dominus Estate. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot & Petit Verdot. 30% new oak. 16 months in barrel.
Still some youthful signs on the nose initially. Sun-drenched blackcurrants, leather, slight sage feel, herbal and cedar scents. A flashback to the Faber Castell pencils we had in school when I was a kid!Lovely balance on the palate with a slight green note, good acidity structure and warm earth. Long, complex finish. Perfect drinking now. (93)
1991 Dominus Estate (slightly oxidized bottle) 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc & 1% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 15 months in barrel.
Some old wood feel in the bouquet. Tobacco, dried mint, earth and iron. Blackcurrants. Initially quite nice taste but with aeration it shows signs of a weak bottle. Still, promising stuff when tasted at the start. Pristine bottles should be fine and drinking perfect now.
1992 Dominus Estate. 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot. 25% new oak. 17 months in barrel.
A classic wine! I’m in Pessac-Leognan, not Yountville. Cedar scents, mint, leather and blackcurrants. A slight grass feel as well combined with warm humus. Gorgeous sniff. On the palate it’s quite dense, showing marked acidity, not volatile though, dark berries, hay and leather. A licorice note and some tobacco. After an hour in the glass still a great nose but more dried out on the palate. Will keep but probably not improve. (94)
1994 Dominus Estate. 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot, & 5% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 16 months in barrel.
Spot on my preferences. This is pure elegance and again reminding me of Bordeaux. Saint-Julien perhaps. More mineral driven nose, humus, iron combined with plums, blackcurrants, cedar and grass. A dash of violets as well. Complex. Elegant sun baked fruit with some nice phenolic ripeness. Plum skin, cedar and mint. Long and elegant. Elegance rules! A personal favorite. Will hold for years. (96)
1996 Dominus Estate (oxidized bottle). 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petite Verdot & 4% Merlot. 33% new oak. 16 months in barrel.
Too oxidized. No possibility to sense the potential.
1999 Dominus Estate. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot & 3% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 16 months in barrel.
Dense color with just a slight brownish brim. Impressive bouquet of cedar, blackcurrants, fresh mint and humus. Just the faintest hint of vanilla. Almost massive tannin structure although backed up by plentiful fruit. Blackcurrants, herbs, tar and some moist leather. Some bitterness in the finale but not disturbing. Not an elegant wine but will probably continue evolving. And I like it a lot! (94)
2001 Dominus Estate (semi off bottle). 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot & 5% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 18 months in barrel.
Not fully kosher, the 2001 bottle. Some wet paper boxes and an edgy taste. Sad, because the fruit is quite intense and the herbal character, the dark berries are pretty nice. No judgement here.
2002 Dominus Estate. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot & 4% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 18 months in barrel.
Lots of action in this one. Flowers, marigolds especially, some tar, fresh mint, cedar pencil and lots of dark berries. Good intensity in the ripe fruit, a bit dry but still fruit left and balancing acidity. A green note, violets, plum skin and licorice. Long finale. Really good and an unusual blend for Dominus. (94)
2003 Dominus Estate. 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, & 5% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 16 months in barrel.
Floral notes, wet humus, cedar and a slightly green, stressed feeling. Classic blackcurrants scents and some sage. Opening up nicely during the evening. At first a bit edgy on the palate but air makes it balanced. Cedar notes, hay, blackcurrants, dark cherries, flowers and sage. Long finish. Simply needs more time. (94)
2005 Dominus Estate. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, & 3% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 17 months in barrel.
Dark color. Lots of sun-drenched cherries and blackcurrants, violets and fresh mint. Almost mountain fruit minerality on the nose. Dense fruit, lots of tannins and humus on the palate. In need of time but very promising. Beautiful balance. Pure fruit and long finale. (94)
2006 Dominus Estate. 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, & 3% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 16 months in barrel.
Generous nose of newly cut grass, wet rocks, blackcurrants, cherries and herbs provencale. Phenolic ripe grapes, excellent tannin structure but some bitterness as well. A floral feel, cedar and tar. The gut feeling is lots of stuff going on here and in need of long aging. In a slightly dumb phase at the moment. Keep and cross fingers for a potentially great wine. (94)
2007 Dominus Estate. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, & 3% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 18 months in barrel.
Floral, yet restrained. Generous but pure. Wet rocks, mint, black cherries, blackcurrants and gorgeous violets and licorice. Becomes even better with time in the glass. Impressive structure with lots of fruit, tannins and hidden acidity. Ripe fruit feel, herbs and some cedar pencil. Everything feels potentially classic about this one and for sure it has the most pure and seductive fruit in the tasting. A long life ahead. I’m in love with the 2007! (96)
2008 Dominus Estate. 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, & 4% Petit Verdot. 40% in new oak. 18 months in barrel.
So different from the 2007. Blueberries, cherries and blackcurrants. Grass, licorice and just a dash of vanilla. Still young on the nose showing no signs of entering the next phase of evolution. Lots of tannins, sweet berry fruit but a dry wine and a fine backing up acidity. Some youthful bitterness. Has a lot of potential but doesn’t possess the youthful charm as 2007. Still, it’s all there and in great balance. (95)
2009 Dominus Estate. 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, & 4% Petit Verdot. 40% new oak. 18 months in barrel.
A bit shy initially but opening up after an hour in the glass. Mineral driven, grassy and floral scents. Bright shining berry fruit; cherries, Victoria plums and blackcurrants. Pure fruit on the palate, wet earth, sweet-root and cedar. Lovely green feeling which is only positive. Violets and vanilla. Long, pure finish. Potentially an elegant wine. Wouldn’t open it today but give it at least a few more years. (94)
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