For me, the beginning of September signals red wine season is quickly approaching and a delightful season opener is the 2007 Napanook.
In 1982, Christian Moueix formed a partnership with Robin Lail and Marcia Smith, the two daughters of John Daniel, from whom they had inherited Inglenook, one of Napa’s and America’s great vineyards and winery.
In the 1980s, I attended a tasting in New York where the 1943 Inglenook and vintages from the 1950s and 1960s were poured: the wines were vibrant and elegant. And I treasured each of my cellar’s bottles of Daniel’s Inglenook 1974 Casks 8 and 9 until I drank the last one at the beginning of this decade.
Moueix brought to the enterprise a masters degree in enology from America’s premier wine school, the University of California at Davis, and a lifetime in the vineyards of Chateaux Petrus, Trotanoy, Magdelaine, and the other great chateaux of Pomerol and St. Emilion owned by his father, Jean-Pierre Moueix. Perhaps, the daughters sensed that if anyone was going to preserve Inglenook’s heritage it would be this tall, soft-spoken Frenchman, who reflects the elegance of his family’s wines.
Moueix named the new venture Dominus. At the outset, he had an uphill learning curve. The vineyards were planted with cabernet sauvignon, but Moueix’s Pomerol and St. Emilion properties are primarily planted with merlot. Unlike Bordeaux, Napa’s summer heat challenges the vines and growers, who ameliorate the problem with irrigation, but Moueix lived a lifetime where this technique was forbidden by French wine regulations.
With each passing year, Moueix absorbed the lessons of Napa’s climate and Dominus’ soil. By the early 1990s, Dominus was smoother, the fruit and tannins more harmonious. Paraphrasing the famous quote, you could take the man out of Bordeaux, but you couldn’t take Bordeaux out of the man.
In 1836, George Yount planted the first vines in Napa Valley, naming the vineyard Napanook. Today the name is also used for the second wine of Dominus, which is made solely from grapes grown in this historic vineyard. Using the second wine concept of Bordeaux, Napanook is made from grapes of younger vines or lots that are deemed good, but not suitable for those bottled under the Dominus label. And, following the second wine concept, is priced at about a third of Dominus.
The 2007 Napanook is made of 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent cabernet franc and 7 percent petit verdot. Sensitive to the effect of oak barrels, Moueix has limited the new oak to 20 percent and the aging to 15 months. The resulting wine has a black-cherry hue and aromas of bell pepper(a marker of Napa cabernet sauvignon) and mild vanilla. Ripe blackberry and rich chocolate flavors are wrapped in a New World body without the excessive overripe taste and high alcohol that plague too many Napa and California red wines. The 2007 Napanook has the texture of Napa and the balance of Bordeaux.
Place a glass of this excellent wine beside a plate of your first fall pot roast or rack of lamb and you’ll be thinking about the pleasures of the red wine season, too.
Dominus’ 2007 Napanook retails for approximately $49.