#25 – 1998 Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon – Napa Valley, CA

Estimated retail: $95-$110

When I think of Napa Valley Cabernet, the name that instantly leaps to my mind is Randy Dunn, legendary winemaker of Dunn Vineyards. Upon finishing UC Davis he joined Caymus Vineyards, where he helped making wines from 1975-85 and cemented their status as one of the regions greatest. In 1979 he began making his own wines on the side which would become a benchmark for hillside Cabernet and the face of Howell Mountain. He is in many ways a historian when it comes to winemaking. He pays meticulous attention to his vineyards and the vintage, letting the conditions tell their story as he captures it in the bottle. His wines are built to age, becoming vastly more memorable over time.

Several years ago I had the pleasure sitting down with Randy, his daughter Kristina, and the exceptional former Houston Chronicle Life & Entertainment wine writer Michael Lonsford. We tasted several vintages of his Cabernet, including a 1979, Randy’s first wine, courtesy of Michael. It was an incredible experience. Later that evening I was fortunate to attend a Dunn Wine Dinner at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse where we tried eight more wines. It was a day of brilliant wine, education, and the irrefutable evidence that balance will always achieve beauty in age.

The 1998 Napa is not a wine you’ll find sitting on a retail shelf, but thanks to the internet it can be located rather easily. I recently tried a bottle and was again blown away with how what began as a highly underrated/criticized vintage (it followed the celebrated ’97) has morphed into one of consistent greatness. It was still quite fresh, with an elegant core of red fruit, cassis, and earth. There were fragrant notes of tobacco, herb, and cranberry chutney going on. The tannins melted gracefully and the acidity was beautifully balanced. ∞

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