2001 Napanook a ‘second’ with first-class traits

Christian Moueix was born with merlot in his blood, which makes what he has done in Napa Valley all the more amazing. His family owns or controls the most prestigious properties in Pomerol, including Chateau Petrus, one of Bordeaux’s finest wines. They don’t own even a single cabernet sauvignon vine since this part of Bordeaux is merlot country. But while earning a master’s degree at the University of California at Davis in 1969, Moueix fell in love with the Napa Valley, where cabernet sauvignon is king.

Moueix wanted to do something different in addition to managing his family’s properties. He searched for land in California and eventually partnered with –and later bought out — the heirs to the famous Napanook vineyard, the grapes from which formed the heart of the legendary Inglenook Cask Selection, historically one of California’s best Cabernets. He formed Dominus Estate and, in the Bordeaux tradition, makes two wines, Dominus and Napanook, both from — Mon Dieu — cabernet sauvignon.

He told me that the challenge in California was that everything — grapes, soil, climate — was different from Pomerol. But it’s clear that the Moueix focus and determination to make superb wine remained constant. Moueix reserves the best wine, about half his total production, for Dominus, which commands about $125 a bottle and needs many years of additional aging in the bottle before its glory shows. He bottles most of the other half under the Napanook label. (He also sells wine that he feels is not up to snuff for Napanook in bulk to other wineries). Made from less-flavor-infused grapes, the product of younger vines or ones planted in less desirable portions of the vineyard, these so-called second wines, like Napanook, are ready to drink sooner than their big brothers. Think of them as junior varsity or ”seconds,” but in this case it’s hard to find any imperfections.

Packed with flavor and surrounded by silky tannins, the 2001 Napanook is perfect now for drinking with a steak. Although some might think that calling Napanook a second wine is pejorative, I think it’s a great opportunity to drink a classy, refined wine at a reduced price.

Napanook, 2001. About $46. Distributed by Ruby Wines, 508-588-7007. 

August 25, 2005.