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Apr 3, 2012 07:36 AM

TN: 1985 Dominus Estate, Napa Valley Red Table Wine

This is, of course, the classic "Bordeaux blend" produced by Christian Moueix. The 1985 vintage is an 80/20 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the Napanook (estate) vineyard. The wine spent 16 months aging in French oak (20 percent new), was bottled in 1987, and released for sale in 1989. It has been in my cellar since release.

The bottle had been standing up for about six months -- basically because I *was* going to serve it one evening, plans were changed, and I forgot about it . . . until I stumbled across the bottle Sunday evening when looking for something to serve with the Bavette steak Lynn picked up from the butcher. What the heck . . . no company meant more for us! ;^) Then again, the wine was 26-1/2 years old, so perhaps . . . well, I grabbed a second bottle (a 2004 Douro Red) as a backup, just in case.

The cork had dried out a little, and was difficult to remove. That means about half of it came out, albeit with some difficulty, and the rest shredded. All in all, with great care, I was able to get about 90-95 percent of the cork out, and only a tiny bit fell into the wine. I then decanted the wine, as I had planned to do anyway to separate the wine from the ample, finely grained sediment.

The result was a clean, clear decanter of garnet-colored wine. In the glass, the wine was deep garnet, shading to brick-red at the rim, clear and bright. The bouquet is classic Bordeaux -- yes, Bordeaux; I doubt I would ever pick this as a California wine (let alone Napa Valley) were it served blind. The nose is filled with pencil lead-and-cedar notes that I associate with Pauillac, or perhaps Graves, rather than the lush, opulent fruit of Napa Valley. In addition there were layered notes of red currant, black cherry, hint of cassis, saddle leather, dusty earth, a touch of oak -- all married together seamlessly. On the palate, the flavors echo the bouquet, with mature flavors of currants, cherries, earth, oak, earth; there is still good acidity and moderate tannins -- more evident when tasting the wine alone, when the tannins are a touch drying at the back of the palate, but when served with the rare steak, the finish is clean with lingering flavors, while the wine's acidity refreshes the palate.

Simply stated, this is one of the finest California Cabernets and/or Cabernet-based wines I've ever had -- easily placing itself on my (arbitrary) Top Ten List with wines ranging across six decades of vintages going back to the 1950s . . .


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  1. Indeed! Napa's '84,'85,'86 produced some brilliant wines. A few years back, I had the pleasure of sampling a few equally great ones from the '85 vintage including the Stag's Leap CS Cask23 and Silver Oak Napa '85. Yummmm!!

    1. Nice note. I also really like aged Dominus. Another one that I find to be very, very, similar in style is aged Spottswoode (same era). Both are deep, "jeweled" wines that have excellent balance from first sip to long finish. I love those styles - (80's Caymus SS, Heitz Martha's Vineyard, Phelps Eisele) and serve them with steaks and burgers. The woodsy, cedar notes work really well with red meats. The only 80's era CA "cult cab" that sometimes goes "over the top" with leather/cedar/woods is Dunn...otherwise, I like them as well as most Bordeaux. Many folks have never tasted a well aged CA cab from one of the excellent producers of that era and really don't know what they are missing. They are still a great buy compared to aged Bordeaux and are worth trying.

      1. Hey Jason,

        Curious about how long the wine was in the decanter (and what type, actually shape, of decanter too). Did you notice any deterioration over time?

        Thanks for the notes as well.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ellaystingray

          Uh . . . let's see . . . .

          As for the decanter, I used a Czech, or is it Polish, glass (not crystal) decanter that I've had for probably 25-30+ years. It is somewhat similar to this decanter from Schott Zwiesel -- -- but thinner and a bit more angular.

          As for the actual decanting itself, I have a glass, handblown decanting funnel (no screen) that I used, along with a small candle. Given the wine's age, I decanted it some 15-20 minutes before dinner, and poured a small amount for my wife and myself immediately to taste it. This was when the tannins were most noticeable, and drying on the tongue. Yet the wine had a beautiful bouquet right off the bat, and though it was (upon opening) a bit shy on the palate, there was enough stuffing there for me to know instantly that I had uncorked a winner.

          Once the wine was tasted, my wife took the steak off the heat and allowed it to rest. I set the table. We plated the vegetables, prepared the salad, and called the kids for dinner. (Being teenagers, they did not arrive immediately.) After the meat had rested, I sliced it, plated it, carried to the table, and sat down. So figure a minimum of 15 minutes had past since decanting; probably no more than 20.

          FWIW, I used Riedel Vinum Syrah glasses -- which I prefer to their Cabernet/Bordeaux glasses.

          By the time the wine was served, the bouquet had opened only slightly, but the palate had fleshed out a bit -- again, the wine was much more in the "classic Bordeaux" style, rather than the fruit-forward, opulent, overripe California Cabernet style, so "fleshed out" is a matter of degrees. But the finely grained tannins had smoothed out, and the wine was more supple on the palate. It did not show any signs of falling off (or worse, falling apart) through the meal.


          1. re: zin1953


            Thanks for all the detail. Glad to hear the decanting didn't cause the sublte bouquet and "stuffing" as you put it to float off into the ether from the aeration.

            Good stuff!


        2. Nice! For Dominus, I still salivate over my memories of some bottles of the 1994.

          1. Wonderful TN to read. I've got one magnum left of the '94 that always beckons me when I'm down in the cellar..........