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20 Years of Dominus at Wink

Wineries & Winefolk

Article Index
20 Years of Dominus at Wink
Page 2 - Second Flight
Page 3 - Fourth Flight
Page 4 - My Favorites List
All Pages

Considered by many as one of the greatest wines of the United States, it is rare ( say the least!) that a 20 year vertical tasting of Dominus Estate would actually materialize. I only know of two others, one at the defunct Spago in Palo Alto (2006) and the other at One Sixty Blue in Chicago (2007). This wine dinner was the culmination of several years of “what if” conversations between Brian Owens (Gracious Wine Collector) and Mark Paul (Co-owner Wink & Zoot Restaurants, along with Stewart Scruggs). Both of these men have been incredibly giving in time, passion, and donations over the years, making the Austin community profoundly stronger because of it. This dinner was Sold Out and was an auction item, with proceeds benefitting the Texas Wine and Food Foundation.

I love the “tell of a tale”. Storytelling is important to me. If you’ve been around me, you know that I just about always “have a story”. The folk concept of sharing stories is beautiful. It’s how we relate to each other. From Grandpa passing along a story of poverty, survival, and responsibility, to the wisdom of a 3-year old’s “take” on life. A story is what we have in common. It’s what puts the experience in stride. All too often, in this fast-paced world, the stories get shoved to the sidelines in favor of strict scores, punch lines, or blatant trumpeters. I love to hear peoples’ stories. They are a part of what makes this whole thing real, to me.

Cue up the phonograph cylinder...

My wife, Aimee, was my first love in high school. As life’s journey would have it, that initial connection didn’t work out, as the two of us were destined to make a few other stops before settling down together, later in life, as we know it now. At one of my previous business “launch” celebrations, a guest (An Tran, the Valedictorian of our high school) mentioned that he had seen Aimee on I had never heard of Late that night, after the last guest departed the gathering, I sat down at the computer, paid the $30 to join, and registered to send her an email.

It had been 10 years or so since we were last around each other. We passed the ball back and forth over the following year. Move forward: At the 3rd Annual South by South Wine Festival (2001, at Marc Fairorth’s home), a friend (Chuck Riley) was sharing his 1994 Dominus with Aimee and me on the back porch. Aimee and I had our first kiss there (after years apart) over that ’94 Dominus. We, also, had our first real date (after years apart) over a mind-blowing dinner at Wink Restaurant (pampered by Debra Hagen and Mark St. Clair). So, naturally from my view, the Dominus/Wink Dinner Connection couldn’t have been more perfect for this event!

On arrival, guests were greeted at Wink’s Wine Bar to a glass of 1996 Vilmart & Cie Brut Champagne. Slightly oxidized (leesy, spicy nuts), as is often found in 13-year old Bubbly (and I love this quality), the bubbles and fruit (lightly tart green apple & lime) were still very much alive and kicking. When all 36 guests had arrived, we moved next door to the actual restaurant to be seated. Wink is the sort of restaurant that you can be privately alone or be a part of your neighbor, if that makes any sense.  Tonight, the restaurant was closed and sat back as our oyster.

The tasting was executed flawlessly. Service was impeccable.  Michael Vilim (Mirabelle Restaurant) guided us through the evening as astutely as he always does in these types of settings. Brian Owens and Mark Paul spoke about how the dinner came to fruition and introduced us all to what was entailed. Devon Broglie (Whole Foods & Master Sommelier Candidate) discussed the intricacy of double decanting almost all of the 36 bottles of wine at various schedules earlier in the day. Steffen Pelz (post at Pelz on Wine) spoke about his impressions of the wine, as did Anthony Garcia (Wine is Divine), who recently passed the Advanced Examination for the Court of Master Sommeliers. Wine consultant and freelance writer Rebecca Murphy (Dallas Morning News Wine Competition) and food/wine blogger John Gehring-Liker (post at Alcoholian) were also in attendance. But, mostly… the wine spoke for itself. It was a cozy setting... a perfect setting, to sit with some neat people, taste and contrast 20 incredible wines paired with 6 extraordinary courses, and share this beautiful early evening with!

Below is my “take” on the wines of the night, followed by the percentages of each varietal, the general health of the specific vintage of Napa Valley (particularly Cabernet Sauvignon), and then the Gunslingin’ Rating System.

The food was brilliant and I’ll post about the wine and food pairings on a separate post that I will link to HERE when I’m done. This post is strictly about the observation, enjoyment, and experience of 20 vintages of Dominus Estate, 1983 - 2003 (’93 wasn’t produced), divided into 5 flights of 4.

The first flight: ’83, ’88, ’94, and ’99.


’83 Dominus – killer, still very alive, red currants, black cherry, dark raspberry, leather, unwrapped cigars, a little band aid, very surprised at structure and how solid it was, m+ acid, f body, m+ to f tannins

       80% Cabernet Sauvignon/20% Merlot

       (season - huge crop, choppy weather patterns, heat waves, rain at harvest)

       $190 A -54 ***


’88 Dominus – sweet red currant Kool-Aid, fruit has faded a bit, subtle game, lighter in the pants, anise, m+ acd

       86% Cabernet Sauvignon/11% Cabernet Franc/3% Merlot

      (season - drought year, smaller than avg crop)

       $165 A- 107 **


’94 Dominus – super stinky (leather turned poop), anise, fruit-forward red & black currants, coffee, brown spices, Earth, old cedar, stink faded off a lot after air, diluted Big Red in background, still a baby-she’s asleep when you go to sleep and asleep when you wake

       72% Cabernet Sauvignon/12% Merlot/11% Cabernet Franc/5% Petit Verdot

       (season – vintage of decade, long, moderate growing season)

       $300 A -141 ****


’99 Dominus – black cherry, dried currants, spicy cigar box, the last of the “strictly-structured” years? (something changed in the next couple of years?), corked

       75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Cabernet Franc, 9% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot

       (season – unseasonably cool weather, smaller crops, long growing season)

       $140 (difficult to assess rating – corked)



The second flight: ’84, ’85, ’86, and ’87.


’84 Dominus – thick soy-sauced red & black currants, dry-cured cigar box, still alive, though mature (in the right way), yum, m+ acid, m+ to f body

       75% Cabernet Sauvignon/25% Merlot

       (Season – warm to hot, plump, best vintage since ’78)

       $200 A -111 ***


’85 Dominus – tar, burnt sugar, cedar, fireplace hearth, finesse, solid, heat quietly sticks out, m acid

       80% Cabernet Sauvignon/20% Merlot

       (season – long, mild growing season, well-balanced, vintage of decade?)

       $130 A -36 ****


’86 Dominus – full fruit, rugged, leather, very dry, integrated

       80% Cabernet Sauvignon/12% Merlot/8% Cabernet Franc

       (season – unusually large crop, excellent vintage, structure & firmness)

       $175 A+ -57 ****


’87 Dominus – George Clinton on tour, red & black cherry, Islay soy sauce, anise, slightly oxidized, little tired

       86% Cabernet Sauvignon/9% Cabernet Franc/5% Merlot

       (season – drought year, early maturity?)

       $175 B+ -119  **




The third flight: ’89, ’90, ’91, and ’92.



’89 Dominus – dense, tart blackberry, earth, coffee, cigar ashtray, fairly tannic, anise, acid in the cheek, against the grain of many of the ‘89s out there. It’s good.

       89% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Merlot/1% Petit Verdot

       (season - “vintage from Hell”, rain, rain, rain at harvest)

       $175 A- -107 ***


’90 Dominus – black currant, saddle, something in common with ’91 and a departure from the 80’s, m+ acd, f body

       83% Cabernet Sauvignon/8% Merlot/7% Cabernet Franc/2% Petit Verdot

       (outstanding, drought year, smaller than normal crop)

       $200 – I left Gunslingin’ thoughts off of notes


’91 Dominus – sweet, big fruit, dill, earth, tobacco, pyrazine, 90’s turn the page, not as many dimensions (style-wise)

       53% Cabernet Sauvignon/22% Merlot/22% Cabernet Franc/3% Petit Verdot

       (Very long growing season, large crop)

       $240 A- -171 ***


’92 Dominus – youthful, ripe plum, black currant, cinnamon, smoke

       53% Cabernet Sauvignon/22% Merlot/22% Cabernet Franc/3% Petit Verdot

       (Little rain interference, not as ripe as ’90 or ’91)

       $160 A -76 ****




The fourth flight: ’95, ’96, ’97, and ’98


’95 Dominus – cherry, plum, well-integrated, (if I ignore contrast, I love it), Big Red top has been popped, lighter style

       80% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Cabernet Franc/6% Petit Verdot/4% Merlot

       (small crop of impressive wines)

       $200 A- -134



’96 Dominus – red currant, ripe cherry, and plum fruits, vegetal

       82% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Cabernet Franc/4% Merlot/4% Petit Verdot

       (Small crop of very good quality)

       $175 A -89 ****


’97 Dominus – red & black currants, slight game, corked

       87% Cabernet Sauvignon/9% Cabernet Franc/4% Merlot

       (Huge crop year, long growing season)

       $200 (difficult to assess rating – corked)


’98 Dominus – sweet black cherry fruit, tar, anise, coffee, not as complex as other vintages

       73% Cabernet Sauvignon/15% Cabernet Franc/6% Merlot/6% Petit Verdot

       (One of latest harvest on record)

       $140 B+ -94 **




The fifth flight: ’00, ’01, ’02, and ’03.


’00 Dominus – plum, herb, little rose petals, walk-in humidor, dark currant fruit, coffee

       83% Cabernet Sauvignon/9% Cabernet Franc/5% Merlot/3% Petit Verdot

       (season – complete, even growing, almost picture-perfect)

       $140 A- -64 ***


’01 Dominus – rose petal nose, ripe black currant, lead wants to peak out, earth

       81% Cabernet Sauvignon/10% Cabernet Franc/5% Petit Verdot/4% Merlot

       (season – late Spring freeze, cool September)

       $190 A -75 ****


’02 Dominus – Masculine Fruity Pebbles, ripe red & black currants, red & black cherry, dried McCormicks herbs megamix

       85% Cabernet Sauvignon/8% Cabernet Franc/4% Petit Verdot/3% Merlot

       (season – reduced crop size)

       $175 A- -106 ***


’03 Dominus – dry red & black currants, anise, rosemary, sage, little Fruity Pebbles

       88% Cabernet Sauvignon/7% Cabernet Franc/5% Petit Verdot

       (season – long growing season/hang time, coldest April in decades)

       $140 A- -76 **


My Favorites, in order:

1.  '86 Dominus

2.  '84 Dominus

3.  '85 Dominus

4.  '94 Dominus

5.  '83 Dominus

6.  '92 Dominus

7.  '01 Dominus        

8.  '96 Dominus         

9.  '95 Dominus

10. '00 Dominus

11. '90 Dominus

12. '91 Dominus

13. '89 Dominus       

14. '02 Dominus

15. '03 Dominus

16. '98 Dominus

17. '88 Dominus

18. '87 Dominus

19. '99 Dominus (corked)

20. '97 Dominus (corked)




The After Bonus:

’91 Quinta da Noval Nacional Port – perfect touch to a great tasting!

       (season – small harvest, widely declared)

       $110 A- -20 ***


I am so grateful that I was invited to participate in this once in a lifetime experience. What a brilliant opportunity to see the contrasting textures, fruit, tenure, and spirit of the vintages and juice!  In the past, I have considered 5 wines as King of U.S. wine. They are Ridge Monte Bello, Philip Togni, Burgess Cab Sauv, Diamond Creek, and old vintages of BV Georges Latour. I think I have to add Dominus to my list…


A huge THANK YOU goes out to Brian Owens, Mark Paul, and Wink Restaurant.


Thank you to George Edwards for the great pictures here!

Also, Thank You to Mark St. Clair and the Wink Restaurant Staff, Michael Vilim (Mirabelle Restaurant), Devon Broglie (Whole Foods & MS Candidate), the Texas Wine & Food Foundation, and to Dominus Estate for the creation, wine, food, time, attention to every detail, and passion of this day! It makes me extremely proud to be a part of such a delicious community.

20 Years of Dominus Estate at Wink Restaurant (Austin, Texas)

A Special Shout Out to:


Eric Polzer, Matt Taylor, & Joseph Gallindo


Wine Guys

Brendan Owens, Dirk Miller, Devon Broglie, & Paul Ozbirn


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