Decades of Dominus at Wink

Posted by johngl

At no time and at no place in the history of the legal recreational consumables industry has there been an event such as this: a vertical tasting of 20 years of Dominus.

Decades of Dominus

At least to my knowledge.

For those neophytes that do not know of this particular nectar of the gods, please depart immediately, there is nothing for you here. Then again, perhaps you should stay and learn something.

The pouring beginsIn 1836, in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, one third of the way up the western slope of the Napa Valley, the first vines were planted. One hundred and forty-seven years later, Christian Moueix produced the first vintage of Dominus.

His philosophy was nothing terribly new: wine is created in the vineyard, not the cellar. All of the grapes used in these wines are grown in a single vineyard; every step of their production is closely monitored. Moueix blends Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot varietals in a manner that reinforces a Bordeaux style, though the blend varies each year in homage to the conditions of the particular season.

Earthy character and complexity have defined Dominus since that debut release in 1983 and it has become a mainstay in the cellars of the Oenoloratti. With prices beginning at around a hundred dollars a bottle, it is not a wine to take lightly.

Given a chance to sample two decades worth of these wines (1983-2003) with food provided by my favorite restaurant, Wink, well, lets just say it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Merry Christmas indeed.

Amuse Busche: Hamachi Ceviche

The party kicked off at the Wink Wine Bar promptly at 3:30 on the damp Sunday afternoon with the guzzling of some wonderful bubbly.  Nearly every wine snob I know (I say that lovingly) was there. Funny how that works.


I’m not sure how many bottles of the 1996 Vilamart & Cie Brut were opened, but Mirabelle owner Michael Vilim, and Wink front man, Mark St. Clair, seemed to be having a great time serving it up. Perhaps they were enjoying sampling the vintage (one can’t allow a bad bottle to get into the wild).

Michael Vilim and Mark St. Clair

It’s a little unusual to see Mr. Vilim behind the bar at a restaurant he doesn’t own, but as one of organizers of this great event (and defacto master of ceremonies), I suppose he is entitled.

Meanwhile, Wink’s Executive Chef and owner, Mark Paul, was over in the restaurant giving last-minute direction. I don’t believe he was nervous, per se, though I do think he fully realized the importance of the event and was doing everything in his power to ensure its brilliant success.

Chef Mark Paul

Chef Paul isn’t one of those primadonna restaurateurs who take all the credit without doing any of the work — at one point, I noticed him wielding a broom and dustpan which actually caused me to chuckle, not because it seemed beneath his stature, but because he looked so natural doing it. He isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

His staff listened to him attentively as he choreographed the serving ballet. When there are 20 wines (four wines per dish), there is a lot of potential for collision and confusion: which wine goes in what glass, who pours what wine, and how each dish is to be served.

Once the champagne well ran dry, everyone meandered over to the restaurant; there is nothing quite like a pack of wine and food aficionados prepping for a feast and everyone was keen to have a seat and get down to business.

As you may have noticed in an earlier photo, we were greeted with a wonderful amuse bouche of Hamachi Ceviche:

Hamachi Ceviche

This little spoonful of joy was effective in its duty: to enliven the palate in preparation for the coming gustatorial extravaganza.

The first flight of wines, described by Brian Owens, one of the aforementioned oenoloratti and contributor of this extraordinary collection of Dominus, was a teaser. Beginning with the ‘83, hopping five years to the ‘88, then the ‘94, and finishing with the ‘99, this grouping allowed us to experience the aging of a fine wine. You can read about the details of each vintage by clicking on the particular year.

The ’94 was my favorite of this flight primarily because of its balance; the fruit and acidity met wonderfully on the palate. This vintage was also the first of the Dominus Estate Corporation, where Christian Moueix became the sole owner.

I’m not sure if the winemaker was trying to make a particular statement with this offering, but it is indeed a classic Dominus. It also paired magnificently with this Truffled Terrine of Rabbit en croute, with fines herb.

truffled terrine of rabbit en croute with fines herb

Some of you might wonder about having rabbit as the opening salvo, but remember, this was no ordinary dinner. These wines are heady and bold and the pairing of foods with twenty of them is no easy task. Whilst rabbit isn’t a timid dish, it was certainly the most tame of the night. Things got much wilder as we progressed from afternoon into the evening.

As is my wont, I tend to wander around a bit and headed back toward the kitchen to see what was up. I love kitchens. They are just so alive.

Eric Polzer, Head Chef

On this visit, I just happened to catch Eric Polzer, the head chef, whipping up the crepes for the next dish: Duck Confit Crêpe with Cherries, Currants, and Foie Gras Emulsion.

duck confit crepe with cherries, currants, and foie gras emulsion

Quite frankly, I’ve never seen or eaten anything quite like this. It was sort of a riff on Beef Wellington where a tenderloin filet of beef is frequently adorned with foie gras or mushrooms and wrapped in a puff pastry.

Regardless of how this came about, I was completely enamored by it. In fact, just last night, for a small dinner party, I prepared a duck confit dish inspired by this one.

duck innards

Depending upon how and where you filled your fork, this either paired beautifully with the wines or overpowered them due to the fruit in the dish. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it gave the diners something with which to toy. A forkful with a whole cherry, some sauce, and little of the crêpe, and it almost seemed like dessert dish. On the other hand, if a forkful of duck and crêpe were just dipped in the sauce, it was indeed a mouthful of joy with the wines. Fascinating.

The wines served with the duck were the ‘84, ‘85, ‘86, and ‘87. In my opinion, the ’86 paired best with dish and therefore was my favorite. This choice may also reveal the particular style my palate appreciates as this was the first year that Cabernet Franc was added to the final blend adding an element of taste that I greatly enjoyed.

The playfulness of the duck dish was going to be a difficult one to top, but the genius of Chef Paul came through with the next dish: Lamb Lollipop with Baby Carrot, Celery Root and Herbed Demi Glace.

lamb lollipop with baby carrot, celery root, and herbed demi glace

Notice the rather lengthy extension of the bone off to the left. This is obviously something of a special cut and it just begs the diner to pick it up:

A guest having fun with the lamb "lollipop"

Some of us couldn’t resist. The more proper amongst us used the traditional knife and fork but those folks missed out on all the bone-sucking goodness.

Chef Paul mentioned that the duck and lamb are sourced from the same producer in East Texas. Once a week, the producer hand-carries his product to the folks at Wink. Sure, it costs a little more, but this is the hallmark of the restaurant. Chef Paul says “We look for the best ingredients we can possibly get […] We should all know where our food comes from.”

The wines that accompanied the lamb were the ‘89, ‘90, ‘91, and ‘92. In my opinion, the best of this flight was the ’90. Again, this may reveal, even to me, what I look for in a wine. Research has revealed that the 1990 vintage was the first year that all four of the classic Bordeaux varietals — Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot — were used in the final blend. I’m spotting a trend.

For those keeping track, we’d gone through twelve wines.  How could we possibly make it through another eight without falling face first into the food? Well, we’re professionals. Do not try this at home.

In all seriousness though, you just learn to make liberal use of the dump buckets provided at every wine tasting. While this may seem like sacrilege  — the dumping of really expensive wine — it is a matter of survival of the palate. If you get all dopey and stupid, you can’t taste the wine (or the food) and the objective here is not to get knee-walking silly, but to enjoy those special nuances of the wine and food. Okay, so some may have intended to get inebriated, but for the most part, the better side of decorum was observed.


So, with the following dish, I really wished that most glorious spousal unit could have been with me on this adventure. Much to my great dismay, she doesn’t always go for exotic foods, but this Five Spice Boar Short Rib on Parsnip Puree with Baby Bok Choy and Black Plum, was right up her ally.

five spice wild boar short rib on parsnip puree, with baby bok choy and black plum

The meat was so lovingly prepared, so very tender and juicy, it was as though it was dying to dissolve in my mouth. The rich and savory flavors of the meat were countered by the sweetness of the parsnip and plum.  I can honestly say that the bok choy was the best I have ever eaten. Period.

The wines with this dish were equally supurb — ‘95, ‘96, ‘97, and ‘98. Soft and supple, my favorite was the ’95; it rather brought out the pluminess of the dish.  This wasn’t an easy choice  though as the well-balanced ’96 ran a close second.

Sixteen down and four to go.

Getting up to stretch my legs, and clear my head a bit, I again enjoyed a visit to the Wink kitchen.

The plating of the antelope

I have this strange fascination for watching the assembly of a dish. All the work comes together and the final touches are applied. The bone marrow flan went down first, quickly followed by the mushrooms.  A pinch of greens were applied, then finally, the perfectly sliced antelope.

If you hadn’t guessed, this was a particularly heady offering. These are some strong flavors and even after all of this food and wine, I was still salivating.

Chef Paul doesn’t miss a trick; he personally attended to every plate.

Chef Paul applies the finishing touches

Cocoa Nib Encrusted Antelope with Bone Marrow Flan, Hen of the Wood Mushrooms, and Crispy Greens.

What a mouthful!

cocoa nib encrusted antelope with bone marrow flan, hen of the wood mushrooms, and crispy greens

This was one of those oh my god dishes when you just wonder: how did they come up with this?

A bone-marrow flan? It was ridiculously good and added a richness to the ultra-lean antelope. The Hen of the Woods mushrooms brought an unbelievable earthy woodsiness to the party. This was a big and incredibly bold dish and I completely admire the audacity it took to put all of this together for normal people. This was simply unreal.

This was truly my kind of food.  But what do you pair with these kinds of flavors?  The ‘00, ‘01, ‘02, and ‘03 of course. Still in their infancy, these wines will mature for decades to come, but for this dish, the brazen fruity characteristics of these youngsters was just the ticket. I was completely blown away by the explosion of fruit in the ’03, the youngest of the lot. The others paled by comparison to its jammy, full in the face, flavors.

Where do you find antelope? Broken Arrow Ranch. The boar came from them as well. Only in Texas would you find a group of people that are legally allowed to go out, equipped with night-vision scopes and high-powered rifles, to stalk exotic animals under the cover of darkness. One of these days I will talk them into allowing me out during “harvest”.

The Dominus was done, but dinner was not yet over. No dinner is complete without dessert.

El Rey Chocolate Cake with Zinfandel Infused Cherries

Does this look decadent or what?  El Rey Chocolate Cake with Zinfandel Infused Cherries and paired with a 1991 Quinta da Noval Nacional port. A fitting finish to an outrageous event.

As I staggered about the dining room getting the opinions of my fellow enthusiasts, I ran across this young man:

Praying for more

I’m not sure if he was giving thanks or praying for more, but either way, he, and the rest of the attendees, had the opportunity to participate in an truly historical event.

Brian OwensThere are many I need to thank for the production of this dinner, but most notably, there is Brian Owens, who not only spent a couple of decades diligently collecting these wines,  he also worked along side Chef Mark Paul figuring out how best to share them.  As Chef Paul so aptly phrased it: “This was a great lesson in how to choose your friends.” Brian’s generosity is simply unmatched.

I’d also like to thank the guys:

The Wink Crew

From left, that is John, Joseph, Matt, Esteban, and Eric, the chef’s crew that did such an amazing job cooking and assembling this flavorful fare.

Thanks too, to the wine guys, Brendan Owens, Dirk Miller, Devon Broglie, and Paul Ozbirn who performed the ballet of wine pouring with elegance and grace.

If you’d like to read more about this event and particularly about the wines, head on over to Pelz on Wine, who has posted a multi-part series on these wines and the Good Taste Report where there is great coverage of the wines as well. Anthony Garcia’s excellent post on Wine Is Divine is a sommelier’s take on the event.

Finally, there is the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, whose annual fund raising event, The Rare and Fine Wine Auction provoked Brian into parting with his sanity and giving up his collection of 20 years of Dominus.

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About johngl

A bit of a wildman, John hails from the Midwest: A land of corn, cows, pigs, and a host of other healthfully meaty pursuits.

Born on a dark and stormy night in late Fall, John grew up as the son of a meat cutter. There was always plenty of meat at hand. While not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, his family certainly ate well. According to his father, that was the whole point.

5 thoughts on “Decades of Dominus at Wink

  1. Pingback: Petit Verdot

  2. I attended this event and many thanks to the Alcoholian for relieving the rest of the attendees of the burden of total recall by chronicling the event with such style. Many thanks to Brian Owens whose generosity and brainstorming brought this event to reality. What a great venue, marvelous food, world-class wine, remarkable fellow attendees and impecable service. Thanks to all for an unforgetable, and now beautifully documented, evening.

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