Not a B-movie, nor an epic comic book battle, but a blinded showdown of two California clarets - the Ramey Claret and Napanook by Dominus. You see, David Ramey started his career with the Moueix family (Chateau Pétrus) and helped establish Moueix' Dominus Estate. How much of his learning did he take to Ramey Wine Cellars? And how have the Dominus wines fared after losing Mr. Ramey?
Of course, a better comparison would be a multi-year flight of the flagship Dominus wines vs. the Ramey Jericho Canyon, but at last glance my inbox was not filled with offers from David or Christian Moueix to ship a case of their finest. Facing this harsh financial reality, I instead turned to single bottles of the entry-level wines of both estates:
2002 Ramey Claret (Napa Valley)
2003 Napanook (Napa Valley)
The 2002 Ramey Claret was purchased nearly two years ago on a trip to NYC. I can't find the blend for this vintage, but historically this Claret was just above 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, with balance mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Not as aromatic as the Napanook, it took some time for this wine to cough up its secrets - more caramel and ripe fruit at first, later showing rose, blackberry, pepper, leather, mint, undergrowth and a cheese smell that I couldn't quite put my finger on. The higher alcohol content was also quite apparent. On the palate this was a very smooth and elegant wine, but over the evening the firm tannins began to show through. Medium- to full-bodied, it was softer than the Napanook, with nice mouthfeel and texture, but less complex. Enjoyable now, but it may need some more time in the bottle.
The 2003 Napanook (91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec) was purchased locally. A nice cherry red in the glass, the nose was very complex, starting with cheery violet and rose, then blackberries, and as it evolved over the evening showing black pepper, cedar, coffee, tobacco, pencil shavings, mint, and some attractive green pepper/vegetal notes. Very, very nice. Full-bodied, it started out a bit angular on the palate, but softened over the evening into a complex, but nicely balanced claret with dry, fresh fruit and melt in your mouth tannins. Blinded, all three tasters agreed it was the more Bordeaux-like of the two wines. While it may keep in the cellar, this wine is excellent now.
Price: C$39.75 (SAQ), -10%
A few comments. First, both wines were a stunning match for grilled T-bone steaks right off the grill. Second, readers may notice that these wines were tasted here before, unblinded, and on separate occasions (1,2). The scores have now been reversed, and all three tasters preferred the Napanook.