Duckhorn is one of those Napa valley staples that everyone seems to have heard about and associates with upper-echelon wines. They run in the same pack as Cakebread, Rombauer, Shafer, Kistler, and Silver Oak — a gang of Northern California stars that everyone outside of California seems to have heard about. Most of these wines are bought on their name alone, indeed, it’s my theory that many people buy them with relief, often seeing them mixed into a restaurant wine list of other unrecognizeable wines. My recent trip to Napa to taste at Silver Oak with some friends also broughy me to Duckhorn, and we got to determine first hand whether they continue to live up to their reputation.
The short answer? Maybe. A few of their wines were very good, one close to excellent, and some, not particularly special. Overall, my advice to you is to be wary of the tendency to buy the name. If you’ve had it before and like it — fine — but if you’re buying just based on the little duck and some memory of it being served at a high end restaurant, you might just end up with a lame duck.
2002 Napa Sauvignon Blanc
Nice nose of kiwi, pears, and fuji apples but far too grassy tasting for me to enjoy.
Overall score: 5.5
How much?: $22
2001 Napa Valley Merlot
This is one of the few wines that I have ever tasted that strongly smelled of sandalwood. A lot of wines have hints, but this was very clear, and mixed in with tobacco. Strong cherry flavors dominated the palate with the finish having some tobacco and chocolate as well. Didn’t blow me away.
Overall score: 7.5
How much?: $48
1999 Howell Mountain Merlot
Wonderful nose on this one, of blackberry/boysenberry and those fruits plus some strong pepper flavors in the mouth. Typical of many Howell Mountain wines (an overrated appellation in my book) it had a slightly mineral/calcium quality that I really didn’t like. However it was a more balanced wine than the Napa.
Overall score: 7.5/8
How much?: $65
2000 Napa valley Estate Cabernet
Leapt out of the glass with strong nose of blakc cherry, sour cherry (umeboshi ?) and mulling spices. Rasberry fruit was prevalent in the mouth with flavors of currant on the finish. Nicely made, but not my style of cabernet.
Overall score: 7.5/8
How much?: $80
2000 Estate Cabernet St. Helena – “Patzimaro” Vineyard
Now this was an interesting wine. Heavy licorice and black cherry nose preceded an extremely velvety and round mouthfeel loaded with cherries and chocolate. This wine was extremely aromatic and had a very distinct set of aromas and flavors compared with the rest of the cabs and merlots we tasted. The wine comes from the old Spottswoode vineyard, which has been named by Duckhorn after the immigrant family that Duckhorn uses to run its winemaking operation.
Overall score: 8.5/9
How much?: $90
I don’t know why Duckhorn has decided to spin out a sub brand based on a “pair of ducks” — maybe two ducks on the label are better than one? Or maybe it’s just an excuse to put a new waterfowl artist on each vintages label (which are very prettty it must be said). In any case, it seems to me that Duckhorn doesn’t know what they want this sub brand to be, and it comes across in the winemaking as well. A strong cedar nose does not transition well to the mouth. The wine is extremely tannic and oaky and seems like it is struggling against itself to make sense in the mouth.
Overall score: 7
How much?: $43