Dana is a cult collectible among California wines, made in tiny quantities at sky-high prices. Its owners are on a self-declared quest for perfection. Darius Sanai sat down with them for a tasting of their exceptional wines
The universe of fine wine, more than that of any other luxury good, is filled with contradictions. You say you don’t like Merlot, but you pay £2000 for a bottle of Château Petrus, which is made, mainly, from Merlot. You would never dream of drinking a wine made from different vintages all in one bottle, yet you collect Krug Grande Cuvée champagne, which has made its name on doing just that. You don’t like California wines because they are too strong, and prefer to stick to Bordeaux, yet many Bordeaux wines, in this time of climate change, are 14% or 15% alcohol, just the same as their California cousins.
Nowhere is this paradox more vivid than in Napa Valley itself, the heart of California’s great wines. “Napa Valley Cabernet” is considered even by many wine connoisseurs to be one particular style, which they may profess strong views about either way – particularly if they are French, or a little snobbish and British. And yet not only does this area make a spectrum of different styles – arguably, much broader than that made in the grape’s famous homeland, Bordeaux’s left bank – but, geographically, geologically, horticulturally, and meteorologically, it is one of the most diverse wine producing regions in the world.
This point was brought home during our tasting of Dana wines with the estates’ owners. Dana itself is situated on the west side of Napa Valley, in the shadow of the Mayacamas mountains (in reality, densely, wooded, and biodiversity rich, big hills, separating Napa from valleys to the west that run towards the Pacific Ocean).
Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine
Dana’s wines are made from grapes grown on both on the sides of the valley, including two vineyards on the slopes of Howell Mountain to the east, part of the range which separates this fertile area from the arid central valley of California. (This geographical detail is essential, as wine is a product of its place).
In the Dana wines we tasted, we were tasting different identities, and personalities, with far more differentiation than the marginal differences in climate and soil in revered heartlands of France.
And here is another paradox. Because while France’s great wines, from Chateau Margaux to Château Petrus to Domaine de la Romanée Conti, are brands that almost any connoisseur worth their salt knows of, very few people indeed have heard of Dana. And this, you would think, would lead to it being undervalued, a kind of hidden gem of beautiful wine to discover and buy up.
And you would be wrong, for all the wines we tasted here are as expensive, and in the case of some vintages more expensive, than the great names of France mentioned above. Tiny production, and a cult following, and also, as we noted in our conversation, an owner and winemaker absolutely obsessed with making the best possible, no matter what the cost. Hi Sang Lee is a Korean entrepreneur who bought the winery because he just wanted to make the best of the best.
Like a few other top and California estates, a conversation and tasting with Dana is like a window into the creation of a future wine, superbrand. And as for those who prefer to dismiss “cult” California wines, as a fad, superbrands, are often only taken up, in the early stages, by the most discerning.
The wines: Tasting notes by Darius Sanai
Dana Estates Helms 2019
This is pure, brilliant, Napa Cabernet – and for connoisseurs of the region, more specifically, has the wonderful hallmarks of a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Rutherford Bench, an area just below the mountains on the west of the valley. There is density, powerful fruit, balanced tannins and a balance – although we would put either put this wine in a cellar for 10 years, or drink it with a Kobe steak personally chosen and cooked by Wolfgang Puck in our home overlooking the Pacific.
Dana Estates Hershey 2019
Hershey Vineyard is not in Napa Valley per se; it is up in the hillsides around Howell Mountain, to the east of the valley. Surrounded by forests, you can feel the freshness and lift in this wine. It’s more delicate, more precise, more defined, while still being a powerful wine. We would drink it with guineafowl in a wine jus cooked in our home in the high Alps by Yannick Alléno.
Dana Estates Lotus 2019
Rich, powerful, deep wine with many layers: creamy black fruit, savoury spice and anise, and velvety texture. We would drink this with Hélène Darroze herself, in a Mayfair townhouse, with an Auvergne-style beef casserole.
Dana Estates Lotus 2011
It was interesting to see how this wine aged; at twelve years, the muscularity of the previous wine has turned into something altogether more poetic. Still rich with power, but woven through with a silken grace, and the spice has a greater subtlety. With this one we would ask Yan Tak from Lung King Heen in Hong Kong to cook us a hotpot, and eat it in our Midlevels apartment looking out over Hong Kong harbour.
Read more: A tasting of Schrader’s legendary Napa wines
Dana Estates Helms 2005
This 18 year old Dana wine has aged more like a Burgundy than a Bordeaux, opening out into a fresh, fragrant, balanced wine with much subtlety and no trace of tannins. We would drink this by itself, in winter, in our house overlooking the turbulent sea off the coast of wintertime Mallorca.
Find out more: danaestates.com