DAOU Vineyards: The Pursuit of Excellence

Daniel Daou

Daniel Daou and family have created one of California’s leading wineries for the production of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends.  The story is by now well known—born in Lebanon, raised in France, educated at UC San Diego, founded a highly successful tech company, and then followed his dream of making world class wine.  A couple of years ago, Daniel showed us his vineyards and winery located in the Adelaida District of Paso Robles, and we’ve tasted his exceptional wines multiple times over the years.  This year we couldn’t travel, but Daniel sent us his wines, and we had a lengthy discussion over Zoom covering some technical issues such as yeasts, dealing with heat spikes, and determining ripeness of grapes. Our tasting notes can be found below.

We’ve previously written about Daou in review articles and our reports on the wines of Paso Robles, so we’ll be brief in this introduction.  The Daou vineyard (now 230 acres planted) is located on what is now called Daou Mountain, which rises to 2200’ elevation and enjoys the calcareous soils of the Adelaida District.  The vineyard includes the historic Hoffman Mountain Ranch that was developed with the advice of Andre Tschlistcheff in the 1960s. Daniel has combined exceptional terroir with meticulous vineyard management and winemaking.  The vineyards are planted at high density (now, 3630 vines/acre) and mostly dry farmed with fruit dropped 3-5 times. The result is small clusters with small berries giving low yields. In the winery, only free run juice is used for the estate and reserve wines; fermenting is done with a strain of yeast (now distributed by Enartis in 35 countries) created by Daniel from the vineyard; especially careful attention is given to cooperage for aging, including a bois rosé barrel made of oak from old trees cured for five years (two years is the norm in the industry).  Most recently, he has been developing a strategy to help the vines better handle heat spikes like that of 2017.  It includes micro-burst irrigation, using shade cloth to lower the temperature of the fruit, and enriching the soil to strengthen vine health.

The Wines

Daou 2019 Rosé Reserve Paso Robles ($40) 93  Eye of the partridge color. This is a precise, seamless rosé that compares well with the best of France. Made of mostly Grenache sourced from the special terroir of the Adelaida District and grown specifically for rosé, the grapes are direct pressed and matured in 50% new French oak for 7 months. Surprisingly, the effects of the oak are subtle–a hint of spice in the nose and a silky mouth feel. In addition to spice, the nose is floral with a touch of rose petals. The palate is concentrated but dry with a strong sense of minerality that persists on the finish. Made of 95% Grenache and 5% Sauvignon Blanc.

Daou 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($30) 91 Huckleberry, black currant and   hints of toasty oak show on the nose. Very good depth of ripe fruit with some complexity on the palate with a tongue-coating finish. A very tasty entry level Cab that finishes with round, soft tannins. 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc; aged about 10 months in 60% new French oak. 14.5% alc.

Daou 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Paso Robles ($60) 93  Saturated dark ruby with a nose of beautifully pure créme de cassis fruit. There’s deep, dark fruit on an expansive, full bodied palate. Very long and intense finish that goes on forever. Fine, firm tannins requiring a bit more aging for the wine to show its best. A blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Petit Verdot, 2% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc; aged in 50% new French oak; 14.7% alc.

Daou 2018 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Adelaida District ($95) 94 This is a rich, layered wine that shows the Daou Mountain terroir. It begins with dark berries and lead pencil on the nose and continues with an impressively generous and weighty palate of dark fruit complemented by earth, minerals, and graphite. The finish is very long but the tannins are firm. We would give this wine a couple of years in the cellar, but it could obviously age much longer. Made of free run juice; matured 20 months in 80% new French oak.

Daou 2018 Soul of a Lion Paso Robles Adelaida District ($150) 95  We’ve tasted Soul of a Lion several times over the years, and it never disappoints. The 2018 vintage is deep, dark ruby in color with a muse pf black currant with hints of smoky cedar and spices. In the mouth it’s lush and very dense with dark red and black fruit and a sense of slate-like minerals. Superbly balanced with a silky mouth feel and a long, palate coating finish. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Petit Verdot; matured 22 months in 100% new French oak. 14.7% alc.

Daou 2017 Patrimony Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Adelaid District ($275) 97 Semi-opaque. The nose is vibrant and reminiscent of bitter chocolate, black currant, and graphite. A very silky, lush and elegant wine with exceedingly complex and dense black and blue fruit complemented by light savory notes and perfectly integrated tannins. Our favorite Daou wine of all time. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon matured 30 months in 100% new French oak; 14.7% alc.

Daou 2016 Patrimony Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Adelaida District ($275) 96 Very dark ruby red. Compared to the 2017, this Patrimony is more ethereal with aromas and flavors of black raspberry, cassis, graphite and a hint of bitter chocolate. It’s mouth filling and pure with an uncanny combination of energy and elegance. The aftertaste is exceptionally persistent with firm tannins. The patient wine lover should give this more time in cellar. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 30 months in 100% new French oak; 15.2% alc.

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