No joke: Two guys walk into a bar and end up starting a winery.
The year was 2005, the bar was the Off the Record at Washington, D.C.’s Hay Adams Hotel, and the two guys were Gustavo Gonzalez, head red wine maker at Robert Mondavi, and Jim “Bear” Dyke, former RNC press secretary and public relations director. The two hit it off immediately. By 2009, the friendship had blossomed into a Napa Valley boutique winery: Mira, a name inspired by the Latin root of “miracle” and Greek for “destiny.”
I became acquainted with Mira eight years ago, when Gonzalez and Dyke were intrigued with how much the aging environment affects the taste of wine—so intrigued that they submerged four cases of their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon in Charleston Harbor for three months, at a depth of 60 feet. When the wine surfaced, they traveled around the country doing blind tastings between the “real” wine and the ocean-aged Cabernet. It may have been a publicity stunt, but it was based in a sincere desire to investigate how and why wine ages.
The core of Mira Winery is a 16-acre vineyard purchased in 2016, just south of Yountville, but their pride and joy are the wines made from the Hyde and Schweizer vineyards, two of the valley’s finest pedigrees. Cultivated for over a century and family-owned since 1956, Schweizer is a 40-acre parcel in the Stags Leap District. Hyde Vineyard is the superstar of the Los Carneros region of Napa Valley, planted by Larry Hyde in 1979.
This time around, I had the chance to sample several of the vineyard-designated Hyde offerings. The deeply colored 2015 Pinot Noir ($95) has a beckoning nose of Bing cherries, crushed cranberries and menthol. The wine enters the mouth effortlessly, displaying spunky fruit tannins and good acidity. Rich flavors of dark berries dominate the mid palate, and the menthol emerges again on the long finish, along with earth notes. Captivating is the only way to describe it.
Jet black in color, the 2016 Hyde Vineyard Syrah ($95) yields earthy aromas of fresh herbs, anise, blackberry and smoked meat. In the mouth, tart black fruits are encased in supple tannins, with flavors of black olive, dark plum and mint emerging in the mid palate and continuing on the long finish. This wine cries out for steak, ribs or slow-cooked stews.
Cabernet is the sentimental favorite of most California wineries, and the 2017 Mira Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) provides an approachable, entry-level introduction to the house style. A ripe nose of dark berries and menthol is followed by a surprisingly drinkable wine with supple fruit tannins and succulent flavors of spiced plums and blackberries. Mira’s flagship wine, the 2016 Schweizer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($235), is a potential tour de force that is years away from maturity. Jet black in color, deep and brooding, it contains a rich core of herb-inflected black fruits wrapped in new oak and stiff tannins. Give it another five years, and it should be exceptional.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, has been re-released on Amazon in print, e-book and audio book formats.