Robert Mondavi Winery: A fresh look at a Napa Valley legend
As we’ve grown sharply as a wine drinking nation over the last couple of decades, our choices have also increased. The number of outlets selling wine is way up, and the options we have when we get there, are in pointed contrast to what was available just a few years ago. The temptation in our culture is also to chase the hot new thing.
Sometimes that leaves little room to reconsider or reconnect with something we already love. In this case, that something is the Robert Mondavi Winery. There was no greater ambassador for both California wines and the importance of wine on our tables in this country than Robert Mondavi. Napa Valley, and perhaps the entire U.S. wine industry, would look radically different today if not for the chances he took and the advances -- in quality and more -- which he championed. In the sea of wine, it’s easy to forget that. Sometimes it’s useful to remind ourselves they’re there, and remember why they achieved their legendary status to begin with. With that in mind I’ll take a look at three current Mondavi releases.
The Robert Mondavi Winery 2009 Chardonnay was produced from fruit sourced primarily in Carneros (47 percent), and Southern Napa (37 percent) with the remainder coming from Sonoma and other parts of Napa Valley. This wine is 100 percent Chardonnay. Most of the juice (80 percent) was fermented in French oak for over 8 months, with 15 percent of those barrels being new. The balance was fermented, as well as aged, in stainless steel. This offering has a suggested retail price of $20. Orchard fruit aromas such as green apple and Bartlett pear, along with some spice elements, fill the nose of this Chardonnay. Upon taking the first sip, your palate immediately encounters a bit of toast from the oak. However, the oak is but one element that adds to this wine. Immediately following the initial impression, tons of fruit, spice and creaminess envelop your taste buds and they all come together to form a seamless and well-proportioned mid-palate. Apple pie crust, as well and a bevy of baker’s spices, emerge on the finish along with continued orchard fruits. This wine has a good, long finish and tremendous balance. It is what Napa Valley Chardonnay should be -- fruity, fresh and complex, with just the right bit of oak influence. If you like the fruit to come shining through when you drink Chardonnay, this wine is for you.
The Robert Mondavi Winery 2010 Pinot Noir was produced using mostly fruit sourced in Carneros (93 percent); the remainder of the fruit is from the Russian River Valley (7 percent). This offering is 100 percent Pinot Noir. The fruit was hand-picked, and some of it was whole cluster pressed, while the balance was de-stemmed. After fermentation, this Pinot Noir was aged in French oak for 7 months; 34 percent of the barrels were new. This offering has a suggested retail price of $27. Aromas of cherry, spice and earthy mushrooms fill the nose of this 2010 Pinot Noir. Copious red and black cherry flavors are prominent on the palate, along with wild strawberry and bits of pomegranate. Sweet and sour cherry flavors continue through the finish which also shows off lots of clove, nutmeg, white pepper and hints of cinnamon. This wine has fairly firm, gripping tannins that yield with some aeration. This Pinot Noir is tasty now, but look for it to improve significantly in the next year and drink well for a couple of years after that. The Robert Mondavi 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir is a fine example of this grape from this appellation at a fair price.
The Robert Mondavi Winery 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was produced using fruit sourced in Stag’s Leap and Oakville; 31 percent comes from the-well regarded To Kalon vineyard. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon (75 percent), this wine also contains small amounts of Merlot (11 percent), Cabernet Franc (10 percent), Syrah (2 percent), Petit Verdot (1 percent) and Malbec (1 percent). After hand harvesting, the fruit was fermented in a combination of stainless steel and oak tanks; 17 months of barrel-aging followed in French oak, with 15 percent of them new. The Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet has a suggested retail price of $28. Cigar box and eucalyptus support strong bramble aromas on the dark and inviting nose of this wine. Red raspberry and black cherry flavors lead the palate, along with hints of sweet chocolate, toasty oak, blackberry and pepper. The solid finish shows off lots of earth, crushed cherries and dusty dark cocoa. This wine has supple tannins that yield with air and time as well as firm acidity. This is an approachable Cabernet Sauvignon that will be at its best over the next 5 to 8 years.
This trio of wines sits on polar ends of perception for me. The Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is the first wine that comes to my mind with the Mondavi Winery. It’s a release that has been a solid example of the varietal for decades, as well as a good value; it continues to be exactly that. The Chardonnay follows suit in the next tier of best-known wines from Mondavi. It has also been a solid and well regarded wine for a long time. Pinot Noir on the other hand, for whatever reason, isn’t a varietal I associate as quickly with the Mondavi Winery. That being said, I’ve had this wine on numerous occasions over the years and it’s been a solid performer. The 2010 provides really nice varietal character, sense of place and good value to boot. If you haven’t checked in with the Robert Mondavi Winery in a while, these releases are a good reason to do so. Their wide availability across the country makes them easy to find, and they are solid values, particularly since they can often be had for several dollars less than the suggested retail price.