I recently was invited to a tasting of Robert Mondavi wines here in Ottawa. Never one to turn down the chance to taste different wines, I readily accepted the invite. It was an intimate event at Wilfrid’s in the Chateau Laurier which included food pairings with all the wines. Let me say in summary that there were two things that amazed me about this event:
1) While I have been noticing a movement lately in the higher end Californian wines towards lighter (less sugar, less oak) and more refined wines, I was surprised to learn that Robert Mondavi has always been producing wines in this style (at least in the premium brands), and
2) I don’t know what I was expecting in terms of food from Wilfrid’s, but I can only say that all my expectations were blown away. While many think of the Chateau Laurier as being a bit of a stuffy place maybe more suited to the senior citizens and tourists, the food that chef Louis Simard is popping out of the kitchen is anything but stuffy!
With only 6 of us in attendance, a couple folks from Constellation Brands (who now own Robert Mondavi winery), and host Mark de Vere (MW), we had a great chance to talk, ask questions, and learn lots more about Robert Mondavi wines. There’s a lot of promotional activities this for Robert Mondavi winery right now because this week (Tuesday) would have been Robert Mondavi’s 100th Birthday (he died in 2008). Host Mark de Vere has been with Robert Mondavi for 13 years. As a Master of Wine he works more on the promotions side of the business, but has intimate knowledge of the vineyards, winemaking process, and of course the wines. Mark explained that when Robert Mondavi started his winery in the Napa region, there were only 20 wineries (there are ~450 today).
With lots of wine knowledge, Mark easily answered questions as we talked about Vegan wines, EU labeling regulations, and of course the winemaking. At one point Mark was asked outright if they suffered from image problems associated with making “plonk”. Mark handled the question well, explaining that there are several lines of wines people think of as Mondavi, including those associated with Peter Mondavi’s winery (Peter was the brother who fired Robert from the family winery in the 60s). The Robert Mondavi series have always been considered higher quality wines.
Each wine was presented with a course of food and Mark explained the wine paired with the course and a little bit of the story behind each wine. Here’s what we sampled:
2010 Napa Valley Fumé BlancMark explained that prior to Fumé Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc was always done as a sweet wine in California. Inspired by Pouilly Fumé, Robert Mondavi wanted to ferment the wine dry. When he invented the style in 1968 he made the wine in stainless steel and aged it in old oak barrels. This one is 2/3 fermented in in old barrels (the other 1/3 in stainless), although 4-5% of the barrels were new. There is a fresh, yet smooth fruit nose to this wine. Pear, apple, light citrus, and minerality show through with no hint of oak on the nose. As it warmed it gained light tropical fruit notes like gooseberry. The palate is fresh & crisp, with nice acidic fruit notes, and finishes with a steely minerality that reminds me of Ontario more than California. 30,000 cases made. 13.9% & $22.95 (Vintages #221887 June 3, 2013 release).
2010 Napa Valley ChardonnayWhat a wonderful pairing with the Rillette! Barrel-fermented again in old, neutral barrels, the malo (malolactic fermentation, or MLF) was stopped early in order to minimize the buttery notes. Grapes were sources from the cooler south end of the Napa Valley (Carneros), the influence is definitely that of a cooler climate. With grapes harvested much earlier than at neighbouring wineries, they have preserved much of the freshness of the fruit. Apple and lemon dominate the nose, although I can detect light buttery and lees components. The oak is there too, in the form of a light sprinkling of coconut. On the palate the wine is crisp and there is little evidence of MLF or oak components (although they did emerge later as the wine warmed closer to room temperature). There’s the slightest burn of alcohol (13.5%) on the finish. Mark explained that this wine used to stand out from all others in the region, but lately other wineries are seeing the value in fresher wines with less oak influence. $25.95 (LCBO general list product #310409)
2011 Napa Valley Pinot NoirAgain these grapes were sourced from Carneros, the coolest part of the Napa Valley, and again picked 3-4 weeks ahead of peers in order to minimize the heavy, jammy and heavy fruit notes. Mark explains that while many people like these, Robert Mondavi tried to steer away from them in terms of his style, finding that leaving the fruit too long added cooked fruit flavours that didn’t belong in a wine like Pinot. On the nose, this one show more evidence of oak, with smoky and baking spice notes behind the dominant bright cherry. There’s a hint of jammy tones here which come out more when the wine warms up, Mark explaining that he prefers to serve it a bit cool to keep the fruit and acid balanced. “Fruit of Australia, acidity and structure from France” is the accurate description Mark imparts. On the palate, there is a load of fresh cherry, sweet spice, and some light vanilla notes from the 10 monts in French oak (30% new). The wine finishes with a slightly peppery and spicy finish. Meant to be drank fresh (aged <5 years). The duck confit was a delicious pairing for this wine, and brought out different nuances of the Pinot Noir. I would drink this wine cool as Mark suggested as I found the fruit a little too pronounced once it warmed up to room temperature. This wine sells for about $34.95 when available. [caption id="attachment_2459" align="aligncenter" width="224"] Cardamon-Mushroom, Rubbed Lamb Sirloin & Aged Striploin[/caption]
2010 Cabernet SauvignonWe were offered two Cab Sauvs with this course. The first is intense black cherry and cassis on the nose are carried forward on a good wave of alcohol, partially masking the sweet spice oak notes.There’s an interesting graphite note, and Mark exposes that there is also a percentage of Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the wine. On the palate the first think you notice is the fine, integrated tannins and current drinkability of the wine. There’s dark fruit, plums, and surprising acidity (yes, there is a common theme to these wines). $34.95, available Vintages General List 255513 and currently $3 off until June 23.
2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
With 85% of the fruit sourced from the prime “To Kalon” vineyards and the other 15% from very similar vineyards in the same area, this is a premium wine. There is rich dark fruit on the nose and palate (blackberry, black cherry, and a hint of sharper red cherry), kirsch, vanilla, and light oak notes. A great structured wine, it offers smooth but very present tannins. The dark fruit stays on the palate from the start through the long finish, something Mark credits to the 16 ton oak fermenters that capture the mid-palate power of the wine while providing those smooth, round tannins. This wine offered something new every few minutes, and is the kind of wine best enjoyed over the evening where you keep exploring the nuances as it opens up. This is a Vintages product (March Release) #670463 that comes in at $144.95. Pity I had to spit.
2009 Moscato D’OroMark describes the proces to make this wine, where they chill it to stop the first ferment, leaving only 8% alcohol, but also leaving a little effervescence to the finish product. The nose if floral & tropical, and the palate follows suit but offers honey, and lush tropical notes. Being mid weight, the wine is not sticky or syrupy, with enough acidity to cleanse the palate of the goat cheese based dessert. As interesting side note, Mark explains that they have been making this since the 70s, and people are amazed that they use such great vineyard land for a simple wine such as Moscato. $17.95 for 375 mL, Vintages 687392.
See For Yourself!
You can taste almost this identical lineup of wines at Graffitti’s in Kanata this Thursday night. Check out the details in the pictures below for more details.