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Forty Years of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

img_2276A great way to spend an hour or two at Wine & Food festivals are the seminars, which most large wine events hold in conjunction with the Grand Tastings.  These seminars give you the opportunity to dive a bit deeper into any number of topics, from specific wineries, certain varietals, foods from a region or perhaps food and wine pairings.  It could be pretty much anything, and sometimes they are pretty special.  This past September, at the Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival, we had the chance to attend one that was very special indeed.

Robert Mondavi is a name every wine lover knows.  He and his family are iconic in Napa Valley, the American wine industry and the wine community worldwide.  Robert’s father had purchased Charles Krug back in the 40’s, and the family brought the winery forward as one of the best known names in American wine.  Robert started his own winery in 1966, the first really new winery in Napa in 30 years, and it became a gigantic success against the opinions of the rest of the winemakers in Napa at the time.  They called it “Robert’s Folly”.  Talk about being wrong.

Four decades of Mondavi Reserve Cab being prepared

Four decades of Mondavi Reserve Cab being prepared

Over the next few decades, the Mondavi’s remained perhaps the most recognizable name in American wine.  Robert created a market out of nothing img_2275for Sauvignon Blanc in the United States with his Fume Blanc, an oaked Sauvignon Blanc made in the style of white Bordeaux.  Continuing in that vein he began the partnership with Baron Rothschild that remains Opus One, an equally iconic name in red wine.  The Mondavi family was at the forefront of the American industry for forty years.  While many will remember the company going public, the eventual schism between family members after Robert’s death and subsequent sale of the winery, there can be no doubt as to the impact the man and his vision had on the world.  He is the definition of the word icon.  Today the winery is still crafting world class wines.

img_2277

Mark de Veres

For their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Robert Mondavi Winery uses fruit from their parcels in the famed To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville.  The Reserve Cab was the focus of this seminar, and what a treat it was to sample these wines all the way back to 1976.  That year, 1976, was specifically chosen as a comparison to the current release of the 2013 Reserve Cab.  Both drought years, this would be a great look into what the new wine could potentially become four decades later.  How often do you get a chance to raid the library of a famed winemaker?

Our host for this journey was Mark de Vere, one of the first, and still the few, Masters of Wine in the world and someone with a long history of working with the Mondavis.  Mark is extremely knowledgeable, engaging and a great host and wine educator.  He had a captivating way of interweaving facts about the wine with the motivations and approach of the Mondavi winery as well as the factors nature dealt them in the different vintages.  This was informative and fun.

To the wines!

2013 Fume Blanc Reserve – this was an excellent start, and we ended up ranking this wine #2 on our white wine list from the overall weekend in Newport.  You can read more about that by clicking here.  All the fruit is from the To Kalon Vineyard, and there is 2% Semillon with the rest Sauvignon Blanc.  This wine is elegant yet bright, with subtle oak notes and great fruit.  Really well done.

2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – walk back 15 years to this vintage, which presented with a beautiful dark red/purple color.  On the nose it was img_2271dark fruit framed by complex notes of leather and oak.  There is 10% Cabernet Franc in the wine, as they believe the Cab Franc lifts the mid-palate without disrupting a smooth flow throughout the experience.  That is also exactly the reason there is no Malbec in these reserve Cabs, as they believe it bumps up the mid-palate too much and disrupts that flow.  This wine flows, with great balance and a wonderful freshness still evident.  Nice length closes it out.

img_22691995 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon  still primarily deep red in color, this is starting to show amber at the edges and a touch of age.  There was a bit of a phenolic aroma on the nose, along with leather, spice and herbal notes.  It is quite complex.  When it hits the palate the fruit is still pure, with more of a red/black mix.  The tannins are very fine.  This wine is extremely long, and just kept going right into the next wine. This has 4% Merlot and an additional 4% of Cab Franc mixed in.  Delicious aged Cabernet.

1983 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – now we are 33 years in the past, and the wine poured amber in the glass, starting to look img_2268more like an old vintage port.  Fitting that comparison, aromas of caramel, molasses and earth drifted upward out of the glass.  Cheri hit on the perfect descriptor, which was raisin.  Here the fruit, at least at this point, is in the background, but if you like older wines, and tawny port, this is a treat.  Very different from the first two wines.  The vintage in 1983 was a tough one, with a wet and cool season that resulted in leaner wines.  The blend includes about 14% Cab Franc and 9% Merlot.

img_22671976 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – 40 years ago this wine was produced from the To Kalon vineyards in Oakville.  It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, very much a rarity for Mondavi Reserve Cab.  That year Robert felt the Cabernet in the best barrels was balanced all on its own, and blending would not improve the wine.  This wine still has a considerable amount of red color although it is going to amber.  The nose is still about the fruit, and that fruit carries to the palate.  It is full bodied, with amazingly still firm tannins and perfect balance.  This is elegance personified.  What a wonderful wine.  The vintage in 1976 was a dry one, actually a drought year, and that compares very closely with 2013, which we would try next.  Not too fast though, as the 1976 is worth remembering.  It still has a long life ahead.

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve – now fast forward to the current release, from another very dry season.  This wine is dark purple with red img_2266tinges.  Blackberry and currant aromas scream out of the glass, but there is coffee and chocolate as well.  It is obviously a baby, and has a youthful exuberance of fruit.  The tannins are big but not overpowering.  It finishes very long.  All the pieces are there, and you can easily see this evolving along the same lines as the 1976.  Of course you could easily drink this now.  It’s a perfect wine to put down by the case and to follow along its journey, which will be a long one.  This blend has 8% Cab Franc and 4% Petit Verdot mixed in, and is an outstanding wine from a great vintage in Napa Valley. 

This was a perfect way to spend a few hours, and a great start to a weekend of wine and food at the Newport Mansions.  You don’t get to do something like this very often, and when an iconic winery opens the library it pays to take notice and be there if at all possible.  Great wines, a great host and a great winery.  I think Robert Mondavi would approve.

A votre santé!

 

 

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