It’s difficult to think of either Californian wine or New-World wine in general without automatically thinking about Robert Mondavi. Not only are the Mondavi wines some of the most important products to originate from California, but the winery’s story is part of the modern history of wine: few wineries in the New World have had such a sustainable influence on viticulture as this Napa-based producer.
However, it is not necessarily the Napa Valley wines that people associate with this brand but rather the mass-produced wines from other Californian regions: Twin Oaks, Private Selection and Woodbridge are three entry-level sub-brands that operate in the European marketplace and, whereas the wines offer decent quality for a fair price, they are perhaps better suited to everyday drinking rather than belonging to the category of "fine wine".
In stark contrast to these wines are those produced in the company’s home in Oakville, Napa Valley. Not only are they some of the world’s best-known bottles but also a major cornerstone in international wine altogether. Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc dominate the winery’s parcels of land and the jewel in the crown of these vineyards is the to Kalon site, shared by Robert Mondavi, its Rothschild-Partner-Project Opus One and grape-grower Andy Beckstoffer. Perhaps one of California’s most important and indeed finest vineyards, it is a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, with a few rows of Sauvignon Blanc vines. The winery is also in possession of some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs vineyards in the neighbouring region of Carneros – their closer proximity to the Bay and the Pacific climates serve as prime growing conditions for Burgundy varietals.
However, it is Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc that makes Robert Mondavi the relevant winery it is today: some of the USA’s finest and most-famous Cabernets and Sauvignons leave the cellars here.
The winery’s relationship with Sauvignon Blanc is unique and also one of the key reasons that the varietal is so widely-planted in New Zealand’s Marlborough: amongst others, it was Robert Mondavi who persuaded the Spence brothers to plant and market the grape on New Zealand’s first Sauvignon-Blanc winery (these days trading under the name of Matua). He also rebranded Sauvignon Blanc in the States: whereas the varietal mainly celebrates good press and favourable reviews in Europe, stateside it was popularly considered as cheap, relatively-uninteresting wine. With a rebranding to Fumé Blanc, the wines were a success: Fumé Blanc is synonymous with the Mondavi brand and the term is still used by the winery and several other producers in California, the rest of the New World and even in Europe.
Perhaps however, the estate is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, as are most of the large and famous Napa producers. From its Napa winery, Mondavi create a series of wines based on this varietal: a general Napa Valley wine, a Stag’s Leap District-sourced wine, an Oakville-sourced wine and the flagship Reserve to Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Fumé Blanc 2014
This Sauvignon, with a minimal amount of Sémillon, is a luscious and fruity take on this popular style. Rather than the gooseberry and stone-fruit domination that is so often the case with New-World Sauvignon, the wine takes on a creamier feel with plenty of wood in the background. The fruit structure is made up of silky grapefruit (without the bitterness) and plenty of tropical fruit: mango,papaya and banana with a wonderful, aromatic herb finish made up of a touch of vanilla, a dash of cloves, plenty of almonds and a touch of white pepper.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
The entry-level Napa Cabernet is a wine that drinks well both young and after a few years in the bottle. With a rich uptake: Cassis, blackcurrant and plenty of red plum, the wine impresses with an impressive volume. With a sense of freshly-ground coffee and a light peppering of festive spices, the tannins are still firmly in place but the wine is still remarkably open.
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013
The 2013 Entry-Level Napa Cabernet starts in very much the same way: Cassis, red plum and blackcurrant but carries a youthful sense of forest fruit in there as well: blueberry, wild strawberry and even a dash of cranberry slips into the body. The wine is fuller in general with a riper feel: the fruit is thicker and yet doesn’t overwhelm. The wine is finished-off with big tannins that hint at a long lifetime. On the finish is espresso, finest tobacco and a touch of leather. This wine is undoubtedly a value-for-money masterpiece in a region otherwise well-known for hefty price tags.
Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Interesting in the Oakville wine are the different fruit phases: not only are Cassis-notes, Blackcurrants and black cherries present here but they each occupy a brief spell in the wine’s attack. With a creamy-confectionary feel on the body and a decent amount of espresso, the finish is slightly peppery and wonderfully round – whereas this wine is likely to remain in the drinking window for a decade still, it is easily approachable now.
Robert Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Again, the approachability of such a young Napa Cabernet is what impresses most about this wine right now. Not only are you treated to the full array of black and red berries in the other wines but they are still in the primary fruit phase lending the wine a fullness and a slightly sweet sensation that leads into a composed and rather fragile body. The finish is toastier than the 2010 and the overall feel is slightly more compact than the less-expensive Napa Valley wine.
Robert Mondavi Reserve to Kalon Vineyard 2012
The 2012 To Kalon is far more composed than the other Cabernets in this list. Its fruit is present and yet ever-so-slightly closed: this is a wine intended for later on. A present acidic backbone runs through the wine, pairing excellently with the sharper notes of the cherry and blackcurrant in the initial fruit. With stable tannins on the finish, the wine expresses a reserved power – however, despite a general closed feel, it is still approachable – in stark contrast to other premium Cabernets from other parts of the world at this young age. I am looking forward to trying this wine in the future.
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