Archive for April, 2012

Mondavi Reserve Cab Captivates

April 29, 2012

Four years ago this month, the grapes for Robert Mondavi’s impressive 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve wine got their start as tiny buds forming on some very special vines in Napa Valley.

The $135 wine is magnificent, a mouthful of supple tannins and fruit. It  needs time for full flavor development — I wouldn’t hesitate to cellar this wine for a decade or more — but it’s still good to go with dinner tonight.

I liked the blueberry highlights that complemented a core of cassis and plums. The flavors come in layers with a nice long finish that goes on for 45 seconds.

Good Now, Better Later

I’d aerate the wine — which spent 18 months in French oak — at least an hour before drinking. It proved a perfect match for a dinner plate loaded with roasted tri tip steak, baked potato and steamed broccoli.

The 2008 vintage in Napa started with a dry spring interspersed with some tense moments when frost threatened the crop. The grapes persevered, although yields were below normal.

What’s in the Bottle?

The wine is not all Cabernet Sauvignon.

About 15 percent Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are blended in for finesse and color. All of the grapes are from the Oakville Bench, a geographic region marked by well-drained sandy and gravelly soil that allows the roots to grow deeply. Some of the grapes come from the most famous vineyard on the Oakville Bench,,To Kalon,.

To Kalon (which means “highest beauty” in Greek) contains about 440 acres. It was developed by Mondavi on the western edge of the bench land at the foot of the Mayacamas mountain range near where his namesake winery was built in 1966.

This is the first vintage of reserve wines made after the death of Mondavi, who passed away at the age of 94 on May 16, 2008.

The Mondavi family sold the winery to Constellation Brands in 2004. The family has departed, with Robert’s sons Michael and Tim now running their own winemaking operations — Michael Mondavi Family Estate and Continuum Estate.

Meanwhile,  Robert Mondavi’s director of winemaking, Genevieve Janssens, remains in the position she has held since 1978, giving the brand a quality link with the historic winery’s storied past.

Looking Ahead

The Robert Mondavi Winery is open daily for tasting and tours. It’s one of the first California wineries I ever visited (back in the late 1970s) and it’s still a big draw today with the added attraction of a series of special concerts in June and July.

Here’s the lineup for the 43rd Summer Concert Series:

June 30: Of A Revolution (O.A.R.) in a performance with a fireworks show. A portion of the proceeds go to The Heard of the World Fund.

July 6 & July 7: The Plain White T’s are first up followed by day-two feature artist Natasha Bedingfield.

July 14: Five for Fighting is the featured act in a concert that benefits the City of Hope national cancer research and treatment center.

The series concludes on July 21 with a surprise guest artist, yet to be announced.

Regional Wine Events

The 29th annual Tiburon Wine Festival will be held Saturday, May 12 when more than 60 wineries and 20 food purveyors will offer special tasting opportunities. Tickets are $65.

Taste Alexander Valley is a weekend-long celebration of the area’s finest wines May 18- 20. The festivities start on Friday May 18 with a special open house at Lancaster Estate Winery, which is normally closed to the public. Saturday and Sunday will feature open houses at the more than 30 participating wineries in the region, including Clos du Bois, Stonestreet , Rodney Strong,  Robert Young and Hanna Vineyards.

The sixth annual Santa Lucia Highlands Gala is set for May 19 at the Mer Soleil Vineyards winery in Monterey County. For the $85 admission, guests can sample wines from about two dozen regional producers.


Sneaky Good Pinot Noir

April 14, 2012

Cline Cellars has staked its good reputation on hearty zinfandel and Rhone-style varietals, but wine director Charlie Tseletegos has another ace up his sleeve — Pinot Noir.

I have enjoyed Cline wines for years but didn’t realize they made Pinot Noir until I got invited to the winery recently for a food-and-wine pairing event.

The task was to check out dishes paired with Cline wines, including a four-vintage lineup of Cline’s Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.

The Pinot Noir was a revelation. Great quality, great taste and great price — all for less than $20/bottle.

Grower Turned Producer

Cline has been growing Pinot Noir grapes for more than a decade, but didn’t make any commercial bottles of this varietal until the 2007 vintage. Most of Cline’s grapes had been sold under contract to La Crema, another Sonoma County winery which has a very successful Pinot program.

Sonoma Coast Appellation

Cline has a total of 200 acres of Pinot Noir vineyards in the Sonoma Coast appellation — a swatch of land that stretches from southern edge of Sonoma County along San Pablo Bay to the Pacific Ocean and up to the Mendocino County border.

Part of the appellation is miles inland, including the Petaluma Gap, where coastal winds keep temperature cooler and create a climate where Pinot Noir excels.

Nice String of Vintages

The very first vintage, 2007, was my favorite from the tasting. There wasn’t much of this  Burgundian-style wine produced and most of it has been drunk, but if you ever see it, try it.

Juicy red currants dominate the flavor of this wine, which feels rich and earthy in the mouth. There’s a good balance of fruit and acid, plus a silkiness that also runs through the next three vintages.

The 2008 shifted a bit of flavor to the tart cherry end of the spectrum. The feel was brighter in the mouth and a bit lighter than the 2007.

Risotto Match-Up

The 2009 turned the flavor wheel toward cranberry with some cherry highlights. It was definitely a bit sharper and leaner, which made it a good match for my favorite dish served in the Cool Chefs food pairing — Magic Mushroom Risotto, a dark, rich serving of Arborio rice flavored with Pinot Noir, cocoa and dark miso.

Jerry James Stone, whose day job is being a writer for Discovery Channel, devised the first dishes served in the Cool Chefs series at Cline. Stone also produces and develops recipes for TreeHugger’s Green Wine Guide.

2010 Vintage Shines

Cline’s Pinot Noir production levels have risen slowly to 8,000 cases in 2010 — the current release.

The 2010 Sonoma Coast featured bright raspberry and cranberry flavors that balanced the acids and made it another great match with the food.

This wine was a bit darker in the glass than its predecessors but it still offered a wonderfully silky mouthfeel.

The wine spent seven months in French oak, 25 percent of it new, medium toast barrels, which helped add a bit of vanilla to the finish.

Visiting Cline

Cline is open every day for tastings at the estate winery in the Carneros district of Sonoma.

Next weekend (April 20-21), a total of 20 Carneros wineries will participate in the annual April in Carneros, a series of winery open houses featuring special events at each location.Tickets are $39. Cline will be pouring its current releases with grilled sausages and will also give visitors a chance to try some new wines right out of the barrel.