Mondavi new releases are worth looking for now

July 25, 2020

Just finished reading an article which highlighted one reason I so enjoy reading Jancis Robinson, an honest critic with a penchant for providing favorable options. The article concerned California’s most expensive wines. Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc Oakville Napa 2017 just went off at $6,400 per 750 ml bottle. And, get this, it only rated 89-90 points depending on reviewer. “Squawking Eagle” SB was also the ninth most expensive wine worldwide in the Wine-Searcher listing. Ms. Robinson in her review gave it 17 of 20 points, and in an off-the-cuff backhand, wrote, “reminds of the Araujo.” Araujo, Eisele Vineyards rates 90 McD and costs $100. Those in the know will remember Eisele Vineyard Estate, near Calistoga in Napa, was known as Araujo Estate. Those even deeper in the know may be aware that Selma Hayek’s husband, French billionaire François-Henri Pinault's Artemis group, which also owns Chateau Latour in Bordeaux, Chateau Eugenie in Burgundy and Chateau Grillet in Rhone, recently bought Araujo. Another of my favs, W. Blake Gray, mentioned in a recent column that Pinault had a son with supermodel Linda Evangelista. A bit further into the article is this titillating tidbit: "’Pinault is obviously a connoisseur of many different things,’ said Cate Conniff, Napa Valley Vintners' communications manager. ‘As a connoisseur, he was attracted to the unique quality of this particular vineyard.’" One wonders if it was Gray or Conniff who did the tongue-in-cheek, or perhaps it was accidental. Keep your eyes peeled when at the checkout counter for more on Pinault’s proclivities. Got off track a bit. Must be C-19 quarantine induced. How about a headline? Carney’s Confusion Crushes Companies, or Carnival Continues, Cancels Concerts, Cows and Chix Complain.

Took a walk down Mondavi memory lane this week. I had a chance to sample three of their new-release wines. Mondavi Fumé Blanc Napa has rated 88-89 since the 2005 vintage 85. The 2018 is their new release. It is an excellent time to enjoy it but still has a couple years’ shelf life, 89 McD under$18. WS said 91. Typical blend 87 percent SB and Semillon. Opens grassy! With Cali and French SB, I usually recommend allowing a few minutes’ aeration in the glass to let the “off nose” dissipate. The 2018 shows lime, fresh peas, and grapefruit aromas. Partial new oak fermentation and six months on lees provide a smooth, buttery palate with ripe citrus and green apple flavors. Completely dry and bright finish with a hint of green tea. The 2017 is also an 89-point wine. Look for apricot, pear, hints of ginger and green tea. Here’s an interesting tidbit. Robert Mondavi wished to make a Loire-style dry SB, similar to Pouilly Fumé, which is nicknamed Blanc Fumé because most Cali wines labeled SB prior to 1966 were made in a sweet profile. Bob’s marketing acumen and the web of legality being fought at this time over labeling (oldies may remember Gallo’s “Hearty Burgundy”) inspired Mondavi to reverse the name to Fumé Blanc, and he won the battle. One major difference was that Pouilly Fumé is made of 100 percent SB. If you wish to go upscale, the To Kalon Reserve Fumé Blanc 2013-17 are all rated 91. I think the 2016 is best. 2017 is the most recent release, 92 McD. All run about $55.

Mondavi’s Napa Chardonnay 2017 won gold at Texsom IWA 2020. Asian pear, apple and lemon aromas, a balanced fruit/oak/acidity palate with creme brulée, roast nut and a touch of ginger spice leads to a long, clean, creamy finish. This is one of their best efforts since the late 90s, 91 McD under $17, 1 price point. 

Finally, the Mondavi Cab. I did a side-by-side of three levels, starting with the Napa 2016 under $30, 89 McD. A decent entry-level Cab ready to drink now, will cellar five or six years. Then the Oakville 2016,  91, $55, drink 2022-34; and The Reserve To Kalon Vineyard 2015, just approaching drinkability, 93 McD under $130, WS 91, RP, 95, Galloni 96. I’m going with the Oakville. I like its Bordeaux blend of 86 percent Cab, 7 percent Petit Verdot plus some Merlot and Cab Franc. Look for blackberries, plum, cassis, graphite, some floral notes, and barrel spice. It has medium body and firm tannins.

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