While the Robert Mondavi winery is famous for its cabernet sauvignon wine, its less famous Fume Blanc Reserve is equally outstanding.
Fume Blanc exists in the American wine lexicon because Robert Mondavi created it in 1968. Sauvignon blanc was a forlorn grape until Mondavi decided to model it on France’s Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, appellations in the Loire Valley that are world-renowned for dry sauvignon blanc wines.
Mondavi’s Napa Valley sauvignon blanc grapes were richer than those in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, but he fermented them to a dry state and aged it in oak barrels. Then he applied his nonpareil marketing skills and borrowed the word fume to name his 1968 wine, Fume Blanc. It was so successful that it changed the image of sauvignon blanc and California winemaking for that grape.
Since 1997, the wine has been made by wine director Genevieve Janssens, who was born into a winemaking family with vineyards in Corsica and France. She brought her enology degree from the University of Bordeaux and French winemaking experience to Mondavi in 1978. After a year at Mondavi, she explored other California wineries. In 1989, she became the wine director of Opus One, the joint venture of Mondavi and Baron Rothschild, the owner of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild. She remained at Opus One until her appointment as wine director of the Robert Mondavi winery.
For decades, I have enjoyed Mondavi’s Fume Blanc Reserve and often had it on the wine lists of my former restaurants. About six years ago, Janssens made a remarkable presentation in Manhattan of Mondavi Fume Blanc Reserve wines that spanned more than a decade. Every vintage displayed the complex fruit flavors and elegant balance that distinguish its Fume Blanc. I consider this wine to be Robert Mondavi’s greatest gift to American wine consumers.
The 2010 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc Reserve is the current vintage in our market. The grapes are from the legendary To Kalon vineyard that was first planted in 1868. Roughly half the grapes for the 2010 Mondavi Fume Blanc Reserve come from a section planted in 1960; a small percent comes from a parcel planted in 1945 and are the oldest sauvignon blanc vines in North America. The wine was fermented and aged for nine months in French oak barrels, of which a third were new. Janseens added four percent semillon grapes to the wine, which is a Bordeaux technique.
I was thoroughly pleased with the pungent lemon, lime and cilantro aromas that billowed from my glass. Janseens’ restrained use of new oak barrels let the rich passion fruit and grapefruit flavors of the sauvignon blanc stand out while smoothing the grape’s natural acidity. Added body and depth was created by manually stirring the lees (the spent yeast cells and fragments of the grapes lying in the barrel) twice weekly.
The 2010 Mondavi Fume Blanc Reserve gives you a rich, mouth-filling wine that never fatigues your palate. Its full body is coated with sheaths of flavors that, like dancers moving across the stage, take turns revealing themselves. You’ll want to sit back and sip your way through the performance. And unlike many California sauvignon blancs, years from now you’ll be able to enjoy a lively revival with extra bottles in your cellar.
The 2010 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc Reserve retails for about $45.