A recent tasting of the newest vintages of Robert Mondavi was like having dinner with an old friend. As I sat across the table conversing informally with long-time wine director Genevieve Janssens, it recalled decades of tastings with Robert Mondavi and, later, with his son Michael.
French-born and educated at the University of Bordeaux by the legendary enologist Emile Peynaud, Janssens worked at various French wineries before joining Robert Mondavi at his Napa Valley winery in 1978. She remained there for a year, then spent 10 years working at various California wineries before accepting the position of director of production at Opus One, the Napa winery created by Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. In 1997, Janssens returned to the Mondavi winery in her current role, closing the circle, so to speak.
In Greek, To-Kalon means the highest beauty. Hamilton Walker Crabb chose that word in 1886 when he renamed his Hermosa Vineyard business “The To-Kalon Wine Company.” After his wines earned awards from expositions in San Francisco to the World’s Fair in Paris, Crabb was recognized as one of America’s top winemakers and his Napa Valley To-Kalon vineyard as America’s best.
Nearly a century later, Robert Mondavi bought the To Kalon vineyard for his new winery saying, “It was a vineyard with a distinguished history and a magical nature, to my eye, the vineyard was a treasure.”
The sauvignon blanc for the 2016 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Napa Valley was sourced from To Kalon’s “Robert’s Block” (formerly known as T Block) and from the I block. Janssens said substantial winter rains mitigated California’s seemingly endless drought, and a near-perfect growing season of warm days and cool nights gave the sauvignon blanc grapes their excellent balance of fruit and acidity.
I thought her description was spot on as the acidity offset the lemon-curd flavor and richness that is carried on a full body and glides to a luscious finish. My only wish was for the 14.5% alcohol to be less, which would have allowed me a second glass. 92 points. Retail prices have a wide range of $38 to $60.
While Robert Mondavi has been making reserve cabernet sauvignon since its founding in 1966, the 2015 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Napa Valley is only the fifth vintage to bear the famous vineyard’s name on its label.
Made from a blend of 92% cabernet sauvignon, 4% percent merlot and 2% percent each cabernet franc and petite verdot, the 2015 cabernet sauvignon reserve To Kalon has a youthful red-tinted, black-plum color with pronounced fresh rosemary, black olive and black-cherry aromas. Its medium body is tightly wrapped with deep flavors ranging from black cherry to red plum, toasted oak and Darjeeling tea. It is a delicious, balanced and very well-made wine. Having collected Robert Mondavi reserve cabernet sauvignons since the early 1970s, I can assure you the 2015 will have decades of life and pleasure when properly cellared. For those less patient or apartment dwellers without wine cellars, wait until 2022 then decant it for 30 minutes. 95 points. Retail prices have a wide range of $110 to $200.
The 2015 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve Carneros Napa Valley was conceived in the fourth consecutive drought year in Napa Valley. The crop was small and the harvest early Janssens said. The fruit was sourced from the 17-acre Rancho Carneros and the 72-acre Hyde Vineyard, which some bottle as a single-vineyard pinot noir.
The 2015 Mondavi pinot noir reserve’s bold black-cherry and cinnamon aromas and flavors are bound by a suave vanilla infusion and polished texture from the aging process in new French oak barrels. But its high 14.9% alcohol overpowers pinot noir’s inherent suppleness. 89 points. Retail price $67.
The Hyde Vineyard chardonnay was the source for the balanced and tasty 2015 Robert Mondavi Chardonnay Reserve Carneros Napa Valley. The cool Carneros climate produces grapes with good acidity and Janssens’ team preserved the fruit’s freshness by limiting the fermentation and aging in new French oak barrels to 75%, then transferring the wine to neutral barrels for the final 12 months aging.
It resulted in the 2015 Robert Mondavi chardonnay reserve having an oak influence but not being oaky, and striking a middle ground free of California’s candied-style chardonnay, yet offering more than Burgundy’s restraint. It was delightful with our first course salad of diced celery, turnip and pear with ginger, almonds and sheep’s milk cheese. 92 points. Retail prices range from $35 to $56.
The 2015 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Franc Oakville Napa Valley is a blend of 80% cabernet franc and 20% cabernet sauvignon. It has a black-tea aroma and taste that is always a cabernet franc marker for me. Along with that are gravel and marjoram aromas and flavors. This wine benefits from aeration and pairing with fat-lined red meats such as prime rib. 88 points. Retail price is about $45.
More diverse but counter-intuitively focused is the 2014 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley. A blend of 88% percent cabernet sauvignon with small percentages of cabernet franc, malbec, merlot, and petit verdot. It offers dark chocolate, cedar, and blackberry aromas and flavors. It is rounder and the tannins more integrated than the 2015 cabernet franc Oakville bottling. 91 points. Retail pricing has a very wide range of $38 to $79.
A universal truth of a Robert Mondavi tasting of new vintages is there will always be an older vintage or two at the conclusion. Janssens included the 2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley. Its black-cherry color showed not a spec of age, and the blackberry and sage-like aroma and taste were matched by the soft, integrated tannins, giving the wine a velvety texture and a long, balanced finish. It was delicious and delightful, and allowed for a moment of reflection when Bob Mondavi—as everyone knew him—would smile and thank everyone in the room for being at the tasting. 92 points. A few retailers offer this wine at a very reasonable $45 to $60.
Photos by John Foy