Robert Mondavi is an American winemaking legend known throughout the world.
Raised in a traditional Italian family, he appreciated that sharing good wine with good food is one of life’s simplest yet best pleasures. He was the first to recognise the potential of the Napa Valley in California for growing vines and established the first major winery in the valley since prohibition in 1966.
His vision was to create fine wines from the Napa Valley that could hold their own against any wines from anywhere else in the world and helped introduce to California several winemaking firsts such as cold-fermentation, stainless steel tanks and the use of second-fill French oak barrels.
He is accredited with resurrecting the Sauvignon Blanc grape in California by dry-fermenting and barrel-aging it and calling it Fume Blanc – a move now acknowledged as the catalyst in recognition of this variety. He is also credited with being the pioneer of natural (organic) and sustainable winegrowing in the region, receiving an award for his efforts from the Californian Environmental Protection Agency in 1998.
Two former employees of the winery were involved in the historic Paris Tasting of 1976 and won 1st prize, further enhancing his reputation as a pioneer not only for the Napa Valley but for American and New World wines in general. Ironically, after helping to beat the French at their own national pastime, he was awarded France’s highest civilian Presidential honour in 2005 – the Legion d’Honneur – in recognition of his work to help establish stronger links between the wine industries of USA and France .
The grapes for this wine were sourced primarily from two separate regions in the Napa Valley and one in the Sonoma Valley. The vineyards typically have gravelly and clay loam soils that retain little moisture – gently “stressing” the vines and helping them bear small but intensely flavoured berries. The fruit is hand-harvested in the coolness of the early morning and pressed in whole clusters to maintain maximum character and freshness. Three quarters of the juice is then fermented in toasted French oak barrels (of which 15% is new oak) with the rest going into stainless steel tanks. The wine is gently stirred during fermentation to integrate and soften the flavours and left sur lie for a further 9 months to gain a rich and creamy texture.
In the glass the wine is a clear, greeny-yellow colour and actually quite light for a Californian chardonnay. The aromas on the nose include pear and peach with slight hints of coconut from the toasted oak used in fermentation. These flavours unfold in the mouth and are well-balanced by acidity to give the wine the required backbone to be complex but smooth and with a long finish. The oak is not overdone but comes through as a lingering aftertaste in the form of slightly toasted butter.
Good food pairings include asparagus, lobster/crayfish and crab and strongly flavoured, creamy soft cheeses such as goats cheese.
Not my favourite Californian Chardonnay but not far short, I give this wine 85 out of 100.
Available at time of publication from Tesco at £ 96.84 per case.