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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved


by Jerry D. Mead

How long have I been drinking and enjoying Robert Mondavi wines? Since the first vintage after Robert split off from the rest of his family at Charles Krug Winery to do his own thing...more than 30 years ago.

In the beginning, Robert Mondavi wines were exclusively about Napa Valley. Over the years, Mondavi's insistence that Napa Valley growers be paid top prices to insure that the farmers didn't replant the vineyards to tract homes, is in large part responsible for the fact that there is still a Napa Valley as we know it.

Back then buying a Robert Mondavi wine was simple. There was one label, with wines made at one facility, and occasionally there would be a "Reserve" or "Unfiltered" bottling, but that was as complicated as it got.

It's not so simple now. Mondavi has expanded in many directions, there are several labels, produced at more than one facility and in several price categories. It takes a wine geek to keep it all straight.

While I understand the value of marketing a strong name like Robert Mondavi, sometimes there can be just too many line extensions under the same brand, and the customer gets confused.

To Mondavi's credit, the Robert Mondavi name has been somewhat downplayed on the least expensive wines, those labeled "Woodbridge" and sourced from the Lodi region.

Then there's the Robert Mondavi "Coastal" series, moderately priced wines made from Central Coast fruit.

And of course, the traditional "Napa Valley" wines, the "Napa Valley" Reserves, and we won't even include the Mondavi-Rothschild joint venture wine called Opus One.

Now they're emphasizing "regional" wines within the Napa Valley appellation, including the like of "Stags Leap District" Sauvignon Blanc and so on. These wines are priced between the regular Napa wines and the Napa Reserves. Can you keep all that straight? I hope so.

Robert Mondavi 1995 "Carneros" Chardonnay ($21) Big, rich, tropical and pineapple flavors. Winemaker Tim Mondavi is using heavy toast barrels that contribute smoky-toasty complexities to both smell and flavor. Richer than the usual Carneros Chardonnay. Rating: 90/86

Robert Mondavi 1995 "Carneros" Pinot Noir ($24) Carneros is that narrow strip of land running across the top of San Francisco Bay, through both Napa and Sonoma Counties, and that used to be considered most desirable for grazing sheep and goats, since it tended to be too cool for many agricultural endeavors. Some grapes like it really cool. The major flavor component in this wine is dried, concentrated black cherry, with hints of earthiness, smoke and tar for complexity. Rating: 89/85


Robert Mondavi 1994 "Oakville" Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) This very special red wine comes from the area right around the winery, north of Napa and south of St. Helena. A really big mouthful of Cabernet heavy on black fruit flavors, especially black cherry, cassis and plum. Lots of earthy complexity with notes of dried mushroom and truffle. Will benefit from cellaring. Rating: 94/85


One of the brands most consistently offering excellent quality and solid, value oriented prices, is Michael Pozzan. Only problem is production is limited, and though available in a number of states can be tough to find even in its home base in California. For information on retail availability: Michael Pozzan Wines, P.O. Box 2121, Orinda, CA 94563 (510) 235-8712.

Michael Pozzan 1996 "Sonoma" Chardonnay ($12) Smoky, toasty, barrel- fermented style, the kind for which you expect to pay $15 and up. Subtle tropical and ripe pineapple fruit flavors. Rating: 89/92

Michael Pozzan 1996 "Napa" Sangiovese ($12) Another strong value. This grape of Tuscan origin is becoming more popular every day, and some think of it as the "Pinot Noir" of Italian grape varieties, for its frequently soft and supple elegance. Plum with some raspberry undertones and some roast coffee bean and cocoa bean complexity. Very tasty. Rating: 88/88

Michael Pozzan 1995 "Napa" Merlot ($12) Ripe black cherry, with some plum fruit and a little bittersweet chocolate. Substantial but supple; mouthfilling but not astringent. Not a "wimpy" Merlot. Rating: 86/86

Michael Pozzan 1995 "Napa" Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) Blackberry and cassis; very rich and ripe. Intense; velvety; mouthfilling; satisfying. Very long, mostly berry, aftertaste. A blend of 86 percent Cabernet Sauvignon plus Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Rating: 89/90


Call it the first new concept in wine newsletters in at least 20 years...and I'd thought all the new concepts had been used up.

It's called "First Sip" and its premise is not just to review good wines, but to alert the consumer/collector to them in advance of release when possible and, perhaps most importantly, tell where they can be purchased.

This involves listing specific retailers in a variety of areas that have (or will have) the wines in inventory, complete with address and phone number.

First Sip also reports on extra special and limited bottlings that might be available at the winery only. This includes "Library" selections, including 10, 15 and 20 year old wines held back for extensive cellaring at the winery prior to release. If you do not have a cellar of your own, it's the only way to serve mature wines for special occasions.

I won't scare you by telling you the price of this rather expensive publication, but will tell you that "Mead On Wine" readers can receive a sample copy for the cost of postage and handling. Send $2 to: First Sip Sampler, c/o 11533 Thurston Circle, Los Angeles, CA 90049.

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.

© 1998 JDM Enterprises. All Rights Reserved
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