© 1998 JDM Enterprises
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BOBby Jerry D. Mead
Robert Mondavi recently turned 85, and, without reading his recently published autobiography (Harvest of Joy), I knew it was a life full of work, dreams and accomplishments.
My only complaint with Mondavi is that his name appears on too many different wines to keep straight.
I first met Bob Mondavi at the beginning of the second phase of his life, shortly after he built the Robert Mondavi Winery and after a split from the family business up the road, the Charles Krug Winery. Mondavi was a relative kid then, in his mid-fifties, and the only wines he made were about 20,000 cases of premium Napa Valley varietals. Easy to keep them all straight.
Soon thereafter we got Mondavi Reserve wines, but not a confusion factor. Then came the inexpensive line of wines called Robert Mondavi Woodbridge, which didn't confuse me, but did confuse lots of consumers, primarily because restaurateurs didn't mention Woodbridge. They'd just say our house wine is "Robert Mondavi Chardonnay."
Opus One came along, but it really has a separate identity, even if Robert's signature and profile appear on the label. No confusion factor.
But in the last few years it has become really tricky. Now we have "Robert Mondavi Coastal," wines made from vineyards from the Central Coast of California. And Robert Mondavi Napa Valley regionals, with designations like "Oakville" and "Stags Leap District," and each and every one of these brands has a different style label.
But we're not through. There's one more. The new Italianate winery in Napa Valley called "La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi."
I dislike just about everything about this brand except the most important thing...the wine itself...which is really good stuff.
La Famiglia is a tribute to the family's Italian roots, and the grape varieties are Italian, the glass the wine is bottled in is Italian and the labels are designed with a classic Roman look.
So what's not to like? Americans have trouble with foreign names and either mispronounce them or avoid them all together. This brand is not pronounced "faw-mig-leea," but rather "faw-mill-ya." This explains why many restaurants just use the Robert Mondavi name on the list.
And the label design, even though on attractive bottles, is so understated it makes no statement at all. And outside of wine hobbyists, not many folks are familiar with grape names like Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Barbera.
La Famiglia 1997 Pinot Grigio ($16) One of the best American Pinot Grigios (same as Pinot Gris) I've ever tasted, probably because it isn't all Pinot Grigio. It is blended to 7 percent a Piedmont area grape called Arneis (rare in California and Italy) and 6 percent Malvasia Bianca, which contribute to the dark blond color and the unusual spicy-floral-mineral aroma and taste. It is bone dry and has more character than most wines based on Grigio. Match it with flavorful fishes, pasta with rich cheesy or creamy sauces, and veal dishes. Rating: 94/84
La Famiglia 1995 Sangiovese ($20) One of the state's better examples. Rich, ripe plum flavors. Round and mouthfilling with no harsh tannins or astringency. Long, very satisfying aftertaste. Rating: 89/84
La Famiglia 1995 Nebbiolo ($21) Very complex. This grape of Piedmont which is responsible for the great Barolos and Barbarescos, has never fared especially well in California. This may be the breakthrough wine. Ripe plum, with earthy, smoky notes and a hint of pleasant raw almond bitterness in the finish. Will handle all the tomato sauce or garlic flavors you want to throw at it. Worthy of its Italian heritage. Rating: 93/85
La Famiglia 1996 Barbera ($21) A wonderful red wine. Black fruit (mostly black cherry and blackberry), bold and mouthfilling and so tasty it begs the second glass. Supple and voluptuous, but with a firm spine. Fruit was sourced 60 percent in El Dorado County and 40 percent Sonoma County. Rating: 96/86
La Famiglia 1997 Muscato Bianco ($11 for 500ml) Big melon fruit; sweeter than a ripe grape, with a hint of lichee perfume. An afternoon wine to accompany English biscuits and fresh fruit. Rating: 85/85
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