July 20, 2022

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Reclaiming the throne

ROBERT Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon has been my go-to California wine ever since I started my wine career in the mid-1990s. The 1994 vintage was the very first Robert Mondavi Napa wine I had sometime in 1998, and several vintages later, this wine and this brand just simply resonate with me.

Robert Mondavi, the man, the legend, was truly the best ambassador of Californian wines to the world, and I would argue that he may have been the most influential and impactful individual by far who put Napa Valley — and Californian wines in general — on the world wine map.

I was, however, not a fan of using the Robert Mondavi name in other wine ranges, including Woodbridge, Coastal, and the Private Selection — all commercially successful, competing in the mid to lower priced broader California AVA (American Viticultural Area) mass-based segment. The Coastal range was eventually discontinued in the early 2000s and replaced by the Robert Mondavi Twin Oaks range.

I do understand that the Mondavi Napa Valley wines are on the pricier side (like every Napa AVA) and could not be an everyday indulgence, but the Robert Mondavi brand seemed to be best associated with only the premium Napa wine level and above. I guess I just had the Robert Mondavi brand on a pedestal so that any wine, like Woodbridge, that bears this legendary name but is of less than Napa quality, felt like a stain on the Mondavi brand’s luster.

This was the same way I felt with Rawson’s Retreat being under the Penfolds umbrella brand, until recently when Treasury Wine Estates, the company that owns Penfolds, rightfully took the Penfolds name out, and named this range simply “Rawson’s Retreat” sans the “Penfolds.”

Recently, Constellation Brands, the company that owns Robert Mondavi wines, conducted a big regional media event and I was very elated to be at their “Robert Mondavi Winery Reimagined: Soul of Napa campaign” media launch. As the campaign’s title suggested, this one was all about the premium Mondavi wines that start at the Napa Valley AVA level. This was a virtual tasting event, and, ironically, I just wrote my sentiments about virtual wine tasting in my previous month’s column. But in fairness to this specific virtual tasting event, the concerns I raised in my column, while all relevant and valid still, were not in view. The Mondavi event was pulled off quite successfully despite the logistical challenge of sending three outstanding Napa wines to over 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region and for an audience of at least 40 people.

Constellation Brands, a huge Fortune 500 liquor conglomerate and a New York Stock Exchange publicly listed company (listed as STZ and STZ.B) created quite a stir in the wine industry back in 2004 when they purchased the Robert Mondavi Winery for over $1.3 Billion. At the time of purchase, founder Robert Mondavi was already 91 years old. Robert Mondavi Winery remains the flagship premium wine brand of the Constellation Brands’ growing wine portfolio.

Robert Mondavi, founder of his eponymous winery, passed away in 2008 at the age of almost 95 years old. His legacy had lived on, and this “Robert Mondavi Reimagined: Soul of Napa campaign” is a tribute by Constellation Brands to inspire wine lovers to dream, do, share and celebrate founder Robert Mondavi’s spirit.

I received three bottles of Robert Mondavi premium Cabernet Sauvignon wines: the Napa Valley (region), the Estates Oakville (sub-region), and the Reserve To Kalon (vineyard).

The first thing that jumped out from the new Robert Mondavi wines are the stylish labels. As part of the “transformation,” the new look Mondavi Napa Valley wine uses a cream-colored torn-paper label with gold fonts, gold accents, and the familiar winery façade. Quite noticeable too is the prominent signature of Robert Mondavi right in the front, which was not present in previous Mondavi Napa Valley wine labels.

Both the new Oakville and new Reserve labels went through a 180⁰ makeover. Both these new labels are much darker (literally …), sleeker, elegant and more polished than their respective old counterparts, though the similarity between the new Oakville and the new Reserve label is quite close and is mainly differentiated by the color of the sticker paper. The Estates Oakville uses gold font on Parisian-blue paper and the Reserve uses silver font on black paper. Both labels also bear the Robert Mondavi signature and the iconic winery symbol. The new labels befit Robert Mondavi’s unparalleled stature in this region.

These Mondavi bottles were sent to me on time for the virtual tasting and came in a beautifully crafted wine carrier box that not only contained the wines, but also included three stemless wine glasses, winery notes, and a collectible corkscrew. Mark de Vere, at Robert Mondavi Winery’s in-house Master of Wine guided all the participants via Zoom direct from Napa Valley in this virtual wine tasting event.

(in order of tasting):

• Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 — this is the original wine that started it all, and until now it remains one of the most consistent Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons made, vintage after vintage. Made from 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% other classic Bordeaux varietals — Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet France and Malbec. “Choco-mint, vanilla, peppercorn spice, voluptuous, silky body, friendly tannins, and berry-laden finish.”

• Robert Mondavi The Estates Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 — this sub-Napa region of Oakville AVA is another go-to wine for upper-tier Napa wines. Oakville AVA is also where cult wines Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate produce their ultra-expensive Napa wines. Made from 86% Cabernet Sauvignon with 14% from the four other Bordeaux varietals. “Opulent nose, cassis, black berries, warm pie nose, figs, very juicy on the palate, herbal with bitter-sweet tannins, flinty and long, luscious finish.”

• Robert Mondavi The Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 — this single vineyard To Kalon, from Oakville, Napa Valley is Mondavi’s main source of their best Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. To Kalon had been voted as North America’s best vineyard three times already and Robert Mondavi chose To Kalon to be the home of his winery in 1966. Made from 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. “Intense nose, a fruit bomb but with much more complexity, star anise, cinnamon bark, tobacco, mint, meatier and more textured on the palate, herbal and flinty with lovely lingering licorice finish.”

The Robert Mondavi wines have been given a very nice facelift and with the resources of Constellation Brands and the gifted winemakers behind this iconic Napa winery, Robert Mondavi is back to reclaim its throne as California’s BEST – a title they may not relinquish again with this new-found focus.

Robert Mondavi wines are available in the Philippines through Future Trade International. Those interested in these premium Robert Mondavi Napa wines can contact Eric Khan at federico.kahn@futuretradeinc.com.

The author is the only Filipino member of the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, please e-mail the author at wineprotege@gmail.com, or check his wine training website https://thewinetrainingcamp.wordpress.com/services/.