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Robert Mondavi Reserve Wines Remain Beautiful and Boisset Family Acquires Buena Vista Carneros

by Monty and Sara Preiser

A Long Legacy

There are wineries, and then there are wineries. It is inarguable that for as long as California has been known as a quality wine region the Robert Mondavi winery has been producing magnificent Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons. As one would suspect, in 2011 it would be unusual for one to still find the older vintages, but . . .

There are wine shops, and then there are wine shops. In south Florida there is Andy Lampasone’s Wine Watch, a boutique store that is almost unparalleled. If you want it, he has it (or can get it). And he truly knows his stuff. Last week he hosted a Mondavi Reserve Vertical. On the “menu” were vintages from 1974, 1978, 1983, 1984, 1989, 1997, 1998, and 1999. Last summer in Napa, we tasted the 2003, 2004, and 2005, so we think we have evaluated a significantly sufficient sample to allow us the general opinion of excellence we have already expressed. How about the specific vintages?

To many people, Mondavi was, and is, a huge winery that only specializes in highly distributed, inexpensive, and average quality wines. No matter that Bob Mondavi himself was a pioneer, many budding enophiles believe that the wine world long ago passed this venerable winery by. They have little clue that the Robert Mondavi Winery makes anything at all outstanding. Our own take on this (which we first wrote about some 13 years ago) is that the Mondavi family made huge errors in the 70’s and 80’s in failing to advertise and market their high end wines with the same vigor as they did their entry level products. Further, they allowed the expensive and less expensive bottles to look quite similar. Psychologically, then, the public could easily conclude that if a winery only makes what might be called value wines (which is pretty much all they saw as it related to Mondavi), then the wines cannot be better than fair. We believe this in part led to many of the winery’s well publicized problems, resulting ultimately in the Mondavi purchase and take-over near the end of the century by a global conglomerate, which is how the winery is still run today.

With all of that being said, back in Napa during all this time there were few vintners making a Reserve Cab equaling what was coming from Mondavi, which boasted top quality fruit, facilities, and winemakers. Today, Mondavi is the most visited winery in Napa, and continues to make outstanding Reserves, plus other very good wines. While it is debatable whether the marketing in 2011 adequately informs the public about the availability of the superb Reserve wines, we have no hesitation in saying that you won’t find many better Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons than the recent Mondavi vintages, nor, for that matter, than the older ones either.

The unfettered surprise of the tasting was the 1974 vintage, made by the man (Bob Mondavi) himself. Incredibly, by taste and by visual inspection this wine still has some years left. The fruit is mature but clearly in a primary stage, the tannins have turned silky, yet the structure is holding well. The mid and back palates are treated to ultra pleasant secondary characteristics, and the finish is long. Sprinkle some herbs and spices throughout and you have a wine for the ages – something special. Andy has a few bottles left (we happily splurged on two at $176 each since both out birthdays are very near), so you might give him a call. We obviously think that, as long as the wine has been well stored, the pricing is proper enough.

Had the 1974 not been on the table, the fight for the best wine of the night would have been between the 1999 and 1978. OK, even as we write this we can “hear” hundreds of you dismissing our opinions because there was also a 1997 involved. Indeed, of these 3 the 97 may have shown the most and the sweetest fruit, but its tannins were low and the aging process was pronounced. This was in sharp contrast to the 99, with its deep black fruit and long lived tannins that suggest this wine will be around for another decade or more. The 78? Right in the middle as to body, taste, and finish. All three of these wines were excellent, but for different reasons.

The wines we have not yet individually described were in and of themselves of such high quality that they could each fairly command close to $100/bottle. Oddly, every one of them seemed better to most of us present than the low points (if you follow that sort of thing, anyway) awarded them in their release year suggested, especially the 83 and 84, which both had scored south of 86. They are now drinking decidedly better.

As for the younger wines we tasted last summer, beauty reigns in each. The present winemaking staff at Robert Mondavi has found everything it needs to be certain that the Reserves are consistently blessed with dark, luscious fruit; the right ratio of oak to wine; a barrel program perfect for the wine that is being created; smooth tannins; and distinctive taste. The legacy of the man lives on.

Building a Legacy

Boisset Family Estates, bolstered by its constant search for heritage, tradition, and its deep commitment to California’s unique place in the wine world, added Buena Vista Carneros to its collection of wineries. “Buena Vista has been a long-held dream, as I have always been charmed by the oldest stones of the California wine world,” said Jean-Charles Boisset, the head of his family owned firm, and himself a visionary and a legacy in waiting. “We are honored,” Boisset continued, “to assume the responsibility of bringing Buena Vista Winery ‘back to the future’, embracing its deep history while simultaneously ensuring it remains one of the most relevant wineries in the modern wine world.”

Throughout its history, Boisset Family Esatates has shown a commitment to exceptional estates with deep history in their quest to build the finest portfolio in the world. And every winery that is part of the group ultimately shows off its respective terroir. The original tasting room and winery in Carneros, now a California Historic Landmark, will continue to operate. Founded in 1857 as California's first winery, BV focuses on cool-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah off its Ramal Vineyard Estate, in the heart of the Carneros appellation. Here, grapes ripen beautifully, are tempered by the moderating influence of the San Pablo Bay, and cooled by the afternoon winds from the Petaluma Wind Gap.

Three years from now, when the new buzz is all about BV, remember that you heard about how good it will be right here first. Jean Charles has already put DeLoach in the elite, is doing it as we speak with Raymond, and will no doubt be successful with BV in bringing this part of history alive again.

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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