Is it time to once again consider the quality of Robert Mondavi wines?
Most of the Robert Mondavi story had occurred long before I was paying attention to California wines. Many of you, no doubt, already know the story and at least a few of you likely know it better than I do (so feel free to jump in if I miss a key point or two), but the story goes a little something like this:
Robert Mondavi started out in partnership with his brother and father at the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. After a dispute with his brother over the direction of the winery, Robert left Charles Krug in 1965 and started his eponymous winery with his two sons in Oakville a year later. Robert’s goal was to produce wines from California that would compete with the best wines from Europe, and for the most part, he was successful.
Eventually, however, the focus of the winery shifted to the bargain brands Coastal and Woodbridge, and the quality of the premium wines suffered. All of this resulted in diminishing the overall Robert Mondavi brand, which eventually resulted in a takeover of the company by Constellation Brands in late 2004.
It seemed as though for the first few years at least, Constellation continued on the same path by placing emphasis on the lower end budget wines and essentially ignoring the higher end Robert Mondavi brand, and the wines reflected the neglect as the quality continued to suffer.
When I started exploring California wine, I came across the occasional older bottle of Mondavi, made back when Bob was still running the company, and drinking those wines to me felt like I was drinking a bit of history. They were also pretty darned good: deep and rich, wines with considerable character. For the most part, I avoided the newer Constellation made wines as many of them were rather bland and unexciting.
Over the last few years, however, I have started receiving a few samples of Robert Mondavi wine, which has caused me to reconsider my long-held stance on the wines. Clearly (at least to me), there has been another shift and the quality of the Robert Mondavi line of wines seems to be on an upward trend once again.
I recently sampled three wines from the brand, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. It might be time indeed to again look to Robert Mondavi wines when searching for quality California wine.
2014 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc: Retail $20. 94% Sauvignon Blanc, 6% Semillon. I tried this over two days and the first day it was a bit listless, but not on the second. Tropical fruit aromas (guava, mango, and a hint of banana) abound and once on the tongue, the flavors present themselves nicely. The wine is bright, but I think it is lacking just a touch of acidity that would help brighten the fruit even further. An admirable finish rounds out the wine, rendering this a Very Good effort overall. 87-89 Points.
2014 Robert Mondavi Winery Pinot Noir Carneros: Retail $27. As I stated above, I have had the pleasure of having a few of the wines made by the late Robert Mondavi himself, and I was almost always impressed. I also had a few of the wines that were made by the winery shortly after Mr. Mondavi had been forced out. Those wines? Meh. (And that is being nice.) If this wine is any indication, hopefully those days are gone. Good Carneros dried dark cherry fruit both on the nose and the palate with considerable complexity and depth. I was ready to be underwhelmed here, but once again I was pleasantly surprised by this admirable effort at certainly a reasonable price. Bravo. Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
2013 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley: Retail $29. 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc. These days I like to sample wines over the course of two days. One reason is that I am getting a few more of samples these days, and as a result, for the first time in a long time that I have wine left over at the end of the night. The other reason is that since I am drinking these wines far sooner than I would normally, the extra time open mimics the aging process to a certain extent. I think that is the case here as this wine was a bit devoid of fruit and overly tannic on day one. Day two? Completely different wine: great dark berry fruit up front with a bit of mocha and dried tobacco. The tannins had mellowed on the back-end, as the finish was fairly long and memorable. After day one, I was not a fan. On day 2? This stops just short of getting a Whoa. Outstanding (Day 2). 90-92 Points.