Know how to get a cavalcade of seasoned (read: potentially jaded) wine writers, winemakers, wine growers, and wine industry insiders to go as quiet as mice (I’m talking pin-drop-sounds-like-a-jet-engine-on-fire quiet), and as stupefied as deer in the headlights?
I saw Robert Mondavi Winery pull it off a few weeks ago in Napa Valley.
You tell the crowd that you’ve just tapped the keg on the remaining bottles of the winery’s inaugural Reserve-level Cabernet Sauvignon bottling (in this case, the 1966), and that wine is now in everyone’s glasses. Oh, yeah, then you have the creator of that wine stand up and say “I’m Warren Winiarski, and I made this wine.”
As once-in-a-lifetime wine tasting events go, that one ranks pretty highly, even for those of us who have already had outsized amounts of once-in-a-lifetime wine tasting event opportunities (this was helped by the genuine combination of pride, awe, and shock in Winarski’s voice as he described that he never expected to be speaking about the 1966 Cab fifty years later).
During the course of the multi-day Mondavi event at the Napa Valley winery (which I attended as a media guest), we ended up going through a sizeable portion of the last fifty vintages of Robert Mondavi Winery’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
What became clear as we were lead through the various tasting proceedings and events by RMW educator Mark de Vere, and winemaking team Genevieve Janssens, Joe Harden, and Megan Schofield, was that this iconic wine is impossible to separate from its equally iconic winery, and its arguably much more iconic namesake.
I half expected the ghost of Robert Mondavi to waltz in on us like a whirling dervish at some point during our tastings, and I don’t at all mean that flippantly; at this point, his presence and influence is as firmly embedded in the superstructure of RMW as the material in its literal foundation…
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There was so much that I didn’t want to like about Sonoma’s storied Williams Selyem.
- The too-cool-for-school exclusivity of their mailing list.
- The imposing fortress-like facade of their “barrel-evoking” tasting room and its “wall of bottles.”
- The fact that they used terms like “barrel-evoking.”
- That current owners John and Kathe Dyson were former mailing list members (how cute!).
- That the label typeface they use was so old that it had to be recreated from scratch when their printing went digital.
- The way that their wines get collectors all google-eyed, shooting prices up on the secondary market.
- The friggin’ goats.
The problem with trying to be a Williams Selyem hater, though, is that when it comes to their affable, knowledgeable staff, and their consistently excellent wines, there’s just not enough bad there to hate…
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image: Palate Press
Steve Mirassou, pretending to take a photo (or, sharing his opinions on the state of Livermore Valley juice)
One of my media tours this year had me returning to California’s perennially underrated Livermore Valley, where I’d not been for a few years, and reconnecting with the likes of local vintners Karl Wente and Steve Mirassou, neither of whom I’d seen (or, more importantly, tasted with) lately.
The tour was very well executed, with comprehensive tastings dedicated mostly to varietal wines from Cabernet, Petite Sirah, and Chardonnay. Generally, I remain impressed with the combination of gumption, quality, history, and irony coming out of the region.
It’s the latter two aspects that really got my pseudo-journalistic juices flowing, and they’re the focus of a feature I penned about the trip (titled The Mother Vine: Livermore Reconsidered) that’s now available over at Palate Press. Both words and pics are by me, so you can come back here and flame me if you hate either. Lots of vino was tasted that didn’t make it into the final article, much of which I’ll be trickling out in the form of mini-reviews in the coming weeks.
So… this is the part where you go on over there and read it.
Unless you don’t like irony, history (and this one is about as deep into the history of California winemaking as one can get, as the area is home to the mother vine clones of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon that now dominate the state’s plantings), or exciting developments in U.S. wine… in which case, I’m not sure that I can help you… hell, I’m not sure that anyone can help you… have you sought out the assistance of a professional for that condition? Because, seriously, I am starting to worry about you. Just sayin’…