Holiday Reservations (Putting Mondavi Reserves Under The Christmas Dinner Grindstone)

Vinted on January 5, 2012 binned in crowd pleaser wines, holidays, kick-ass wines, sexy wines, wine review

For all of my talk about not digging big-ass wines, I sure do seem to end up talking about a lot of “good” big-ass wines.

Take this past Christmas, for example.

We host some extended family every third Christmas or so, as part of a rotation that has us visiting Florida and Washington on the other years. And when we host Christmas, we cook a gourmet meat-and-potatoes feast in honor of a late grandmother, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s quite a few years ago but in her heyday apparently made a mean roast dinner.

The slow-roasted meat naturally gets me thinking about a big red, and for some reason, despite reservations, I find myself continually reaching for Mondavi Reserve wines for this holiday dinner thang. I mean, if Christmas dinner isn’t when you’re supposed to open up wines like these, then well the hell are you supposed to pop those corks?

I use the term “despite reservations” because, truth be told (don’t you hate that phrase, by the way? I mean, it’s not like I’ve been lying to you for years and am only now getting aroud to making statements with any veracity… ok, whatever…) I am always afraid that the Mondavi Reserve wines are going to burn me

As I’ve written before in the context of pairing these wines with Christmas dinner, the problem is not that big-ass wines like the Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabs are being made. The problem is that too many big-ass wines like the Mondavi Reserve Cabs are being made that probably shouldn’t be made.

But even so, the RMW Reserve has gotten a bit big even for its own over-sized britches in recent vintages, and in my view had hit dried-prune, high-octane levels that signaled the end of their being worth the relatively exorbitant, well-over-$100 price tag (the 2006 displayed particular largesse in its largeness). When the heat of those wines is really on, and when it’s enough to all-but-overshadow that killer To Kalon vineyard fruitiness… well, that’s not a recipe for success, folks.


Generally, I was quite pleasantly surprised at the RMW wine samples that I decided to crack open for the meat-and-potatoes holiday meal, once again proving my anxiety to be a useless waste of (what many might consider a not-considerable amount of) mental energy…


2008 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (Napa Valley)
Price: $135
Rating: A-

Just barely making the Cab label designation at 85% (rounded out by nearly equal parts Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot for the remainder). Winemaking director Genevieve Janssens and crew are back on track with the 2008 Reserve Cab. Bottom line is that they’re sitting on fruit (from To Kalon and elsewhere in the Oakville Bench) that’s as good as it gets in the Valley, so we should expect the wine to be very, very good. And it is.

This is fine wine luxury for the Starbucks enthusiast – the more you like your mocha, the more you will probably dig this Reserve. The dark berry fruits are as deeply black as the anti-soul of Christmas Consumerism, but the tannins are silky and supple – enough so that the 15.5% abv didn’t seem like a hindrance. For my money, I loved what the wine was trying to tell me long after it calmed down in the glass, which is that it also had olive, sage and tea leaf aromas to share (and to spare).


2007 Robert Mondavi Winery Chardonnay Reserve (Napa Valley)
Price: $40
Rating: B+

Certainly the most reserved of the RMW Reserves I’ve had in several years. And it feels so odd to type that, given this wine got the full-on malolactic, barrel-fermented, sur lie aging treatment. But then, this big Chardonnay is everything that’s good about big Chardonnay – supple, luxurious, trying to compete with crème brulee for your attention, but all the while maintaining a sense of Chardonnay’s humbler crisp apple flavors, acidic backbone, and lemony goodness. I liked it enough at the price point to consider trying to find a second bottle to see how it might develop given 4 or 5 more years. Chablis it’s not, but if you were buying a bottle of RMW Chard expecting it to be Chablis-like then you need your head examined.


2007 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville District (Oakville)
Price: $45
Rating: B+

This wine isn’t part of the RMW Reserve lineup, but gets the “honorable mention” nod from my Christmas day tasting (which included several other wines not paired with our holiday dinner). Lush, plush, silky, deep and velvety as your favorite pillow; several layers of splendid black fruits, along with real depth and hints of spices (courtesy of 4% Cab Franc, and over a year of barrel aging)… this really is how Oakville Cab ought to be, people: round in your mouth, warming to the soul, and unabashedly concentrated and fruity.  Please note that I did not say that all Cab should be unabashedly concentrated and fruity; we are talking about Valley floor Cab, here. Anyway, I set this bottle out for our guests, I blinked, and it was gone






  • Nathan

    I had a similar x-mas tasting adventure. We had three big '08 Napa cabs, including the '08 RMW Oakville. I didn't realize until recently that this bottle is also over 90% sourced from To Kalon. It easily stood up to the two other wines that were at least twice the price. Do you think the jump from B+ to A- is worth the price difference between the Oakville and the Reserve (three bottles of Oakville for 1 bottle of Reserve)?

    • 1WineDude

      Nathan – Thanks for the comment, and the excellent question. The answer in these cases is, always, It Depends. :) For me, if you like the drink-it-now, rounder mouthfeel in Valley floor Cabs and Merlots then the price difference is NOT worth it. But if you dig deeply concentrated, focused dark fruit flavors and secondary spice/herbal aromas, and maybe want to give the wine a few years to soften up a bit, then the price difference might be worth it to you. For my money, I am personally probably going to spend the difference towards a lower abv, more balanced Cab blend (but again, we are just talking about my own personal preference there, and I try to minimize those personal preferences when dolling out the ratings). Cheers!

  • @UCBeau

    Interesting notes on the Reserve, I tasted it back in November and was singularly unimpressed. Even after a four hour session in my decanter, it tasted very basic. My notes indicated massive amounts of oak and chunky tannin without any of the rich, layered fruit I was expecting. A couple of friends who were with me also tasted the wine and were similarly left puzzled by its high score and hype. While the massive amount of alcohol wasn't really detectable, I kept asking "is this really necessary?". Fast forward to Christmas and I opened another '08 cabernet, from Leonetti, which was also very disappointing. My conclusion: I shouldn't be drinking $100+ cabernet sauvignons. The silver lining is that I won't be spending my money on wines like that anytime soon. :)

    • 1WineDude

      @UCBeau – I will say this about the Reserve: for the Big style, I actually found it quite good, pretty well balanced and with a lot more nuance than you did. But it *is* oaky ad it *is* boozy, and it does need time in bottle (probably somewhere around 5-7 years) to soften out.

      And there is NO doubt that it's a BIG wine. So the review comes with a caveat, which is that this wine isn't my style; but for those who dig Big, I think there's a lot to like in that Cab (and in that Chard). Cheers!

      • @UCBeau

        I agree on the aging potential, and I would be willing to taste it again down the road, but I sure as hell ain't shelling out $135 for a bottle. If this wine was $40 a bottle I'd consider it, but I recently started believing this: If a wine is that expensive, it SHOULD be good to go right out of the bottle while ALSO being able to age for a long time. I believe we can have our cake and eat it to, so to speak.

        As far as it being "big", I agree. It's huge and extracted, which unfortunately reminds me of the very "worst" of the boozy, flamboyant, point-seeking Napa cabs I've come to dislike so intensely.

        With all that said, I can only say "to each their own", because while I may not like that Mondavi Reserve, there is nothing wrong with whomever might.

        • 1WineDude

          @UCBeau – I think you totally nailed it in that comment. it is not worth the price to you, but may be to someone else, and there is nothing wrong with either. You make an interesting point about the early *and* later drinkability of the wine in that price range; I think that can be said for some of the better Napa Cabs for example (Araujo comes to mind), but there are many in places like Barolo who might disagree with that (i.e., a wine can be nigh unapproachable in its youth and then age amazingly well). I have seen both cases and so would not say that it always holds that one can have the cake and eat it too, but for some varieties in some regions that is definitely possible. Cheers!

  • @fatcork

    Good post, Dude. It is nice to appreciate this big style of wine every once in a while. And, I hope you started off the dinner and finished it with Champagne!

    • 1WineDude

      @fatcork – ha! You probably don't want to hear this but I don't drink Champers every day (mostly a result of funding and sample amounts and not be choice :).

  • 1WineDude

    A quick note – it was pointed out to me via email that my "Just barely making the Cab label designation at 85%" comment with respect tot he RMW Reserve Cab. is misleading – and I agree. To quote the email:

    "…you mentioned 85% as the threshold for varietal designation in your mondavi article. It is actually 75%."

    Technically I didn't mention 85% as the threshold, but it certainly can be insinuated from my wording (which was merely trying to convey that the wine was not 100% Cab., and was only 10% more Cab than the minimum amount permitted for a varietal labeling). Sorry for any confusion!

  • Vinogirl

    I was going to mention the 75/85% thingy, but someone beat me to it.
    Happy New Year!

    • 1WineDude

      Vinogirl – no worries, as you probably already know I am totally cool with challenges, corrections, arm wrestling contests, etc. Cheers!

  • Chris

    I always look forward to wine suggestions for the holidays. It opens up ideas and draws attention to worthy bottles.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Chris!

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