Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Robert Mondavi Winery Revisited

Robert Mondavi Winery is a very famous winery that lives up to its reputation.  We love the tours, setting and friendly hospitality almost as much as we love the wine.  Robert Mondavi Winery is one winery you absolutely must visit at least once if you love wine.  Put it on your bucket list.

Robert Mondavi Winery entrance

Robert Mondavi founded his winery in 1966, and it was one of the first wineries I ever visited back in 1973.  Even at that time he and his winery were very well known.  Now, of course, even people who do not drink wine have heard of Robert Mondavi and his equally famous winery. Although Robert Mondavi died in 2008 at the age of 94, his winery and legend live on. (There is also the Mondavi Center for Performing Arts at UC Davis.) I've been to the winery many times over the years. It is one winery we always visit when we have company from out of the area, and it is very easy to locate situated in Oakville right off Highway 29 in winery row. Ample parking is available.

Robert Mondavi Winery tasting patio

The winery is very popular and attracts many visitors but is set up to accommodate many people.  I've taken friends there on weekends (although not in the summer) and still had an enjoyable time.  But if you don't want crowds or a lot of bustle, visit at a time when wineries are not as busy. Wineries in the Napa Valley are busiest on weekends, especially in the summer or during fall harvest and mostly in the afternoons.  (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the least busy days and before 1PM is the least active time.)  But you can usually visit Robert Mondavi Winery any time and still find friendly staff, numerous photo opportunities, very good tours and excellent wines.  They also have wines at a wide range of prices from their very reasonably priced Napa Valley Wines to their famous reserve wines, limited production wines and library wines. Be sure to walk around the winery and explore the art, garden, vineyard, gift shop, various rooms and other attractions.

Special event tasting room

Last year when we visited the winery we sampled the regular tasting menu with prices starting at only $20.  This time we opted to sample some of their more premium and reserve wines.  I have always been impressed with the hospitality at the winery, and everyone we met during this visit was friendly and professional. Much thanks to our host, Capucine, who was very helpful and informative. 

Old wine press

Our first pour was the Robert Mondavi 2011 Unoaked Chardonnay at $34.  This is 100% Chardonnay from grapes grown in the Carneros AVA.  It was made without exposure to any oak so that the varietal characteristics would be prominent and not overwhelmed.  It was whole cluster pressed, underwent some malolactic conversion and was aged sur lie. According to their web page, 1402 cases were produced.  Light gold in color, with a fairly light nose of green apple.  On the plate it was very crisp and dry with bright lemon, apple and spice, all well balanced with excellent varietal characteristics coming through.  A very honest Chardonnay that is refreshing by itself but should also pair very well with seafood.  Definitely recommended.

Robert Mondavi Winery vineyard

Robert Mondavi Winery is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc and Robert Mondavi, himself, developed the description "Fume Blanc" or smoky white to refer to his style of Sauvignon Blanc that is more in the French Loire Valley style than in the French Bordeaux style.  At the time, California Sauvignon Blancs were mostly rather sweet, uninteresting, inexpensive wines, so the name of the varietal was not very respected.  Using the term Fume Blanc was a good marketing strategy to differentiate a high quality dry Sauvignon Blanc from the sweeter, poor quality wines that were associated with the name Sauvignon Blanc. 

Mondavi entry way

I've always been fond of Mondavi Fume Blancs so was pleased that our second pour was the Robert Mondavi Oakville 2011 Fume Blanc that retails at $32.  It is 91% Sauvignon Blanc and 9% Semillon with 99% of the grapes coming from the famous Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard where some of the Sauvignon Blanc vines are over sixty years old.  (The other 1% is in the same vineyard but is technically on the other side of To Kalon.)  The wine is pale yellow in color.  I got melon and grapefruit on the nose.  On the palate I got fairly intense dry melon and grapefruit with floral notes of honeysuckle and orange blossom. It was medium plus in body, well balanced, with good acid and a fairly long, clean finish of  melon and honeysuckle.  I really like the uniqueness of this wine.  It stands out from other Napa Sauvignon Blancs.  Although it is very dry, the floral notes, rather intense fruit and multilayered presentation make it one of the more interesting Sauvignon Blancs.  I would gladly drink this by itself, but it would pair perfectly with many seafood dishes.  Actually I think it would pair well with many different foods.  Next time we visit I will have to try the Mondavi Reserve Fume Blanc.  Need I add that this wine is highly recommended.  (BTW, I also recommend the Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Fume Blanc that is even more affordable, quite different and one of the best white wine bargains available.)

Gift shop

Our third pour was the Robert Mondavi Oakville 2011 Semillon that retails at $34.  I was curious to see what Mondavi could do with Semillon as a dry stand alone varietal.  We were told that they release only about one hundred cases of this a year.  This one is a dry, pleasant Semillon and has the usual soft, smooth, round Semillon presentation with lemon and grass.  Finish was medium length.  It was good, but I will continue to think of Semillon primarily as either a late harvest, sweet wine or a great companion to Sauvignon Blanc or other assertive white wines.  Try it if you would like a very easy to drink white wine or have not had a good dry Semillon.

If Mondavi is famous for their Fume Blanc, they are even more famous for their Cabernet Sauvignon and rightly so.  They seem to produce consistently good to great Cabs every year, especially their reserves.  But even their entry level, more affordable Cabs can be extremely appealing.

Our fourth pour was the Robert Mondavi Oakville 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon that retails at $55.  If you want a premium Mondavi Cab and don't want to pay for the Reserve, this is the one to try.  This one is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot and 1% Malbec.  75% of it saw new French oak. 8,388 cases were produced. It is a deep ruby to purple in color with a lot of black fruit on the nose, mostly black currant.  On the palate I got rather fruit forward black currant, blackberry, vanilla, toasted oak and forest floor with smooth tannins and a medium length finish.  It is still a young cab, but well worth trying. To taste it at its best give it some air or decant for several hours.

Mondavi wall fountain

Our last pour was the famous Cab reserve, in this case the Robert Mondavi Reserve 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon that retails for $135 (only $108 if you are a wine club member.)  It is 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc.  Now here is a wine that is silky smooth and comes together beautifully.  After a good nose of black currant I got layers of rich black currant, blackberries, spices, pencil lead and earthiness along with great balance and beautifully integrated tannins.   And talk about a long, lingering, decadent finish!  Both of us loved this one, but then who wouldn't?  Very highly recommended!

Close up of fountain

If you have never been to Robert Mondavi Winery and you care about wine or are interested in the history of Napa Valley, you should definitely visit them when you are in the area.

Robert Mondavi Winery
7801 St Helena Hwy
Oakville, CA 94562
(888) 766-6328
Date of visit: October 2, 2013
Our previous report from 2012 may be viewed here: Robert Mondavi Winery

According to the Mondavi webpage: "The winery is open to visitors daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day."

No appointment is necessary for a tasting without a tour, but we highly recommend their excellent tours. Six different tours with tastings are offered lasting from 30 to 90 minutes each (including one conducted in Mandarin Chinese) and begin at only $15. Please see their webpage for updated information and further details.

Bufano cat
Bufano girl

Bufano art

Robert Mondavi Winery entrance sign


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