Monday, June 27, 2011

LA Wine Fest and a Tasting at Robert Mondavi Discover Wine Tour

Is there another wine label that's more of a household name than Robert Mondavi? You'd be hard pressed to come up with one. Even so, at a recent tasting during the LA Wine Fest, I found out just how little I knew about them!

Robert Mondavi has been touring wine and food festivals around the country with their Discover Wine Tour, holding seminars and tastings, visiting 11 cities. They recently landed in Los Angeles at the LA Wine Fest. The other wine seminars throughout the Fest costs around $20, but the ones at Robert Mondavi were free to the public, so naturally a long line forms before each one.
While waiting for the tasting, I perused their tent where they have canisters of different oaks and other things commonly found in wine "notes" so you can smell them and (try to) distinguish between the aromas. They also had some educational material on their iPads but I didn't have time to browse them.
On to the tasting. Guided by Master of Wine Mark de Vere, we started with four Robert Mondavi wines:
  1. 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay. According to de Vere, the goal of Mondavi wines is "brightness" and that is certainly achieved in this fruity and crisp wine. I was surprised to learn that about 60-70% of this wine had been aged in oak barrel, but apparently they used old/used barrels which gave the wine an oak aroma but retains the crispness almost as if it had been in stainless steel.
  2. 2008 Napa Valley Fumé Blanc. The Fumé Blanc has an interesting story (more on that below). This is essentially a Sauvignon Blanc with 5-12% Semillon and again, about 2/3 had been aged in old oak barrels. It's again crisp and fresh, with nice aromas of lemongrass. This has a shorter finish than the Chardonnay, but here we learned the term "aromatic returns". These are the flavors and aromas that come out after you had tasted and swallowed the wine.
  3. 2009 Napa Valley Pinot Noir (from Carneros). Light and delicate, this was a round-bodied pinot noir with bright fruits at the back palate and a clean finish.
  4. 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was 25% aged in new oak. Very fruit forward with a silky mouthfeel but still retains some tannins. Clean finish.
Here are some things I learned about Robert Mondavi:
  1. The Robert Mondavi Private Selection is actually a less expensive label than the regular RM. The Private Selection come from Central Coast vineyards (in Lodi) with a price range of $10-12. Below that is the Woodbridge label, which also came from Central Coast and are priced around $7-10. Above, there's the Robert Mondavi label, which indicates that the wines came from Napa (in the $20 range). At the very top is the Robert Mondavi Reserve labels, the creme de la creme of the Napa production and their Cabernet Sauvignon usually goes for over $100.
  2. Robert Mondavi registered the term Fumé Blanc to indicate a dry Sauvignon Blanc. The term comes from the term blanc fumé used in France. At the time, Sauv Blanc has a bad rap for being sweet wines, so in order to popularize the dry style, he basically made up the name Fumé Blanc.
  3. There is a special tasting room in their Napa winery, where they apparently prepare a lavish meal for wine pairing and tasting. It used to be open to the public, but now it's only for special, invited guests only (alas).

PhotobucketThe four wines above were what the public was tasting as well, but ? then pulled out a couple of special bottles for the bloggers. The Reserves! Well, I won't say no to a $130 bottle of wine.

The 2009 Fumé Blanc Reserve ($40-50) comes from the To Kalon vineyard which has a block of vines from 1945 and a block from 1950. The old vines make for a richer bodied wine, significantly so compared to the regular Fumé Blanc. This Fumé has a lengthy finish but still crisp and vibrant up front. This was 100% fermented in French oak barrels, but only 25% of them were new barrels.

We then tasted the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($135), made with 7% Cab Franc. Fruit-intense but very smooth and balanced. It has a long and clean finish. Altogether an excellent wine, just the type I like: fruit forward and smooth.


After the tasting, we went over to a neighboring booth, BevWizard, which was headed by another Master of Wine, Patrick Farrell. We all know about wine aerators, but what about magnetic aerators?

You shouldn't mess with your great wines, but you might want to carry one of this to your next party and smooth out those two-buck-chucks! I tasted the difference, from the same bottle, and this works wonders.
PhotobucketThe most impressive one is perhaps their whiskey smoother, which they taste tested using Jack Daniel's. Without the device, I started coughing after a sip. It was sharp, harsh on the throat. With the device, it's much smoother and actually sippable. (One random guest exclaimed that it made it like a single malt. Um, not quite, but it's certainly much smoother).

OK, back to Robert Mondavi wines. They'll be touring the country until October, so if you want in on a free seminar, then check out a list of their stops here.


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