Monday, January 24, 2011

Mondavi's Cru Classe' Fume Blanc

When I first started hanging out in the Napa Valley in the late 1970s, visiting Robert Mondavi and his winery was like going to the fountainhead. There were perhaps a dozen or so fascinating winemakers at the time who were great people to taste and talk with, but the Mondavi Winery was special because Robert and his people encouraged experimentation, debate (sometimes quite heated) and interplay with other winemakers. Even vintners who thought they made better wine appreciated the fact that the Mondavis were always available if there was a need and that the publicity Robert garnered brightened the spotlight on all the other Napa wineries.

I also remember when Robert started to popularize the term "Fume Blanc" instead of Sauvignon Blanc. In those days when Chardonnay was queen, I personally had my doubts if the American palate would appreciate the more vegetal tastes of Sauvignon. I should not have worried. I also remember the discussions about To Kalon vineyard ("how do you spell that, Robert?") and how special he considered it.

All this comes to mind after drinking a bottle at dinner the other night of the 2007 Robert Mondavi I Block Fume Blanc from the To Kalon vineyard, a 100 percent varietal available only through the winery at $75. Just 208 cases were made. I love to be stunned by a great white, and this one did just that as it progressed through three layers. First, a melody of tropical and stone fruits - peach, mango, apricot skin, mellow tangerine juice - followed by a layer of brioche and subtle smokiness, then finished off with a minerally display of limestone and tart citrus out of a tin cup. The wine is full on the palate (14.7% alcohol) yet has great closing acidity.

In her notes, director of winemaking Genevieve Janssens, says To Kalon is "what I consider the first growth of Napa Valley." I would agree with her, although I would add the word "among," for the valley does have other vineyards worthy of that appellation.

And, at all levels, I continue to be impressed with the high standards of winemaking at Robert Mondavi at To Kalon and elsewhere. It is a worthy keeper of the cru.

Until next time...
Roger Morris

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