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Posted by Robert Whitley on July 21, 2016 at 10:27 AM

Robert Mondavi the Man


One of our top wine picks recently was the 50th anniversary wine from Robert Mondavi, probably the most renowned winery in California's Napa Valley.

The 50th anniversary is an important milestone to be sure, but longevity alone is not what makes the occasion significant. Many among the current generation of California wine enthusiasts weren't born yet when Robert Mondavi parted ways with the family winery, Charles Krug, and founded his namesake winery in 1966.

It was a time when California wine was regarded with suspicion and seldom found on the best restaurant wine lists of the day. Mondavi made it his mission in life to bring California wine to the best tables in the land.

Toward that end, he hit the road, zigzagging across America with his first cabernet sauvignons. His favorite tactic was the head-to-head tasting during which Mondavi would sit down in a top-notch restaurant with a major influencer and challenge that person to order any wine he or she desired off the wine list.

They would then taste the two wines side by side. More often than not the other wine was a famous French red, either a Bordeaux or Burgundy. The objective wasn't necessarily to "win" the tasting as much as it was to prove the Mondavi cabernet belonged in such refined company. Rest assured, however, Mondavi won its share of the tastings.

Robert, never the winemaker, made his mark as the most dogged salesman in the history of California wine. More than anyone before or since, he put California wine on the map and made it fashionable in the toniest restaurants and wine shops.

Thus, this 50th anniversary of the Mondavi winery is also the 50th anniversary of the modern era of California wine.

Morgan, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard 2014 ($60)
Morgan's own Double L Vineyard is on the northern end of the appellation, and it's always a top flight example of Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir.  This vintage strikes a great aroma balance of black cherry, damp earth, faint herbs and spices, and they linger long as flavors on the palate, with refreshing acidity keeping all the elements in play.  Elegant, full throttle Pinot.
92 Rich Cook

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Best of Barolo 2012 Vol. I: Novello, Serralunga and La Morra
Michael Franz

The world of wine is marked so deeply by variations and nuances that there is almost no proposition to which everyone can agree. Virtually every assertion needs to be hedged with qualifications, exceptions and caveats. But not this one: The great Nebbiolo-based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are in the midst of a Golden Age that has no historical precedent. Period. For at least a century leading up to 1996, very good vintages occurred only two or three years out of each decade. Since 1996, only 2002 was a downright bad year, 2003 and 2009 were just okay, but every other year has been either very good or outstanding. And now, having tasted more than 600 wines from Barolo and Barbaresco during two trips in May and June, I can report that the astonishing winning streak continues.
Lee Hudson: Carneros Grape-Grower Extraordinaire
Jim Clarke

Grapes are probably the only thing grown to be small at Hudson Ranch. Giant pumpkins, gourds taller than a man...perhaps it's his Texas roots, but Lee Hudson grows vegetables with an eye toward size. Since small, concentrated grapes are preferred for quality wine, it's probably for the best that--when turning to viticulture--he keeps that distinction in mind. 'Distinction' is the right word, as Hudson's grapes go into many top wines, with quite a few of those bottled as single-vineyard designates. Not that many, though: 'Only thirteen use the name,' says Hudson, of the twenty-seven producers to whom he sells fruit. For those thirteen, reputation and relationship are important, as is what portion of the vineyard they're sourcing from. 'Vineyard designation has to be driven by terroir. I have to have confidence in the site. It's got a southwest exposure if it's got 'Hudson' on it.'
Wine With
WINE WITH…Steak and Kale

We've resisted the urge to jump on the kale bandwagon until a couple of days ago…when we were trying to decide what to serve with two beautiful little skirt steaks we'd purchased at the farmers' market. Of course, the obvious choice was potatoes, baked or fried, but we wanted something a little different on this occasion. We thought it might be fun to come up with a dish that would be somewhat more broad-based in terms of wine pairing. Instead of just letting the assertive flavors of the beef dictate what wine to choose, we wanted to introduce another forceful ingredient. Kale, wildly popular these days, came to mind. Kale can be challenging to wine in terms of both texture and flavor (but not as challenging as, say, spinach, whose oxalic acid can have a negative impact on wine). Perhaps we could broaden the kale's flavor profile by adding umami-rich ingredients such as black olives and mushrooms. The resulting dish was not only a keeper on its own, but it did indeed connect deliciously with a wider range of wines than the steak served with a more neutral partner would have.
On My Table
Rethinking Summer Whites
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

Treana Winery, Central Coast (California), Treana Blanc 2014 ($30): The first thought that crossed my mind as I tasted the 2014 Treana Blanc on a sultry July afternoon was, 'This is certainly not what you'd call a 'summertime white!' My second thought was, 'Hell, it's so delicious I'd drink it even in this heat.' Relatively light body, crackling high acidity and vibrant flavors of crisp, fresh citrus typify the white wines we tend to reach for in warm weather. This wine, instead, is full-bodied and unabashedly rich, with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits and honey. It's a white wine with the weight and presence worthy of France's Rhône Valley but more opulent in its flavor intensity, as you would expect from California. Treana Blanc, in fact, is a blend of grape varieties grown in the Northern Rhône Valley: Viognier and Marsanne at 45 percent each and the more delicate Roussanne at 10 percent.