Wine Time: Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2014


Cost: $13-$16


What: This review is brought to you by the letter B.

In cooking, everything’s better with butter or bacon. And now it looks like in drinking, everything’s better with bourbon. Craft beer has been made in bourbon barrels for some time, and now wine is following suit.

During the past year, I have had four wines that were aged in bourbon barrels, and this cabernet from Robert Mondavi may be the best.

It is a deep red in the glass with intense aromas of toasty vanilla and brown sugar, and just a whiff of bourbon. The flavors are typical cabernet sauvignon, full of black cherry and blackberry with a little bit of caramel. It is a medium-bodied wine with a relatively long finish featuring hints of berries and brown sugar. I would open the bottle at least 30 minutes before drinking it.

The blend is 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent malbec and 5 percent petit verdot from Monterey County in California’s Central Coast. Robert Mondavi was one of the pioneers in the Central Coast, planting grapes there after his big success in Napa Valley.

Coastal vineyards feature ideal weather for grapes: foggy, windy, cool, and damp, with a break of sun most days. The Central Coast valleys run west to east, giving the wind and fog chutes off the Pacific Ocean. This allows the grapes to ripen slowly and develop intense flavors.

The grapes for this wine are blended and aged for 10 months in oak barrels. Then a portion of the wine is aged for three months in new and used bourbon barrels, brought in from Kentucky.

There is not a pronounced bourbon taste, just enough of a hint to let you know it’s there. In fact, I suspect if you didn’t know about the barrels, you wouldn’t be able to detect the bourbon at all. Cabernet sauvignon seems particularly suited to the bourbon treatment because the rich fruit is not overwhelmed by the flavors in the bourbon barrels. The barrels do mellow out the fruit in the cab. I think it’s a plus.

You could cellar this wine for a couple of years, but it is a terrific wine right now and probably will not get a whole lot better. It is a great value at this price.

Previously I have had a cab and a shiraz from Australia that were aged in bourbon barrels, and a California zinfandel that I picked up in Kentucky this summer. All were good. My notes from all those wines mentioned the mellow flavors.

I suspect there is some marketing going on, too. Craft beer makers have used bourbon barrels, so this could be a way to attract younger drinkers. Winemaker Jason Dodge said this might be a way to bring in a whole new generation of wine drinkers.

This vintage also features a sleek, elegant label with the iconic Robert Mondavi tower logo in gold on a black background. It’s a striking label that will be used for all the Private Selection wines. (The other varietals feature a silver tower.) It is a huge improvement because the previous label was not at all distinctive.

Winery: We’re nearing the end of the Robert Mondavi Winery’s 50th anniversary year. When Mondavi opened his winery in Napa Valley he was gambling that Napa and the rest of California could produce wine to match the best in the world. It was the first winery after Prohibition, built in a sleek and modern style.

His confidence in the California terroir paid off as the rest of the world quickly learned about the amazing wines from California. Mondavi was a tireless crusader for the wines of Napa and other regions.

As the company grew it added other labels, such as Woodbridge and Private Selection, and added production facilities farther south in the Central Coast region to handle the grapes coming from that fertile area.

The Private Selection wines were introduced in 1994, primarily featuring California’s north and central coast grapes at a moderate price. Private Selection varietals include chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, heritage red, meritage, merlot, malbec, pinot noir, zinfandel, riesling, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc.

The Woodbridge label is the winery’s entry point, followed by Private Selection. The top tier is Robert Mondavi Winery, which is further divided into district wines, reserve wines and spotlight wines.

Constellation Brands acquired the winery in 2004.

Goes With: We had this beautiful wine with some ribs my friend Clint gave me. He is the best rib cooker around. Clint cooks his ribs low and slow, leaving them on the grill for hours at about 250 degrees or lower.

As the ribs slowly cook, Clint keeps putting on his mop sauce, which is mostly apple cider vinegar, Morton’s Natures Seasons, garlic and salt. He has the knack for knowing exactly when to get the ribs off the grill before they dry out. They end up juicy and tasty, with a nice crust on the outside.

I added baked potatoes and creamed corn and we had a feast.

This cab is perfect for the spicy ribs, with the mellow fruit flavors blending nicely with the juicy ribs and pungent sauce.

The wine also would pair well with bourbon glazed ribs, a charcuterie board, grilled pork chops or beef short ribs.