WHAT: Robert Mondavi wines are models of consistency, and they are consistently good. Given the usual fluctuations in weather from year to year, it’s amazing how consistent their wines are.
This is the original Fume Blanc, a term created by Robert Mondavi in 1966 to let consumers know his dry Sauvignon Blanc was different from the sweeter-style Sauvignon Blanc wines that were popular then.
Mondavi was a fan of French wines so he took the name from the phrase “les blancs fumés,” a general term used in the Loire Valley of France.
He was a man ahead of his time, as dry Sauvignon Blancs are all the rage now, from the pucker-up New Zealand style, to the subtler, more refined style from France.
This is a great presentation of the grape, with aromas of fresh lime leading to luscious creamy flavors of honeydew, spice and minerals. The crisp acidity nicely balances the fruit. There is a long, lingering citrus aftertaste.
More than 80 percent of the fruit comes from two of Mondavi’s signature vineyards, Wappo Hill in the Stag’s Leap District and To Kalon at the winery in the Oakville District. Several layers of flavor continue to unfold in the glass throughout a meal.
About 69 percent of the juice was barrel fermented for added richness and complexity. The balance underwent a cool fermentation in stainless steel to showcase the lively fruity and herbal flavors. The new wine was aged for five months in 60-gallon French oak barrels, sûr lie (on the yeast lees), and hand-stirred twice a month for a creamy texture and integration of flavors.
The grapes are 94 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 6 percent Semillon. I would chill the wine thoroughly and leave it out for 15 minutes or so before drinking. That helps open the flavors and aromas.
WINERY: Few wineries are as well known as the Robert Mondavi Winery, opened in 1966 as the first major winery in Napa Valley after Prohibition. Because the winery produces large quantities of wine and has been successful with under-$10 wines, consumers sometimes forget it produces great quality at many price levels.
Mondavi envisioned Napa Valley as the center of a gracious lifestyle through the appreciation of wine, food and art. He believed in producing wines for the daily family table and wines that belong in the company of the great wines of the world. He succeeded on all counts.
He was an early champion for naming wines by the variety, rather than some generic name. That is now the standard for New World wines and has even been adopted by many European labels.
His beautiful Oakville winery built in the mission style is still a great place to visit. It is open daily except holidays, and offers a wide variety of tours and tasting experiences for everyone from the novice to the connoisseur. You can even have a four-hour tasting dinner which includes samples of library wines.
The Napa Valley series includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Mondavi produces several other tiers of wine, including single vineyard wines from some of the most sought-after vineyards in California.
Like many other wineries Mondavi practices natural farming and is a leader in environmental responsibility. Environmentally friendly practices include conserving soils and water, managing pests, and recycling water and materials.
I particularly like this part of their mission statement: “We believe wine is the temperate, civilized, sacred, romantic mealtime beverage. It has been praised for centuries by statesman, philosophers, poets and scholars and has been with us since civilization began and will be with us indefinitely. Now it is up to us to educate ourselves about what wine really is.”
GOES WITH: My wife, Teri, and I had this with chicken stir fry, a specialty I have been making for more than 30 years. Between the heat from red pepper and the flavors of ginger and soy sauce, sometimes it is hard to find the right wine to pair with it. The Fume Blanc was perfect, with the citrus and fresh acidity cutting right through the spices.
You could also drink this with many chicken dishes, salmon on the grill, turkey tetrazzini, shrimp cocktail and lighter cheeses such as Havarti.