M ixing family tradition and modern techniques, Michael Mondavi showed a small industry gathering in Atlanta why the Mondavi name still commands respect in the world of wine.
He poured the new vintage of his wines for several people in the wine trade in Atlanta last week. It’s the first time Michael Mondavi Family Estate has rolled out all the wines from a new vintage at one time.
Atlanta was one of four cities Michael visited to introduce the wines.
Mondavi is the son of Robert Mondavi, a Napa Valley icon who proved to the world that Napa wines could compete with the finest wines in the world. Robert and his sons Michael and Tim created the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966, the first Napa winery built after Prohibition.
In 1999 Michael bought his own land and founded Michael Mondavi Family Estate. Later he started Folio Fine Wine Partners to manage a folio of exceptional wines from around the world.
Mondavi introduced his wines during an exquisite lunch at South City Kitchen in Buckhead. The restaurant is stunning and the food imaginative and tasty.
Waiting to pour the first wines.

We drank the Isabel rosé while eating appetizers as we talked on the rooftop patio. The appetizers were fabulous: strawberry, potato cream with mint and spring flowers; bourbon cured salmon with sweet potato blini and caviar.
The Isabel rosé replaces a darker rosé of cabernet sauvignon, which had been produced for several years.
“My daughter came to me in 2015 and said we need to revamp the rosé because it was too heavy,” said Mondavi. “So I told her to make a few barrels and we would try it.”
The family tasted her barrels and loved the wine, so when it was time for the 2016 vintage, Dina made all the rosé in the lighter style. The wine is named for her mother, Michael’s wife Isabel.

It is 75% cabernet sauvignon, with the balance being barbera and a touch of muscat. The result is a pleasant food-friendly wine, fresh and crisp. It is a dry rosé with plenty of fruit, reminiscent of rosé from Provence, yet true to its California roots. The wine sells for about $20.
The wine didn’t really spend any time aging in barrels. “We like to say it was aged on Highway 29,” said Mondavi with a laugh.
Mondavi said the rosé should drink nicely for another year or two.
This first release also has a pretty new label designed by Dina. She handles the packaging and blending while her brother Robert Mondavi Jr. manages the cellar.
For the first course we sat down inside and ate while Mondavi talked about his wines and his family. He poured Animo Heritage sauvignon blanc 2013 and Emblem chardonnay 2015. Both were very nice.
Roasted Carolina pork.

The wines paired beautifully with roasted Carolina pork, tonnato sauce, caper berry and herb salad.
Mondavi said he bought the land on Howell Mountain in Napa for the Animo sauvignon blanc in 1990. It is also planted in cabernet sauvignon, and for the first four harvests the grapes went into Opus One.
The name Animo is taken from the Italian word for soul or spirit.
The sauvignon blanc vines are not trellised like many vines these days, but grown in a traditional style called head pruned. This reduces the yield, but Mondavi says the technique produces great flavor in the grapes.
“This sauvignon blanc is crisp, but it has a round middle body,” he said. “It reminds you of the great wines of Bordeaux.”
The wine is full of complex fruit flavors, predominantly nectarine and lime with some mineral notes.
Only 166 cases were produced in the first vintage and he thinks there never will be more than 1,000 cases produced in a year. It sells for about $65.
The grapes come from vine cuttings from Oakville’s ToKalon vineyard, known as the oldest surviving sauvignon blanc in North America. The original vines trace their heritage to Chateau d’Yquem, arriving in California in the 1880s.
The second wine with this course, the Emblem chardonnay, was created by Mondavi’s son and daughter to appeal to their generation. The grapes come from the cool climate Carneros region.
“We take the blends to lunch and whichever glass gets emptied first gets bottled,” said Mondavi.
He said too many wines are made to show well in competition instead of making wines that go well with food. “Wine that goes best with food is not necessarily the wine that scores high in a tasting with other wines,” he said.
“In my family wine was always the most important thing at the table. My wife says first comes people and conversation, followed by food. Then comes wine. Wine’s job is to enhance the enjoyment of the conversation and food.”
The chardonnay is rich and warm, but with crisp acidity. It is a great food wine, and was a perfect pairing for the sliced pork and light sauce. At about $35 it is an outstanding dinner wine.
Seared spring lamb chops.

The second course featured seared spring lamb chops, fava, farro verde and blueberry paired with Animo cabernet sauvignon 2013 and Emblem cabernet sauvignon 2014.
Both of these cabs were great with the food. They’re not big and bold, but more restrained in an Old World style. I had a difficult time deciding which one I liked more. Each added something different to the meal.
The Emblem sometimes seemed a little thin, but it opened up after about 15 minutes in the glass. It paired really well with the lamb and had a great, grippy mouthfeel. The Animo seemed to have a little more character and complexity. The Emblem sells for about $38, the Animo for $85.
Michael’s son Rob is the winemaker for Emblem, but Dina also helps with the final blend.
Michael Mondavi.
Michael said the family had been making cabs that didn’t reach their peak until 5-10 years after release. They were good on release and great later.
“My children said their generation didn’t want to wait for the wines to mature,” said Michael. “So Rob and Dina found that by adding a little petit sirah and zinfandel they could make the wine drinkable, more enjoyable you%
The 2014 Emblem is 79% cab, 8.5% petit verdot, 7% petit sirah, 4.5% merlot and1% zinfandel. The 2013 Animo is 82% cab, 13% petit verdot and 5% merlot.
The Animo is a more serious style cab, much like a Bordeaux. The Emblem is a lively wine that you could drink with a weeknight meal. The grapes in the Animo come from near the top of Atlas Peak in stony, volcanic soil. The soil helps create the more austere style of the wine.
The Emblem grapes come from the family vineyards high on the northeastern hillsides of Napa Valley, many of them on Howell Mountain.
The final wine was a blockbuster, one that you would save for a special occasion. M cabernet sauvignon is 90% cabernet sauvignon, 5% cabernet franc and 5% merlot. It sells for about $200.
Michael Mondavi said the M was another case where the family tried to make the wine more approachable at an earlier age. To that end, Rob Mondavi, the winemaker, started looking at the seeds in the grapes.
They always go through the vineyard and pick a few grapes to taste and see if they are ready for harvest. What Rob noticed was that if some of the seeds are still green, the tannins become too sharp. So they waited until they thought all the seeds had turned brown before picking an area.
“Growers now understand the tannin maturity is in the seed,” said Michael Mondavi. “We walk through the vineyard and mark which sections to pick each day. Two days can make the whole difference.
They always go through the vineyard and pick a few grapes to taste and see if they are ready for harvest. What Rob noticed was that if some of the seeds are still green, the tannins become too sharp. So they waited until they thought all the seeds had turned brown before picking an area.
“Growers now understand the tannin maturity is in the seed,” said Michael Mondavi. “We walk through the vineyard and mark which sections to pick each day. Two days can make the whole difference.
“In the 2013 we have soft, round tannins. This wine is more drinkable today the the 2007 from the same vineyard.”
The wine is a beautiful inky, dark red in the glass with rich aromas of berries and vanilla. On the palate you get lush flavors of blackberry, plum and black cherry.
The grapes for this wine are grown in the rocky, volcanic soil of Atlas Peak where the Animo grapes are grown. Only a certain part of that vineyard goes into the M wine because it produces the Bordeaux style.
It is a fabulous wine. I saved some Emblem to compare because I really liked the Emblem. But once you taste the M you can’t go back to the Emblem. It’s a good reminder why you always go from the lesser wines to the more serious wines when you have a tasting.
While all the wines were good, the M just blew away the rest. Only 263 cases of this wine were produced.


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