By Rick Riozza
Laguna Beach Ca. I know many of you readers commiserate and empathize with my arduous work day of wine tasting and food sampling, but please be comforted with the fact that, on occasions, there are some perks to the wine & food writing business.
We CV Weekliers got a great exclusive on the latest wonderful wine event in Southern California, where I was invited to a private luncheon featuring Michael Mondavi and his wines at the beautiful Montage Hotel & Resort in Laguna Beach.
Most of you lifetime wine enthusiasts—like myself, have watched the famed Mondavi family grow, prosper, and intrigue us, as their life has been displayed on the pages of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and all of the other wine publications for over the past 40 years.
The patriarch Robert Mondavi bespoke California wine history as do his two sons, Michael and Tim who were at dad’s side making and producing their world famous wine for so many years. The Robert Mondavi Winery Company went public in 1994 and then in 2005, the world conglomerate Constellation Wines purchased it all—which included the most recognizable wine name around.
Michael Mondavi was involved prior to the Constellation purchase where he left the vineyard and winery to take on sales and marketing and the business life of the wine. M by Micheal Mondavi is a limited production of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and marks his return to the vineyards, winery, and winemaking after 30 years.
The luncheon was held at the exclusive Loft Restaurant to begin around 11am at the Loft Restaurant which has spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. It’s nestled at the Montage which sits perched on a costal cliff and possesses stellar beach resort architecture.
I arrived early ( you know how traffic can be ) and that really worked well, for I got to meet and chat with Mr. Michael Mondavi one-on-one. It was all I could do to hold back on a myriad of questions about his family and all of the great vintages that he was in on back in the 70s and 80s.
He was obviously here to promote his new line of wines, which was exciting in itself, and too, he was very generous as well with his time to discuss “the old days”. As we talked, a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé was poured. The wine, Isabel Deep Rosé 2010, was made in the saignée style from the premium grapes used to make his world class wines discussed below.
But one could tell by Mondavi’s exuberance in discussing this new era of his personal winemaking that he is as happy and satisfied as can be. As we sat tasting and discussing his wines, Michael waxed nostalgic referring to the really important things that he has learned throughout the years and making special references to what his grandfather taught him about nurturing the land.
“My grandfather taught me to respect the soil and to make sure you leave the land in better shape than you receive it. He recognized respect for the soil as the first step in making great wine that has a true sense of place.” Michael went on to say, “I am proud to carry on that tradition and it shows in every glass of the wine that we are now producing.”
Indeed, our intimate luncheon group enjoyed glasses of M by Michael Mondavi’s inaugural 2005 vintage and the 06, 07, and the newly released 2009. The early vintages are aging beautifully in a very Bordeauxesque fashion. All of the wines embody what a great wine should be: complex, individual, and subtle. The 2009 showed bright floral notes that are balanced with hints of currants, spices, and dried berries—just layers and layers of flavor.
The reason for these complex but balanced wines is what Mondavi says is vineyard management that goes “back to the future” where each vine is pampered, each grape is lightly squeezed to determine the perfect ripeness for picking, and even the grape skins and seeds are chewed to determine the ultimate character of the wine.
How fortunate we were to be enjoying the time with a great winemaker and his selection of wines. And of course the Montage provided exquisite cuisine that included Green Farms Heirloom Tomatoes with Italian Burrata and Aged Balsamic, Grilled Skirt Steak on Blue Cheese Focaccia, and a Sea Salt Caramel Mille Feuille.
Fortunately for our wine savvy desert area, we can enjoy these Michael Mondavi wines which are served at the Colony Palms Hotel in Palm Springs, the Eldorado Country Club in Indian Wells, sommelier Paul Bologna carries them at the JW Marriot Hotel and Resort in Palm Desert, and sommelier Fred Gerber has them on his impeccable wine list at Cuistot Restaurant also in Palm Desert.
Here’s to great Cabernet Sauvignon! Cheers!
Rick is your sommelier-about-town who conducts and entertains at various wine events and tastings. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org