Seventeen mind-blowing wines of 2017

No, wines do not have to be old to blow your mind but there is just something so mysterious, magical and hypnotizing about the experience of age in preservation. When we use the cliché “tasting history” it distracts from what is most poignant about tasting older wines. It’s the humbling and how wisdom, acumen and meteorological circumstance conspire to take us away from our troubles, to forget about life for a while and to realize that forces greater than us are truly in charge.

There are also young wines so precocious and wise beyond their years that they somehow intuit the future. These too can blow our minds, addle us as if lovestruck and disoriented so that only this confluence of smell, taste, texture and structure are what we know. It takes all kinds to populate a list that separates greatness from the rest, but that does not means only 17 wines were tasted to be extraordinary in 2017.  It means that some struck a vein while others grazed on the skin. Most important is that all were experienced because someone chose to share them. Thank you to the producers and the benefactors for bringing these bottles to light.

Related – 16 mind-blowing wines of 2016

Honourable Mentions

Château Haut-Brion 1986, Saffredi 2004, Brokenwood Sémillon 2007, Domaine Gros Frères Clos Voguent Musigni 2013, M. Lapierre Morgon 2010, Domaine G. Roumier Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 1996, Domaine Jamet Côte-Rôtie 2006, Coppo Barbera d’Asti Nizza Riserva della Famiglia 2009, Le Fraghe Bardolino 2015, Sordo Barolo Riserva Gabutti 2006, Carobbio Chianti Classico 1990, J & J Eger Kékfrankos 2006, Château Léoville Las Cases 2001, François Cotat Chavignol Sancerre Rosé 2009, Domaine La Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pâpe La Crau 2005, D’Arie Syrah 2012, Julia Bertram Handwerk Spätburgunder 2015, Planeta Carricante Eruzione 1614 2015, Dominus 1994, Château Lafite Rothschild 1998 and Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques 1993.

Several times a years I gather with groups of like-minded, wine-spirited folks, to break bread and to pop established icons, singular archetypes, varietal rarities and supernumerary misfits. Many of the wines on this 2017 list are a result of having been fortunate enough to be included in repeated repasts with pirates on picnics and doctors at dinner.  Most of the rest are travel related, in fact this year alone I tasted approximately 700 sangiovese, 200 barbera, 200 corvina and 100 nebbiolo. So many more of those praiseworthy reds and rosés deserved spots on this docket but alas, the list is short. I do not fulminate them, nor you neither. Here are Godello’s 17 mind-blowing wines of 2017.

It began like this and I got 15 dollars hid above the stove.

Möet & Chandon Dom Pérignon Vintage Brut Champagne 1990, Champagne, France (280461, AgentWineAlign)

Tasted blind the hue immediately leads the mind in one of two directions; hot vintage or decades of age. I’m tempted to consider a combination of the two, so the decision is warm vintage and a minimum of twenty years age. Further introspection takes me back to 1990 and when the reveal confirms this and in the abide of Dom Pérignon it means one thing. Start the process of thinking again. This wine has done its work, having accumulated a diverse set of developmental traits and processed them so that the language it now speaks is clear and pure. At 27 years of age it’s delicate, smooth, soft-spoken and settled. The finest golden toast (again in hue and more importantly in aroma) glows into the creamy texture, like preserved lemon transformed into gelid curd. The mouthfeel is exceptional with baking bread rising, puffy and satiny glazed across the palate. The seamlessness of this Champagne seeks, solicits and makes rendezvous with no peer or challenger its equivalent, not should any comparison be made. Kudos to a wine that stands on its own and makes you feel this good. It will continue to do so up to and perhaps beyond its 40th birthday. Drink 2017-2030.  Tasted March 2017  moetchandon  @chartonhobbs  @MoetUSA  @ChartonHobbs  @Champagne  Moët & Chandon  Charton Hobbs Canada  Champagne

Famille Picard Saint Aubin Premier Cru Le Charmois 2014, AOC Bourgogne (522078, $57.95, WineAlign)

This is a chardonnay to place the village of Saint Aubin in a remarkable light if only because it’s the most stony, flinty and tightly wound example just about ever. The Charmois is the elevator that carries the appellation into a purity of climat for Bourgogne Premier Cru. In this case terroir delivers the idea of Climat but it is the interaction of the maker that defines the notion simply because there is no mess and no fuss. It just feels like drinking straight from a bleed of the calcareous land, as might happen in a limestone goblet filled with Montrachet. You have no idea how good a deal this is from the most excellent 2014 vintage. Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted October 2017  domainesfamillepicard  profilewinegroup  #bourgognewines #FamillePicard  @ProfileWineGrp  @BourgogneWines  Domaines Famille Picard  Profile Wine Group  Bourgogne Wines

Domaine Bouchard Père & Fils Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru 2015, AOC Bourgogne (Agent, $480.00 WineAlign)

Chevalier-Montrachet is a matter of aromatics, of the finest of the finest, preserved, reserved, impressionable and of quietly powerful impression. The deistic and the parrhesiastic are reached in this Grand Cru, “one who speaks the truth to power.” Elysium in chardonnay is captured for the perfectly ripe orchard and crushed stones. The young palate is almost severe but takes its first steps down the most ethereal path, with the finest drawn lines and rendered streaks of energy lit, sparked and smouldering. This is Bourgogne of intrinsic value, slowly rising to a crescendo where a flame flickers but within the sheltered lamp of a hurricane. How is such harnessed power even possible? Only like this, in Chevalier-Montrachet . Drink 2021-2037.  Tasted April 2017  bouchardpereetfils  woodmanws  vinsdebourgogne  @BouchardPere  @WoodmanWS  @VinsdeBourgogne  Bouchard Père & Fils  Woodman Wines & Spirits  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines

Domaine Sigalas Kavalieros 2015, Santorini, Greece (SAQ 11814421WineAlign)

I’ve not yet tasted the Kavalieros 2014, so this single-vineyard, 18 months on lees done in stainless steel Kavalieros 2015 made by “Mr. George” is the benchmark for Santorini, assrytiko and salty white wines everywhere. The first release was 2009. Straight up and turning the world on its head, like the old man on the label and upside down against Apollo’s Aegean Cyclades. This ’15 richer still, more than the seven villages wines and a hyperbole as compared to the entry-level assyrtiko, of deeper mineral, compressed, layered and fantastic. Crushed rocks permeate in aggregate, it’s quixotically saline and textured, of intense presence and finally, structured. For 15 years at least. A late shot of natural Santorini tonic swirls in centrifuge with assyrtiko so wound up. This will need 10 years to unwind and allow for cracks to form in the mineral shell, followed by the birth of its fruit. It should never be forgotten that assyrtiko can and will show fruit but with Kavalieros you’ll have to be patient. Drink 2020-2031.  Tasted March 2017  @DomaineSigalas  @MajesticWineInc  winesofgreece  domainesigalas  @MajesticWineInc  @DrinkGreekWine  @DomaineSigalas  Panayiota Kalogeropoulou  Wines of Greece

Penfolds Grange 2011, South Australia (356121, $750.00, WineAlign)

There is just something about cool, rainy and irreconcilably regarded vintages that brings out the best in wines made by winemakers of elite acumen. Deliver your best from the greatest of harvests but also “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” Leave the middle of the road to someone else. This Grange faced adversity and won. The yields and output may only be 50 per cent of normal but what gives is the silky texture of Grand Cru Bourgogne. This chosen one of singular vision to represent the multi-tiered and faceted Penfolds Estate tells us about the world inhabited by the instinctual and the ethereal. It combines tannin, structure and aesthetic deeply engrossed in the shadow of its own looming destruction, but is designed from the first with an eye to its later existence as a ruin, forever preserved. If a perfect plum and a magical olive were crossed they would welcome this collective spice of no equal. The quality of bite and chew lead to rumination and the savour rests on a chart clearly defined but in high contrast and only to itself. An analgeisc meets hypnotic cooling is mentholated though if not specific in origin it is only and highly natural. Legendary vintage? Why not. This calm, cool and collected 2011 may just outlast some of the more recently considered top vintages of ’06, ’08 and ’10. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted May 2017  penfolds  markanthonyon  wineaustralia  @penfolds  @MarkAnthonyWine  @Wine_Australia  Penfolds  @MarkAnthonyWine  Wine Australia

A deep #eredichiappone vertical delve with Daniele for perspective and a release of endorphins @ilNizza possibilities #progrettovini #collisionimonferrato

Erede Di Chiappone Armando Barbera D’asti Superiore Nizza DOC RU 2006, Piedmont, Italy (WineAlign)

RU by Daniele Chiappone is this, at first something altogether inexplicable but when tasted alongside his 2005, 2010 and 2011 it makes such perfect sense. Sense in where this fits in his evolution and to speak on behalf of the age-worthy ability of Nizza barbera. In a world where barbera perfume so often performs with perfunctory brevity this goes on and on. It is a unique combination of fennel frond, incense, hibiscus and violet to create an intoxicant and an anaesthetic. Yet another exceptional vintage is revealed, traditional and so alive, spun from earth crusting over cherry and then this smooth leather. The portal backwards 10 years allows for looks forward 10 more, especially into what’s coming from 2015 and 2016. To say the match with a prodigiously spiced in aromatic ragu over linguine was agreeable would be the understatement of the Monferrato century. Perfectly timed acidity seals the deal. This is barbera folks, of wit, age and history. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted July 2017  erededi  ilnizza  @erededi  @ilNizza  Erede Di Chiappone Armando  IlNizza

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Vineyard 1999, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

This from a time when Mondavi labeled the reserve cabernet sauvignon as “To Kalon Vineyard,” a moniker of essential meaning that would return 14 years later on the 2013 bottle. If this were what Mark de Vere referred to as “a confusing moment in history” I could not say but “this strange bottling” provided an unequivocal and seminal turning point in this wine’s storied past, present and future. It was in fact a small, special cuvée, a little bit different than the ’99 Reserve. “The coolest vintage on record, until it wasn’t,” because of a warm period at the end of summer and early fall that ushered forth a certain, singular sort of ripeness. Regardless of memories, characterizations and twists of fate, this single-vineyard cabernet is as finessed, focused and precise as any Mondavi Reserve. It persists chalky, fine and gritty in tannin running amok, dragging the acidity forward and around. The workout is something to behold, a dispatch of late Napa fashion and never more successful than right here. The dépêche mode of To Kalon is by now famous but culminated with this ’99 for everything to follow, with consistency and a guarantee of modern quality. Listen to it croon “try walking in my shoes.” Many have and many continue to pay homage to this Napa Valley originator and pioneer. It’s a cabernet sauvignon of faith and devotion. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted May 2017  robertmondavi  @RobertMondavi  Robert Mondavi Winery

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Columbia Valley, Washington (Agent, WineAlign)

A truly remarkable nose, notably violets and peregrine species of spices. There is so much perfume and beauty, an Aishwarya Rai Bachchan nose and then there is the fruit. Blackberry, Cassis then into vanilla, scented happiness like ruby red grapefruit and bergamot. If it should have aged I can’t say but it’s still a voluminous and voluptuous thing to sip. It blinds like first Growth Bordeaux with its perfect extraction. Thoughts keep at it, to blueberries, cigar box and Kirsch. The tannins are sweet and gritty, not fully resolved and imagine Margaux. You could consider taking out a mortgage on yours and your neighbour’s house for this one. It was one of many great reds tonight but I’ve just tasted this. And I wept. Drink 2017-2024.  Tasted March 2017  @QuilCreekWinery  @thevineagency  winesofwashington  wa_state_wine  @QuilCreekWinery  @TheVine_RobGroh  Quilceda Creek Vintners  @WINESofWA  The Vine – Robert Groh Agency  Washington State Wine

A great honour to taste this 1995 #carobbio #leone and in memory of #carlonovarese Thank you Dario and Silvia. Would like the chance to do it again in 22 years #toscana #sangiovese

Tenuta Carobbio Leone 1995, IGT Toscana, Italy (WineAlign)

Leone 1995 was made under the auspices of the Vittorio Fiore-Gabriella Tani oenology stylistic for Carlo Novarese. To say that this single-vineyard sangiovese is youthful would be the biggest IGT understatement of the century. From vines that at the time were 25 years-old, Leone is not just a survivor of a universally-declared incredible vintage, it is a singular expression from 1990’s Tuscany, in Chianti Classico and for Panzano. The violets, dried espresso and plum-amaretti semifreddo (savoury, not sweet) mixes with fennel frond, fresh rosemary and the 20-plus years lingering Carobbio tobacco. The acidity is fully intact, still travelling up and down the sides of the tongue, repeatedly and soliciting so much savour, sapidity, a desire for a mouthful of hematic, rare sear of Claudia’s beef filet and then more and more sipping. After 20 minutes the aromatics deliver a raspberry purée and even a black olive and mineral-saline, short of briny caper into the fray by stroke of some aromatic brush and bush in the light afternoon wind. That’s enough. I’m not sure my heart can take any more. Time for Vin Santo. Drink 2017-2029.  Tasted February 2017  carobbio_wine  chianticlassico  @Tenuta_Carobbio  @chianticlassico  Tenuta Carobbio  Chianti Classico

In @chianticlassico mano nella mano 1986, @fontodi #vignadelsorbo & #flaccianello thank you Giovanni Manetti for sharing these two opposing forces of the Tuscan paradox #chianticlassico

Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve 1986, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

Flaccianello in 1986 is actually though not surprisingly so different from Vigna del Sorbo, more than any other reason because of the cabernet sauvignon, but in a more philosophical way, because they have built a paradox, from the Super Tuscan ideal in revolution. Now the sangiovese going forward will be the most important and also the best wine, like looking back at this 1986, OK, not better than Sorbo but purer, honest, a clearer picture from which to learn from and ultimately a model for the future. Beautiful power, restraint, structure and yes, the kind of wine that deserves to be praised with the term elegance, overused, or not. Perfectly rustic, earthy and full of fruit with its accompanying complimentary, enervating and necessary acidity. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted September 2017  Fontodi  chianticlassico    @chianticlassico  Chianti Classico  Az. Agr. Fontodi

Cortonesi La Mannella Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2010, Docg Tuscany, Italy (Agent, $202.95, WineAlign)

There are few Brunello vintages afforded more attention in the last 10-plus, certainly ’04 and ’06, increasingly better even from ’08 and looking forward towards what greatness will come in 2015. Yes but not solely magnified through the lens of patience and bottle time, from 2010 La Mannella has coupled upon and layered over itself like compressed fruit and puff pastry. Though it begs for drink now attention, another seven years will be needed before it can safely be labeled as uncoiled and to reveal all that is wrapped so tight. Rich is not the operative but unmistakeable as Cortonesi it is; that natural clay soil funk of resolution and fully hydrated chalk. This is to sangiovese as Les Preuses Grand Cru Chablis or Rangen Grand Cru Alsace are to Riesling. It carries in its pocket the absolute meaning and genetic responsibility of where it comes from, with a curative and restorative ability to get you lost. Drink 2019-2031.  Tasted February 2017  marcora85  nicholaspearcewines  brunellodimontalcino  @LaMannella  @Nicholaspearce_  @ConsBrunello  Tommaso Cortonesi  Nicholas Pearce  Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino

Maison Roche De Bellene “Collection Bellenum” Grand Cru Clos De La Roche 1998, AOC Bourgogne, France (Agent, $364.95, WineAlign)

Clos de La Roche 1998 may be 19 years old but you have to swirl the britches out of this Grand Cru because reduction persists in its make-up. Once you work your way over the wall a field of wildflowers and a roses bouquet lays out as far as the nose can mind’s eye. This is pure candy in its most arid, blessed and gout de terroir way. It is as charming as Burgundy can be and yet so fine of tannin, tight and duplicitously-grained in clone upon itself. One of those wines so difficult to put to words because it teaches and you can do nothing but listen. I’d still want to wait two more years, maybe more, before knowing I’ve waited long enough. Close de la Roche speaks to me but to answer with any real credibility and respect I will need to think some more. Drink 2019-2035.  Tasted February 2017  domaine_de_bellene  nicholaspearcewines  vinsdebourgogne  @RochedeBellene  @Nicholaspearce_  @VinsdeBourgogne  Bellene  Nicholas Pearce  Vins de Bourgogne / Burgundy wines

Not just #meerlust more like major lust. Thank you for the sexy time travel @meerlustwine Laurel Keenan and The South African Wine Society.

Meerlust Rubicon 1984, Wo Stellenbosch, South Africa (WineAlign)

Meerlust dates back to 1693, the house that is “love or pleasure of the sea.” Less than five kms south from the Atlantic Ocean, the property was purchased in 1756 and to this day remains family owned, now in its eighth generation with 260 years of continuity. Rubicon 1984 is poured (with brilliant decision making) from magnum and is therefore fresher than the 1996 with an incredibly controlled level of fineness in tannin, from acidity and at the threshold of understood volatility. “Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood,” like this early Rubicon. The future of Meerlust is foretold with Orwellian transparency, bold honesty and expert ability. “Who controls the past controls the future.” Drink 2017-2019.  Tasted September 2017  meerlustwine  wosa_za  wosa_ca  liffordgram  @MeerlustWine  @LiffordON  @WOSA_ZA  @WOSACanada  MEERLUST ESTATE  Lifford Wine and Spirits  Wines of South Africa

Boscarelli Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva 1982, Tuscany, Italy (WineAlign)

The Boscarelli acts like a much younger Nobile, from an exceptional vintage and a producer way ahead of its time. The key is to decide which side of the evolutionary fence we’re on, closer to that 1967 from Contucci or to what is happening today. This may actually be the turning point for Vino Nobile because it really has one foot entrenched in each world. Very much in the mushroom and truffle aromatic atmosphere, where sangiovese should feel free and comfortable to travel in the twilight of its golden years. This is beautiful, with some dark fruit persisting and acidity still in charge. You can imagine the old tannins but they no longer make any demands. Drink 2017-2020.  Tasted at Anteprima del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2017, February 2017  #PoderiBoscarelli  lucadeferrarildf  artisanal_wine_imports  consorzionobile  #poderiboscarelli  Nicolò De Ferrari   Luca De Ferrari  @artisanalwineimports

Antichi Poderi Dei Marchesi Di Barolo Gia’ Opera Pia Barolo 1958, Piedmont, Italy (WineAlign)

Poured by Ernesto Abbona on his wife Anna’s birthday, a ’58 at the ripe old age of 58 (though it will turn 59 later this year). Simply, in the words of the Abbona family, “a special evening, special friends, special vintage,” with a cork that looks as good as new, though Ernesto takes great time and care in its extraction. The aromas are blessed of a collective umami but would better be served by a new descriptor because they are antediluvian and impossibly preserved. Forget mushrooms and truffles. These scents are brand new, with no truly identifiable frame of reference, as if plucked from some guise of Eden where never before tasted dark berries fall effortlessly into the hand off of gariga savoury-scented bushes, brambly and crawling intertwined with nasturtium on a composting forest floor. The 1958 was and still is a nebbiolo of struttura, of a fibra morale that tells a story of consistency and longevity. With air it became more complex if deeper and turbido. That this magical nebbiolo from another era hovered in the lasting air of a 30 minute long ethereal says that you could open a few more but perhaps not much beyond its 60th birthday. Drink 2017-2018.  Tasted July 2017  marchesibarolo  majesticwinesinc  @MarchesiBarolo  @MajesticWineInc  @marchesibarolo  Majestic Wine Cellars

The mythology of #thorle #riesling in Beerenauslese and Trockenbetenauslese #weingutthörle #gabsheim #rheinhessen #holle

Thörle Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese Hölle 2011, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

The Hölle TBA 2011 is a minuscule 180 bottle single-vineyard production and the vintage was simply perfect for the effort. The process involved the collection of a few berries at a time over the course of three weeks, started in the fridge and was then pressed when the amount of approximately 100L could be obtained. “This is the king’s discipline for creating such a riesling” explains Christoph Thörle. Thick like honey, full of unctuousness and viscosity. It is expressly noticed how the colour and the development have not advanced considering the six year mean. The exoticism is what separates this, with fruits far east, creamy and perfectly easy to assimilate, in flavour, consistency and understanding. Sweet herbology, of thai basil and thyme and candied mandarin rind. Here, a piece of history and legacy from Christoph and Johannes. Drink 2021-2041.  Tasted March 2017  thorle_c  thorleestatewinery  univinscanada  @thoerle  @UNIVINS  @germanwineca  @gen_riesling

Will be a top ’17 from 2017 #louisguntrum #1976 @weininstitut #rieslingauslese #niersteiner #heiligen #nierstein #niersteinamrhein #roterhang

Weingut Louis Guntrum Riesling Auslese Niersteiner Heilibengaum 1976, Rheinhessen, Germany (WineAlign)

“Roter Hang is a geological statement” says Louis Konstantin Guntrum. If you want to hang around and try to understand its red soils and friable limestone fettle it requires a focused state of mind. Guntrum introduces this 1976 by saying “it’s a young guy, 40 years old,” the same thing he could have said years ago about a 1917 Roter Hang Riesling. The comparative studies is a matter of perspective, a theory of relativity, in reduction, colour, drama, florality and fabulousness. While certain vintages and specific wines will blow you away more than others there is something to be said about older just being more interesting, whether 1917, 1976 or whatever back vintage you want to try your luck with. It’s simply remarkable and crazy how sugar and acidity can preserve riesling like this, especially and/or truly withstanding the Roter Hang. The honey and candied orange blossom are so prevalent but it almost seems dry (relatively speaking) even though 100 grams or more of sugar have driven this wine. Beauty from bitter phenols blend with lanolin, paraffin, ginger and ginseng. Keep returning for 15 more years. Drink 2017-2031.  Tasted March 2017  #louisguntrum  @weininstitut  wines_of_germany  @LouisGuntrum  @WinesofGermany  Weingut Louis Guntrum  German Wine Institute i.e. Wines of Germany

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Good to go!

Godello

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

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En route to Mondavi

Godello at Mondavi, February 2016 @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers

I’m feeling a Mondavi shiver and a To Kalon shimmer coming on. Another anticipatory Mondavi experience is looming, a next week return venture to the iconic and archetypal Napa Valley winery. This will be my third deep delve into the wines of Robert Mondavi spread out over the past 15 months, after a February 2016 California visit and a June VINTAGES 50th Anniversary structured tasting and dinner. I thought it might be me that was the one getting around but clearly it’s the other way around.

THIS VINEYARD STOOD HEAD AND

SHOULDERS ABOVE THOSE AROUND IT

“The extraordinary quality of this wine originates in Napa Valley’s generous terroir. When I taste this, I’m reminded why Cabernet Sauvignon is the varietal on which Robert Mondavi built his reputation.” These are the comments of Genevieve Janssens, Director of Winemaking. I’d hedge my bets that Fumé Blanc should also fall under the auspicious umbrella of such a statement. Mondavi turned the ideal into copyright and it should be argued that Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc would not be where it is today without the farming, research and development put in by generations of the Mondavi team.

Mondavi @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers — at Robert Mondavi Vineyard.

No matter the varietal, the To Kalon Vineyard is where it all stems from, the rib from which the eponymous winery was born and the subsequent 50 years of wines that have comes from those storied vines. In 1966 Mondavi chose To Kalon as the epicentre of what would turn out to be a great big winemaking universe. “It was a vineyard with a distinguished history and a magical nature, ” he wrote. “Ideal soils, sunlight and rain – to my eye, the vineyard was a treasure.” Five decades of Fumé Blanc have sprung, along with more than a hundred renditions of Cabernet Sauvignon.

During that February 2016 visit we tasted through Napa, Oakville and Reserve Fumé Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Carneros Pinot Noir and To Kalon Vineyard bottles were poured in the Margarit Mondavi Vineyard Room at dinner prepared by Chef Jeff Mosher, including the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

Lorenzo Loseto predeliction @georgeonqueen Lobster, asparagus, quinoa, brioche #umami

Last June Mark De Vere MW led a masterclass in celebration of Mondavi’s 50th anniversary. The line up was outstanding bordering on ridiculous. Vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon starting at 2012 and going back through 2007, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1980 and 1975. The VINTAGES sponsored event and dinner at George Restaurant was prepared by the predilection of Executive Chef Lorenzo Loreto.

With 50 years of To Kalon and a specialized certification program up next, there is no better time than the present to publish these notes on 16 Mondavi wines tasted during these recent events and a few others that have found their way through the VINTAGES release program. Here they are.

Feeling a #mondavi shiver and a #tokalon shimmer #50thanniversary @RobertMondavi #markdevere

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc 2015, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 221887 $22.95, WineAlign)

The landmark 2015 is the culmination of five Mondavi decades spent elevating and differentiating sauvignon blanc, now in the its 50th vintage. The name fumé blanc and Mondavi are synonymous with one another in unequivocal signature, identical twin, trademark, signature fashion. Not just for Oakville, Napa Valley and California but anywhere and everywhere. You can throw in benchmark, Fodor’s or Lonely Planet guide, dictionary entry or whatever moniker you like. Mondavi’s is all this and in 2015 at its richest and adroitly balanced best. The nose is all ripe orchard fruit from seed to stone and the palate full of texture, acidity and length. The flavours repeat the apple-pear-peach-plum fodder with great tang and near-essential aridity. Great vineyards produce great sauvignon blanc and the rest is history. Drink 2017-2021.  Tasted February 2017

Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Oakville 2013, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 13119254 $32.00, WineAlign)

The Oakville fumé blanc is a To Kalon gathering, the vineyard that surrounds the Robert Mondavi Winery. With so many “highest beauty” offerings it’s hard to keep track but this qualifies for the distinction with as much respect as any in the ever moving squall of the portfolio. Here from the geographic mean of the valley, a benchmark Bordeaux blend in bench abutment, composed of 89 per cent sauvignon blanc and (11) sémillon. This is only the third vintage and once in cohorts you note the elevated toast, struck flint and smoke. More citrus involves the senses, something almost rare for Napa Valley, in this way. With time (and please be encouraged to hang out for a while) the butterscotch joins the fumé party. The increased tense intention translates to excellent length. The sémillon makes a statement into the nicely bitter finish, with weight, stoicism and certainly the great potential for age. By way of comparison to the Napa Valley bottle there are 5,000 cases of this Oakville. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Fumé Blanc To Kalon Vineyard 2012, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 225599 $44.75, WineAlign)

The To Kalon Vineyard Reserve produces 2500 cases (in a big year) and 2012 topped out at 1700. The vintage delivers more green apple and elastic elegance so good luck in your search for reduction, flint, toast and smoke. You should look to 2013 for such a deferential stylistic and make plans to embosom the two side by side 10 years onward. This is mostly sourced from the 1959 planted Robert’s Block within the larger vineyard, primarily gravelly and well-draining with some alluvial soil edged against the Mayacamas Mountains. The spice here is exceptional, with some anomalic Napa Valley mineral tang afforded by the sémillon blended into the sauvignon blanc. Drink 2017-2023.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California (492124, $44.95, WineAlign)

There is a richness defined in a Mondavi chardonnay that goes beyond the simple fact that the fruit is Carneros in origin. It’s a luxe composition because of that terroir and also because winemaker Genevieve Janssens is painfully shy to let the fruit speak on its own behalf. The crux and the key lies and turns right there because this is a Mondavi wine. Just as it is always noted with fumé blanc, chardonnay too develops this obeisant disposition, full of emotive ability and perhaps not exactly what you are want to expect, varietally speaking. This is singular for Carneros chardonnay and it’s all Mondavi. It’s both country kitchen in weekend baking mode and a walk in the ripening orchard. It’s a starred Michelin kitchen in baking fury, with a multiplicity of sugars caramelizing overtop a myriad of ramekins welling with tropical fruit. Finally, it’s a Mondavi acidity, elevated and integrated. It’s good chardonnay. Drink 2017-2022.   Tasted April 2017

Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve 2013, Carneros, Napa Valley, California (SAQ 10219840, $60.50, WineAlign)

Some wise old conditioned and character building vines go into Mondavi’s pinot noir, “purchased from people who have better fruit than we do.” The Hyde Vineyard (40 plus year-old vines) and Rancho Carneros (which includes vines planted in 1979) bring the southernmost windswept part of Napa Valley into the pinot mix. This is optimum extraction in hyperbole, of fruit that runs the gamut from red to deeply dark. It is nothing if not a rich, concentrated and intensely flavourful pinot noir. There is a measure of stuffing to see it drink this way for at least five years from release. Drink 2016-2020.  Tasted February 2016

50th anniversary @RobertMondavi @LCBO #VINTAGES tasting @GeorgeTO #constellationbrands #cabernetsauvignon

Robert Mondavi 50th Anniversary Maestro Red 2013, Napa Valley, California (459933, $60.00, WineAlign)

Maestro the proprietary blend endows another legacy building notch onto the Robert Mondavi name. This is accomplished through the tenets of wisdom in winemaking as an extension from historic estate vineyards. To Kalon is always the rock and in order to make this 50th Anniversary blend there were sources drawn from throughout Napa Valley though mostly from the Stags Leap District. Merlot (59 per cent) is the pillar with cabernet franc (25), cabernet sauvignon (7), petit verdot (6) and malbec. It’s a true five varietal Bordeaux-styled affair with classic Mondavi elevated pH and acidity. The concept is taken from the image of Robert Mondavi as the maestro of the orchestra and of greater Napa Valley. The liquor of merlot provides the base wine, joined dusty and injected with power by jolts of espresso. It’s an interesting 50th anniversary choice of voice, antithetical to the dominant cabernet sauvignon reds that Mondavi is so famous for and the varietal he staked his reputation on. But rich and velvety helps the cause and the result. Drink 2017-2022.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Napa Valley, California (255513, $37.95, WineAlign)

The aridity of 2013 has now translated into some lovely development in bottle that trials and tribulates with its wealthy pool of rich, ripe and silky chocolate texture. Such a typically reasoned Napa Valley explanation with 47 years under its increscent belt. Serious tannins need five years to seek settlement and to carry structure for to build a home for the ripe fruit. At 14.8 per cent alcohol there is much to fuel and keep the abode bathed in warmth, along with American oak in pancetta ooze, augmented by smoke and spice. Chewy and huge. Drink 2018-2024.  Tasted twice, February and June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, Napa Valley, California (459883, $73.00, WineAlign)

This 1996 is the 30th anniversary bottling at 20 years-old showing with impossible structure and beautiful possibilities still lay ahead. Though expecting it to push through to its 30th birthday is overly ambitious it will drink just like this, with freshness, bright red fruit and pitch perfect acidity for at least three more years. The pleasure it currently brings suggests this is what was meant to be, by design, of great fortune or just plain luck, so get it while it rests in this ethereal state. Those who paid nothing for it early on were the wisest of the wise and also lucky. This Mondavi ’96 would be a Left Bank killer in a Bordeaux blind tasting, teasing as it does with whiffs of Cassis and tobacco, plus a fortune in subtle perfume. The finish brings a note of baked bricks, almost like nebbiolo but the structure is all cabernet sauvignon. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, Napa Valley, California (459867, $73.00, WineAlign)

From a cool, oft times wet vintage with an elongated ripening season the under appreciated, under-valued and underestimated cabernet sauvignons of Napa Valley continue to get their say. This Mondavi ’94 will not be denied its voice, showing harmonious parts in symphony, of power, grip and elegance from To Kalon Vineyard fruit, amazing acidity and more than impressive longevity. Here now some notes of balsam wood, mushroom and soy have taken hold with more than just two years of extra time as compared to the silly fresh ’96, but the jig is not yet up. The combination of brown sugar and lingering mixed berry fruit is nothing but lovely. Drink up soon. Drink 2016-2017.   Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2012, Napa Valley, California (670463, $150.00, WineAlign)

Much of the fruit is brought to the Napa Reserve from the To Kalon Vineyard and it is rounded out with complimentary Napa and 16 months in 100 per cent new French oak. From a post 2011 hardship deliverance, more than welcome, hallelujah even vintage. Now a Mondavi return to floral posture above and beyond the Napa and Oakville bottle norms. So very pretty and powerful, out of saturation and into drought from which tannic structure is born. Full on fruit without borders, up to the top of the walls and back down in to the glass. With each sip the tannin builds and builds until the wall is constructed. There is no escape because the architecture is both classic and exceptional. Don’t be in a hurry. Struggle will only tighten the grip. Be patient and the next decade will deliver elegance and grace. Drink 2020-2027.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon Vineyard 2012, Oakville, Napa Valley, California (670463, $150.00, WineAlign)

This is just the second vintage of the To Kalon Oakville Reserve (as opposed to the Napa bottling) from a vineyard where Robert Mondavi established his winery in 1966 and the next “great one,” after 2009. The To Kalon (western) Oakville Reserve is like the Gretzky of cabernet sauvignons, a generational player that only comes along once (or in wine terms, two or three times) a decade. The finest blocks and the “walk in the park” vintage conspired to make To Kalon a focal point once again, of both pH and acidity on the elevated scale, telling us that longevity will never come into question. The wall of tannin exhibited by the Napa Reserve is not duplicated here and so it is a different sort of structure that builds, with more black cherry rich fruit and coveted acescence, but also an absence refined, as if the French barrel hides, deftly woven into the fineness of grain. There is a dusty, ropey and slow developing rise in character, as if a low, barely audible rumble can be heard, or sensed. A waffling between great and outstanding is certainly understood but by the time we reach 2030 and add up the career statistics of this To Kalon I’m quite certain the jury will be out. Drink 2018-2031.  Tasted February and June 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, California (670463, $144.95, WineAlign)

Tasted at the nine year mark the vintage warmth has nowhere to hide and the fruit is coming within reason of raisin. A small percentage of petit verdot is part of this Mondavi development from fruit as rich, concentrated and extracted as any. The choices made here surely went a long way towards teaching what subsequent decisions were made with the aridity of 2012, 2013 and 2014. The dried fruit as syrup glazing the layers of cake melts into the decadence of barrel chocolate and a roundness of acidity so different that the 2012s. Some earthy, woodsy floor grounds this ’07 so that you are able to see fruit through the forest’s trees. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Though sandwiched betwixt and gobsmacked between some infamous Napa Valley vintages (most notable 1995-7 and 1999) don’t look past this golden era 1998. To Kalon Vineyard is the source so right there is pretty much what you need to know about pedigree and potential. At this 17-18 years point in time a few drops of soy and a melt or two of caramel are noted in the ’98 Reserve’s development. Secondary affirmations and vintage structure bring out the purity of the herbaceous quality in cabernet sauvignon together with the slow evolution of a quiet, respectful wine. A tender and silky balsamic reduction chimes in though time is still a friend, willing and allowing the fruit to continue its natural path towards senectitude. I can’t find any reason to not seek tertiary character and continue to enjoy this over the next six years. Drink 2016-2022.  Tasted February 2016

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1995, Napa Valley, California (670463, WineAlign)

A few points of merlot were blended into this 21-year salute to Mondavi’s legacy, a cabernet sauvignon impossibly fresh and bright this deep into life. The acidity is not only persistent it’s downright captivating and spellbinding. With thanks to the vintage of course, after a wet spring and a long, cool summer. Few double digit decade retrospective looks into the Mondavi cabernet sauvignon anthology would deliver such clarity of fruit seemingly immune to the truffled passages of time. By dint of tradition and without any forced supervision wines like this govern themselves and yet this might be a larger consideration regarding the entire portfolio. Drink 2016-2021.  Tasted June 2016

Say, friend – you got any more of that good Sarsaparilla? #thestranger #thebiglebowski #yeahthatsagoodone

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1980, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Mondavi’s 1980 Reserve comes from a time when Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon was made in an unidentified, free and indirect style. The young To Kalon Vineyard may have already known its iconic place but if the makers also knew they could not have so easily created such an early success for us to revel in 36 years later. This is now and still fresh, at least in the context of three dozen years in the bag, with that tied To Kalon triumvirate of acidity, tannin and structure seamless and unsevered. How many aromatic notes can be described? Sarsaparilla, root beer, baked bricks, tomato leaf, pipe tobacco, eryngii mushroom, potpourri and mocha are eight that come to mind and nose. It’s a juicy ’80, not so much in terms of fruit though further sips bring faint memories on the back palate. All this 36 years later manages to remove responsibility from the omniscient perspective of the winemaker and lay it comfortably and pleasurably in our hands and minds. So much thanks for this opportunity. Drink 2016-2017.  Tasted June 2016

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1975, Napa Valley, California (WineAlign)

Forty one years is a long haul for a wine to hang in there and I’m not sure more than a handful of 1975 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon not plucked from the future iconic climat of To Kalon Vineyard could have survived this test of time. Even with the impressive longevity and lifeline ability this is now more curiosity than pleasure. Some might say at this stage the wine may be aimless but who can deny that it is also possessive of poised intelligence. From a vintage overshadowed by 1974, there is some old California Golden Seals hockey bag sweat in the aromatic mix along with savoury mulch and mushroom. There really is no fruit left to speak of, prune perhaps but no berries. The acidity still rips with some strength, swirling into the burnt caramel and all things considered this ain’t dead yet. It does show some Bretty notes that the 1980 does not and in the end the adage is true, spoken so eloquently by Mark de Vere MW. “Flavours you cannot replicate without time.” Drink 2016.   Tasted June 2016

Godello at Mondavi, February 2016 @CalifWines_CA @CBrandsCareers

Good to go!

Godello

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