In the deep backward and absym of time, I used to receive samples from Robert Mondavi Winery, usually twice a year in the form of a case of new releases. After Constellation bought Robert Mondavi at the end of 2004, though, for whatever reason, I stopped receiving samples from the winery; was it something I said, or perhaps it had to do with my switching from a weekly newspaper column to my own website (the old KoeppelOnWine.com, which operated from December 2004 to April 2008). In any case, I was happy to open a two-bottle box recently delivered to my threshold and find the Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010 and Pinot Noir 2010. Even more happily, the wines are terrific models of their kind, and while the products featured in “Pairs of Great Wines” are often rare and expensive, these represent high quality for not exorbitant prices and are widely available. Director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi is Genevieve Janssens.
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I found the Robert Mondavi Chardonnay 2010, Napa Valley, entrancing, and of course it didn’t hurt that the wine is an example of precisely what I want chardonnay to be: stony and steely but with plenty of tasty fruit and chiming acidity and a texture that balances lushness with litheness. So, there’s the review right there, but I’ll expand on the theme a bit so you’re familiar with the technical thinking behind it. Seventy-seven percent of the juice was fermented in French oak barrels, 15 percent new, with the remaining 23 percent fermented in stainless steel tanks; these lots aged for 10 months on the lees, that is, the residue of used-up yeast cells, a process that can add depth and character to a wine. The color is radiant pale gold; aromas of ripe pineapple and grapefruit open to notes of baked pear, ginger and quince and hints of jasmine and limestone; a hint of mango adds complexity. In the mouth, this chardonnay at first is spare, almost lean with its dominant limestone and steel qualities and vibrant acid nature, but the citrus and stone fruit flavors offer burgeoning spice and smoke over a mounting oak presence (from mid-palate back) that contributes firmness and a pleasing, almost powdery finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
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My first note on the Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, is “absolutely beautiful.” The wine spent only seven months in French oak, 34 percent new barrels, so the wood influence is almost subliminal, yet it’s there, shapely and suavely spicy. The color is dark ruby with a mulberry-magenta cast. Aromas of smoky black and red cherries are infused with cola and cloves, pomegranate and rhubarb, all singing over bass-notes of slightly earthy briers and brambles. In the mouth, ripe and spicy black and red fruit flavors (and a touch of dried fruit) exist in complete harmony with the wine’s super-satiny texture, but this is no kissy-face pushover; instead, the Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, avoids plushness or opulence through the agency of bright acidity and the presence of finely-knit tannins. Above all, the impression is of a lovely marriage of spareness and elegance in the service of delicious pinot noir authenticity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $27.
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