Thu 4 Dec 2014
When the Mondavi family sold the Robert Mondavi Winery to Constellation Brands in 2004, no one assumed that the children of patriarch Robert Mondavi (1913-2008) — Michael, Tim and Marcia — would roll over and find jobs outside the wine industry, say in teaching or marketing or going to law school. No, wine and the Napa Valley were in their blood. Ten years later, Tim and Marcia own Continuum Winery on Pritchard Hill (whose products I have not tasted), while Michael and his family, wife Isabel and children Rob and Dina, preside over an empire of sorts that under the Folio Fine Wine Partners umbrella includes an arm that imports wines primarily from Italy but also Germany, Austria and Spain, and Michael Mondavi Family Estate, which includes the Isabel Mondavi, Emblem, Animo and M by Michael Mondavi labels. It’s the last three cabernet-based wines that concern us today.
Cabernet sauvignon is a natural fit for Napa Valley and for the Michael Mondavi family. That grape variety grew in importance with the reputation of Napa Valley and the Robert Mondavi Winery, which, along with others, exploited key vineyard sites to produce profound wines. Whether the grapes come from the valley floor, foothills or mountainside, cabernet sauvignon and Napa Valley are inextricably linked. Michael and Isabel Mondavi and their children presciently purchased the vineyard on Atlas Peak, renamed Animo, in 1999. It provides grapes for the flagship M by Michael Mondavi label but only became its own brand with the 2010 vintage reviewed below. True to the vineyard name, the Animo 2010 and the M 2010 feel imbued with a life force of vibrant animation. I found previous renditions of the Emblem wines well-made and flawless technically but somewhat stolid and uncompelling. For 2011, however, while the ‘regular” Emblem requires a year or two to lose some youthful brusqueness, the Emblem “Oso” is fine-tuned and engaging.
These wines were samples for review. Image of the Mondavi family from jamesbeard.org.
Poor Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley, falls between the cracks on the winery’s website, which lists the 2012 for sale but explicates the full technical details about the 2010. I can tell you only that the wine aged 22 months in French oak barrels, 66 percent of which were new. The color is dark ruby fading to pretty translucence at the rim; intense and concentrated aromas of black currants, black raspberries and plums are infused with notes of loam and some pleasant briery-brambly raspiness; a few minutes in the glass bring up hints of cloves, lavender and graphite. This is a wine of tremendous substance and presence, filling the mouth with dusty, grainy tannins and granite-like minerality, being rather sinewy and lithe in character. Alcohol % NA. The wine feels a little inchoate presently; two or three years should bring it around and smooth the edges. Very Good+. About $35.
The grapes for the Emblem Oso Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Napa Valley — 87 percent cabernet, 13 percent petit verdot — were grown in the eponymous vineyard at about 1,250 feet between Sugarloaf and Howell mountains in the northeastern region of the appellation. The wine aged 20 months in French oak, 77 percent new barrels. The deep ruby color shades into magenta at the rim; the lovely, seductive bouquet features notes of mulberries, black currants and cherries, with hints of cardamom and ancho chili, violets and lavender and lightly toasted bread; a few minutes in the glass bring in a touch of macerated plums. It’s an elegant, fit and trim cabernet that has been working out at the gym faithfully, as evidenced by its sleek, supple texture and lithe structure built upon finely sifted tannins and polished oak; stay with the wine for an hour or so and you detect leathery tannins and more prominent graphite minerality, leading to a taut, rather austere finish. 13.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’23. Excellent. About $60.
Animo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. This wine contains 83 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes and 17 percent petit verdot, derived from the 15-acre Animo Vineyard on Atlas Peak, elevation from 1,270 to 1,350 feet; it aged 20 months in French oak barrels, 87 percent new. The color is dark ruby with a tinge of magenta at the rim; the first impression is of graphite perfectly sifted with loam, charcoal and granitic minerality, followed by notes of iodine and iron, underbrush and walnut shell. This description makes the wine sound as if it’s all structure, but it unfolds elements of spiced and macerated and deeply ripe black currants and cherries with a touch of plum, highlighted with hints of blueberry tart, lavender and black licorice. You feel the mountainside in the wine’s indubitable lithic character, but ultimately it turns out to be a fitting marriage of power and elegance, a multi-faceted cabernet etched with fine particulars; the finish is long and a bit austere, packed with spice and minerals. 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink now, with medium-rare dry-aged rib-eye steaks, hot and crusty from the grill, through 2020 to ’25. Production was 860 cases. Excellent. About $85.
Also from the Animo Vineyard but 100 percent varietal, the M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley, spent 28 months in French oak, 87 percent new barrels. The grapes were harvested from small selected areas at the highest point of the vineyard. The color is opaque ruby; boy, this is a fleshy, meaty, sanguinary cabernet, flush with ripe and slightly roasted-feeling black currants, raspberries and plums permeated by mocha, tobacco and granitic minerality and a back-note of plum pudding and all the touches of dried spices and candied fruit such confection allows; a few minutes in the glass bring in earthy elements of burning leaves, dried porcini and underbrush. This is, as you can see, a bouquet of impressive layering and complexity. In the mouth, well, this behemoth coats the palate with dusty grainy tannins, burnished yet not obtrusive oak and graphite; the texture is lithe, sinewy and supple, and all its qualities, included surprisingly succulent black fruit flavors, are sewn together by fresh acidity. While M 2010 is a powerful, dynamic cabernet — don’t look for elegance — its grave dimensions are tempered by attention to detail, though the finish is substantial, dignified and fairly austere. 14.3 percent alcohol. Try from late in 2015 or 2016 through 2025 or ’28. Excellent. About $200.