Saturday, May 14, 2011

2008 Continuum – a new golden era of Mondavi is born

In the world of movies, it’s almost always the first in a series of movies that’s the best – the sequel is normally not as well written and made. In this case, I find the continuation of the fabulous story of Robert Mondavi to be absolutely stunning! Not that I wasn’t impressed and touched by the finest wines from Robert Mondavi Winery and the original story of Robert Mondavi – his achievements ranks among the greatest in the history of wine!
Sadly, the glory of the Mondavi dynasty faded a bit towards the end (I still liked the best wines from Napa Valley), especially towards the mid 1990s when the company grew too much and in some way lost its focus, while Napa Valley as a whole took giant steps forward and saw that boom that Robert Mondavi always talked about – decades earlier.

The very minute I heard the family lost control over their company, and was bought out by the giant Constellation Brands, my first thought was that it wouldn’t take long before something new would come out from the Mondavi family. Just doing nothing isn’t, as far as I know, something that’s in the genes of a Mondavi.

But how does one move from there?

Constellation Brands had bought out the family in 2004, Robert and his daughter Marcia and winemaking son Tim moved fast. Already 2005 they made their first new wine, then from fruit sourced from the famous To Kalon Vineyard, adjacent to their formed estate in Oakville. They called the wine Continuum, which is a brilliant name, for it is a continuation of the heritage started already with Cesare Mondavi, now nearly a century ago.

The Mondavi family managed to purchase a fantastic property with 70 hectares of land at 400 to 490 meters of altitude on Pritchard Hill, 16.60 hectares of it already planted to vines in 1991 and 1996 (those grapes went into the wine Versant). After they have bought this property in 2008, they started to clear land and plant new vineyard lots in 2010. Today the Cloud View Vineyard, the new name of the vineyard, covers a total of 24.30 hectares.

It’s a challenge to farm the land up here, the soil is poor and well drained, it actually have pretty much the same structure as the llicorella soil in Priorat in Spain – it’s a very stony, reddish volcanic soil. In the past it wasn’t considered to be suitable for growing grapes, since yields rarely exceeds 20-24 hectoliters per hectare, but modern winegrowers who makes wines from these low yielding vines just love the structure, the mineral notes and the intensity of flavors in grapes grown in these poor conditions. However, the hard work and the small yields will result in high wine prices. That’s intelligible and just fair. Great wines will never come cheap. (And why should they?)
Next month, the construction of the estate winery will start – caves will be excavated into the mountainside for a barrel cellar with even temperatures, connected to the winery which will have four rooms with wooden fermentation vats (like those at Robert Mondavi Winery, but smaller). I can only guess that the small details in the wine will be even finer tuned with this. Today the wines are custom crushed at the Trinchero family winery.

The view from the vineyard atop of Pritchard Hill is magnificent. A clear day you may see all the way to San Francisco. Not that the view is the reason for climbing the mountain, the true treasure is the wine made up here.

2008 Continuum / 95-97 p
This is a blend of 71 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 17 percent Cabernet and small portions of Petit Verdot and Merlot. In this vintage, some 70 percent of the fruits comes from the estate vineyards – so for the first time since the inaugural vintage (2005) we are able to get a pretaste on what eventually will be one of the finest wines in the valley (or more accurate, above the valley). When the vineyards are mature, the blend will most likely consist of around 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and a greater proportion of Cabernet Franc Franc (which thrives in the reddish volcanic soil here).
Without doubts, Tim Mondavi is a great winemaker. Small yields, a strict selection of grapes, a few days of cold soak to enhance the flavors and reduce the amount of bitterness from the skins and seeds, and then a natural fermentation with a cuvaison of around 30-35 days. Then the wine is transferred into brand new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and around 20 months of ageing. The result is stunning!
Color is very dark, purple and almost opaque. Already above the glass, the aromas are rich and very intense, loaded with cassis and dark cherries, with a note reminiscent of violets, and in the background there’s a very complex addition of the stony soil (it’s just like someone stood outside the window, and hammers on rocks). That stony quality will follow on the palate, and in combination with the lively acidity it creates an energy that’s just amazing. It’s like the wine dances on your tongue. I can’t help falling for this – in all possible ways the wine speaks of its origin, and Tim Mondavi have just added his skills to steward that, without interfering. This is a wine of true terroir!Although there’s enough sweetness from the ripe fruit to be charming, there’s also a firm and very serious tannic structure not to be ignored. I’d recommend an hour or two in the decanter, or even a few more years in the cellar before you pop the cork. A not to daring guess is that this wine will into something extremely complex and Bordeaux like with ageing.
Style wise I’d call this a neo-classic wine. It offers everything you like from Napa Valley, without being over the top or to ripe or alcoholic. By the way, I didn’t even think about the alcohol when I tasted the wine. Almost 2 000 cases were made – still the wine is hard to find. But it’s well worth trying ...
Drink it 2014-2032.

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