Maybe I’m showing my age, but I have a hard time believing that reactions on social media are an entirely accurate indication of the overall usefulness of a post. Kim Kardashian’s most recent nude selfie, and the resulting faux-tempest it caused, are proof of that.
But last week, when I posted a photo on Facebook of a fantastic 2009 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 that I opened with dinner, I was surprised by the inundation of emails and texts I received from friends and colleagues following up on it. In general, the main question I received was some variation of this: Was it really that good? A non-single-vineyard, non-reserve bottling that retailed on release at under $30 was still kicking at six years of age?
To make up a quote about how I imagine the insufferable Ms. West would respond: Um, yeah the wine was still kicking! LOL!
[And that, dear friends, is the last time I will ever write LOL in a professional capacity. I pinkie-swear promise.]
I think the sense of incredulity that tinged the texts and emails I received was, largely, a result of the price of the wine. After all, so many of us are accustomed to only considering more expensive bottlings as appropriate for the cellar. Rarely do we think of more modestly priced bottles as the ones that are built to stand the test of time.
Which is completely false. I have plenty of wines in my collection that cost less than $35 retail that have more than enough stuffing to continue to evolve for several years. The trick is to know what to buy, and to store them in the proper conditions, if you hope to drink them at a more mature stage of their evolution. (Admittedly, most of the wine I'm holding onto for several decades is on the higher end of the price continuum, but a six- to 10-year-old bottle of wine that's evolved soundly is a gorgeous thing to behold.)
And this particular wine had everything going for it: The price was exactly right (it’s hard to argue with a sub-$30 bottle from a top-tier producer), the vintage itself is one that I’ve always been a fan of, and the specific bottle I opened had been stored perfectly. Still, you never know what’s awaiting you when you pop the cork from a bottle of wine that you’ve held for several years. Even at just six years of age, the old wine cliché, about there being no such thing as great older wine, just great older bottles, rattled around my skull as I eased the cork from the neck.
But this one, as I noted the night I opened it, was stunning. My notes on it are below, as well as other recent back-vintage tastings of wines from Robert Mondavi Winery, plus my thoughts on two excellent recent releases from RMW.
The moral, then, is simple: It's always a good idea to buy two bottles of wine that you suspect might have some longevity, the better to follow their evolution over the years without worrying about drinking your only one too early.
The other moral? Think before you nude-selfie post on social media.
I know I always do.
Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Napa Valley
Mature Cabernet aromas of leather, dried currant, a hint of cassis, mint, and tobacco turn to flavors of eucalyptus-flecked red-cherry skin, red currants both dried and fresh, leather, and tobacco, all of it framed with chocolate and coffee grounds. Balanced, dusty tannins and ample acidity still sing through the spearmint-kissed finish. This is at its peak right now.
Robert Mondavi Winery Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered 1995, Napa Valley
Uniquely smoky, with eucalyptus and menthol on the nose, currants, sasparilla, scorched earth, and wild mushrooms. On the palate, this is remarkably similar to the nose, with a bright seam of peppermint ringing through currants, cassis, chocolate ganache, espresso grounds, and a hint of sweet-funky dried beef. This, too, is at its peak right now.
Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Unfiltered 1994, Napa Valley
Fully mature, with dried red currants, creme de cassis, tobacco leaf, eucalyptus, dried lavender, spice, and wild mushrooms. These turn to spicy, mouth-coating flavors of dried currants, dried violets, porcini dust, licorice root, and spice cake. Fully mature, with melted tannins that still provide structure alongside beautifully balanced and subtle acidity. Drink up if you have a bottle.
Robert Mondavi Winery Pinot Noir Reserve 1994
Fully mature, with complex aromas of wild mushroom, forest floor, and just the quietest hint of dried dark cherries. Pure silk on the tongue, with porcini, golden chanterelles, rose petals, amazing acid, a hint of peppercorn spice, super-fine-grained tannins, cherry, cranberry, a bit of raspberry, candied rose petals, and an aromatic complexity on the finish that is breathtaking. Exceptionally pretty. Drink now.
Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Aromas of licorice and cassis, with kirsch, dark-cherry liqueur, and fig newton hints at the edges alongside a suggestion of flowers. So much being held in reserve still, and this I think will explode with air in a decanter. On the palate, vanilla pod from the nose comes through on the entry, and leads to creamy, sweet purple fruit, with more melted fig, black licorice, and a bit of charred sage, all finishing with baker’s chocolate and dried lavender. This will continue to evolve for another decade and a half.
Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville BDX 2012
Lifted aromas of cedar, sandalwood, cigar humidor, tobacco leaf, melted black licorice, currant, and coffee are complex, layered, and beautiful. On the palate, this still-young wine is rich with cafe mocha, dark-cherry-filled ganache, blackberry, sandalwood, incense, a hint of purple flowers, pencil led, a bit of smoke, and a serious seam of minerality. This is a true testament to the magic that Mondavi can weave, and that To-Kalon Vineyard passes along so effortlessly. (80% of the fruit is from that famed vineyard.) Drink it now or hold onto it for another decade-plus.