No person is more important to the creation of the modern Californian (read American) wine industry than Robert Mondavi. He died in 2008 after an eventful life full of triumph, awards, and acclaim but also marred by setback and disappointments. Before his death, the company that bears his name was sold in 2005, after many tribulations, to the large conglomerate Constellation Brands (STZ).
Mondavi's widow, the dynamic and irrepressible Margrit Mondavi, a woman in her eighties, is still involved in the winery, however. Although her title is vice-president for cultural affairs, she also serves as ambassador for the famous brand. It was in this role that she charmed, informed, and entertained a group of diners in New York a few months ago as we tasted a range of the company's wines.
The standout wine of the evening was a rare and special treat, this week's Wine of the Week, the Robert Mondavi I Block 2007 Fumé Blanc ($75). It is a stunner—without a doubt the best New World sauvignon blanc I have ever tasted.
(A word of explanation here. Fumé blanc and sauvignon blanc are interchangeable names for the same varietal. The former was invented by Mondavi in the 1960s to circumvent the negative image the latter suffered at that time.)
The secret here is that it comes from 45-year-old vines in the famous To Kalon vineyard. (To Kalon is Greek for "most beautiful," a description given by H.W. Crabb, the man who established the first vineyard in Oakville, Calif., in 1868.) The age and the terroir, combined with sur lie aging (a French term that means the wine was aged "on the lees" of dead yeast cells that form after primary fermentation), result in a wine not only of refined elegance but also a subtle yet intensely focused minerality. This is a rare and special sauvignon blanc.
Please note the wine is available only from the winery and their website: www.robertmondaviwinery.com
When to Drink: Now
Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary
Food Pairing: Any fish or shellfish, mildly flavored pork and chicken; cream sauces
Grapes: 100 percent sauvignon blanc
Availability: Only at the winery and website