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Wine of the Week

Marvelous Mondavi

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:

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

Appellation: Oakville

Region: California

Country: USA

Price: $75

Availability: Only at the winery and website


Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town & Country, the Robb Report, Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently artisanal editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes a twice monthly column to He is also a judge at the annual Critics’ Challenge wine competition.

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