New Releases from the Michael Mondavi Family

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Michael, Dina, Rob and Isabel Mondavi
Admit it: Even though you know quite a bit about wine brands, you’re confused by all the Mondavi names in the market.

The Mondavi name carries more weight than any other domestic producer, but understanding how various Mondavi wineries and brands fit together these days is tricky. But after sitting down with Michael, Rob and Dina Mondavi for dinner at Sorrelina in Boston last night I feel I’ve got a better handle on the situation.

Let me try to relay the most useful condensed version I can…

Robert Mondavi sold his eponymous publicly held Robert Mondavi Winery to Constellation Brands in 2004. Robert Mondavi had 2 sons: Michael and Timothy. Timothy and Michael now have their own wineries. Timothy has Continuum. Michael has the Michael Mondavi Family Winery.

The Michael Mondavi Family Winery includes these brands:
  • M by Michael Mondavi (their flagship wine, the Cabernet sells for $199)
  • Animo (a new Cabernet label that’s launching this spring in the $85 range)
  • Emblem (a more affordable line of Cabernets in the $35-$60 range)
  • Isabel Mondavi (Isabel is Michael’s wife; rose, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay are in the Isabel line)
Here’s a Mondavi family tree to orient yourself:
Mondavi Family Tree (click to enlarge)
I met with Michael, his son Rob, and his daughter Dina so we tasted through wines in the Michael Mondavi Family Winery portfolio. You can of course still purchase wines from the Robert Mondavi Winery (and they’re very good). I haven’t had a chance to explore Timothy’s wines. But in tasting through the Michael Mondavi wines I was impressed with their balance, elegance and pure drinking enjoyment.

Sorellina is an upscale modern Italian restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay. This was my second time dining there and each time I've been struck with how serene the restaurant is. It gets lively when the restaurant is filled with customers but the ambiance is decidedly tranquil, refined and polished - yet comfortable and inviting at the same time.

Isabel Mondavi

We started off with the 2013 Isabel Mondavi Deep Rosé ($20) which I thought it was spectacular. Radiant light magenta in color and served at what I thought was the perfect temperature for this wine. Not so cold that it’s qualities aren’t discernible and not so warm as to lose its refreshing edge. It was produced using the saignée method which reminded me of this rosé favorite. An amazing depth of flavor. 13.2% alcohol. 7g of residual sugar. Fantastic stuff.
Burrata with Isabel Mondavi wines:
Deep Rosé, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
I went with the Burrata for a starter: Soft curd mozzarella, black mission fig marmellata, and La Quercia prosciutto which was served with the Isabel Mondavi Chardonnay ($30) and Pinot Noir ($40) in massive Nachtmann by Riedel Burgundy glasses (find them on Amazon here). I mention it because it was actually quite striking experiencing these wines in this stemware. Such a huge opening into what looked like an ocean of wine.
Massive Nachtmann by Riedel Burgundy stemware
The Carneros Pinot Noir was a flavorful and spicy rendition, but it was served too warm for my taste for California Pinot Noir which made it harder to enjoy. I like Pinot at around 60F and this was solidly at “room” temperature which was probably around 72F. Rob agreed and asked for some to be chilled for closer inspection.

I gave the restaurant a pass on this saying “how many temperatures do we expect restaurants to keep wine at?”. We’d be tasting rose, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernets over the course of the evening. I think Cabernet can show well at higher temperatures than Pinot Noir - do we expect restaurants to dial it in for each grape variety? ABSOLUTELY was the answer from the group and I can see where they’re coming from: They want their wines to show their best and that means perfect presentation. Especially at $200 (retail) for their top wines I think consumers do deserve things to be perfect.

I don’t want to belabor the point but I thought it was an interesting aside. All of the other wines were served at what I thought was the perfect temperature and overall wine presentation and service was outstanding.

The Chardonnay was terrific. Once again, I always seem to enjoy California Chardonnay in a fine dining experience like this one whereas at home I rarely buy it and when I do I seem to have a tough time with it. Especially, ironically, at higher price points. This wine was a brilliant light golden color and had a touch of some of my favorite characteristics for California Chardonnay: Golden delicious apple, a light touch lemon curd, and just a hint of drawn butter in the background. I paired tremendously well with Sorrelina’s Lobster Gnocchi - one of their signature dishes.


The Emblem line is near and dear to Rob’s heart, having had a hand in crafting its oenological characteristics as well as its brand identity. At $35-$60 the Emblem wines are designed to be more approachable (financially and stylistically) than the M by Michael Mondavi wines. Both wines served were 2011s so I asked Rob what he thought of consumers taking a “pass” on tough vintages like 2011 Napa. He suggested this wasn’t a sound approach and as consumers we’d be missing out on some terrific wines if we completely ignored certain less-heralded vintages.

This is certainly true, but I countered that as consumers it’s often easier to avoid costly mistakes by blindly buying in good vintages and bad. I think the net of this, for me, is to continue to buy from trusted producers in less heralded vintages. If I’m going to experiment with a  new producer I’d rather do it in a strong vintage because if the wine is “so so” from a strong vintage I’ll feel more comfortable moving on. If I buy from a producer I’ve heard good things about in a weak vintage and the wine doesn’t impress me, I’d be left wondering if it was the vintage and might be tempted to buy more “just to be sure”. If the wine again failed to impress from a stronger vintage I’d probably be mildly miffed with the winery and wonder why they’re so highly regarded.
2011 Emblem Napa Valley and Oso Vineyard Cabernets
The $35 2011 Emblem Napa Valley Cabernet was solid. And the $60 2011 Emblem Oso Vineyard Cabernet was outstanding. Emblem’s Oso Vineyard (Oso is Spanish for bear but you knew that from watching Specal Agent Oso on Disney Junior) is planted at an elevation of 1,250 feet between Sugarloaf and Howell Mountain. Pourous soil with high draining stresses the vines and develops grapes with intense flavors. The wine features polished fruit aromas backed by gorgeous supporting savory notes.
Michael Mondavi Family Winery's Oso Vineyard
Just 1,000 cases of the Emblem Oso were produced (vs. 6,000 of Emblem Napa Valley). The pricing on these two were, for me, aligned with quality. If I could find the Oso south of $55 at retail I’d definitely buy a couple bottles.

For my entrée I went with the Veal Saltimbocca which, although well prepared, was rather one-dimensional. That’s okay though - it gave me a chance to focus on the Animo and M by Michael Mondavi wines!


Animo Vineyard - fruit source for Animo
and M by Michael Mondavi
The 2010 Animo Cabernet Sauvignon took it to the next level beyond even the outstanding Emblem Oso Vineyard. The Animo vineyard sits atop Atlas Peak and was named by Dina for its animo - Italian for spirit or soul. The grapes (83% Cabernet, 17% Petit Verdot) are hand-harvested, de-stemmed, crushed, and cold soaked for four days prior to fermentation in stainless steel. After fermentation, lots macerate on the skins for 28-35 days. The wine is aged for 20 months in 87% new French oak. 14.2% alcohol. The result is an inviting wine with sleek, polished red fruit. Classy and approachable. Exactly what Napa Cab should be. This would compete well with that strata of wines just above appellation offerings from Cakebread/Caymus/Silver Oak. Really nice. Definitely my wine of the night.

M by Michael Mondavi

The 2009 M by Michael Mondavi is their flagship wine. At $199 it competes with the Shafer Hillsides and Opus Ones of the world. Here, Michael is more hands on with assistance from Rob and Tony Coltrin selecting grapes from choice blocks within the Animo vineyard. The aim is to select fruit with rich flavors, ripe tannins, and balanced acidity in order to “craft a Cabernet Sauvignon of unmatched richness, elegance, and harmony” similar to the great Mondavi wines Michael produed in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. 22 months in 87% new French oak. It’s a classy wine no doubt but for now, for me, the Animo was a more enjoyable experience. But the M is built to age so we’ll see in 5-10 years?

We finished the evening with a surprise: A 1986 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. At just 12.5% with 28 years of age the wine was still showing well, if a bit mousy and flat. I’m not big on Napa Cabs with this much age. Although it’s always fun to try high quality wines with this much age, especially one that was just 12.5% alcohol, I like to enjoy premium Napa Cabs with around 8 years of age.

Conclusion and Recommendations

"I've always wanted to improve on the idea of living well. In moderation, wine is good for you - mentally, physically, and spiritually." -Robert Mondavi
The Michael Mondavi Family Winery is successfully carrying on in the direction and style Robert Mondavi established. The Michael Mondavi Winery is truly a family winery, run by passionate people with a line-up worth exploring.

Recommended wines:
Check ‘em out:
Michael Mondavi Family Winery

Related Reading:
Question of the Day: Have you tried wines from the Michael Mondavi Family? If so which would you recommend?


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