Father Knows Best

It’s time to raise a toast to dear old Dad. What better wine to serve than a selection from “the father of American wine,” Robert Mondavi?

Mondavi, who died in 2008, spent a lifetime creating California wines that could compete with those of France. His technical innovations, varietal labeling campaign and global marketing strategies elevated the Napa Valley appellation to the fine wine status it enjoys today. And it all started with Cabernet Sauvignon …

Mondavi’s famed Cab is consistently one of the best wines to come out of Napa, the varietal that built his reputation. Comprised of grapes grown in Mondavi’s To Kalon and Wappo vineyards, this classic is 87 percent Cabernet Sauvignon blended with a splash of Merlot and a dash of Cabernet Franc. An inviting aroma of ripe cherries and cocoa leads to a flavor of cherries, blackberries and plums with a kick of oak spice on the long finish. Moderate to firm tannins stand up to steak and other grilled meats.

If Dad’s more of a seafood guy, serve Mondavi’s signature Fumé Blanc. Zesty lemon, lime and orange flavors with a touch of peach and pineapple pair well with lobster, garlicky shrimp or smoked trout. Fumé Blanc — Mondavi’s 1960s reinvention of Sauvignon Blanc from a nondescript sweet white into a crisp, dry oaked wine — is 90 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 10 percent Semillon, reminiscent of  Pouilly-Fumé, a popular dry style from France’s Loire Valley.

No matter what’s on the menu this Father’s Day, Mondavi varietals have it covered. Other good choices from this winery’s Napa Valley line include Pinot Noir, whose black cherry and plum flavor carries a hint of thyme, and Chardonnay, boasting a mix of pear and melon tastes with a touch of ginger. It’s all good.

Robert Mondavi wines are easy to find in Columbia, and run about $18 to $28. Inquire at your favorite local wine shop.

Golden Years

Robert Mondavi left a storied legacy in Napa Valley. Born in Minnesota to Italian immigrants, Mondavi grew up in Lodi, Calif., working in the family grape-packing business. After earning an economics degree from Stanford, he joined his father and brother in the 1943 acquisition of the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. A feud with brother Peter over the business direction of the winery led him to leave Krug in 1965; in 1966, he purchased the historic To Kalon vineyard in Oakville and founded his namesake winery with his sons. Mondavi developed a reputation for premium California wines, later branching out on both ends of the spectrum with Opus One — an expensive Bordeaux blend produced in a joint venture with Baron Philippe de Rothschild — and Woodbridge — an affordable collection of wines produced in Lodi. Five months after his death in 2008, the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science opened at the University of California-Davis.

The Robert Mondavi Winery celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a party next month at the Oakville winery and the release of Maestro, a Bordeaux blend. This special edition features a harmonious mingling of Merlot with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec for a taste of dark berries and plums with traces of nutmeg and cardamom. At $50 a bottle, Maestro will roll out on a limited basis this year; check availability at www.robertmondaviwinery.com.

Robert MondaviRobert Mondavi Winery
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