California Classic: 2000 Mondavi Reserve

Posted by CrushWine

There is no doubt that Robert Mondavi changed the American wine psyche and in the process became one of the wine world's most powerful and controversial figures. His life, and the rise and fall of his empire, is a drama fit for the big screen. (Indeed, we're pretty sure the rights to the movie have been sold.)

That said, we're not really into the big egos and backdoor gossip. Instead, what we want to do is focus on what it was once all about: what's in the bottle. And this is where you really have to taste the wine in spite of, and irregardless of, any stereotypes or preconceived notions of what Mondavi is (or was), because the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a perfectly balanced and elegant Cali Cab that tips its hat to the greats of Bordeaux indulging in a silky finesse and even (gulp) enticing restraint!

At $68.53 - that's a discount of 30% - this quickly becomes one of the no-brainer buys of the season, a wine with real breed that one of those age-worthy Napa Cabs in the spirit of Togni, Mayacamas or even Dunn's Howell Mountain - though granted, it's softer and more supple even at this "young" age. Drink this Mondavi now and over the next decade while your Togni, Mayacamas and Dunn just begin to come into form!

The key here - the thrill here - is the balance! A great concentration and purity of fruit matched to a gently glowing acidity that provides a refreshing framework for what is, at the end of the day, a full, rich wine with plenty of mid-palate extract - sappy dark ripe fruits and suave layers of cassis, anise, dark earth, flowers and delicate hints of mint - exceptional length and class.

Unlike a lot of the scorching, monster-Cabs coming out of California these days, this is truly a stunning Cabernet for California "foodies" - a wine built to dance with the hearty, meaty dishes of summer: Skirt steak, hanger steak, flank steak, rib-eyes, prime ribs, fresh sirloin, tenderloin, chops and about anything else!

With the BBQ season just around the corner it seems an almost a sinister notion to consider putting a wine of this caliber on the gingham-covered picnic table, but you only live once, right? Such a gesture is basically guaranteed to drop jaws and take any fire-roasted meal to the next level. (Don't worry - we won't tell anyone what you really paid for the bottle!)

Tim Mondavi is famous for preferring wines of stylish calm - in fact he took some critical slings and arrows for his old-world style reds back in the day. Ironically, the 2000 growing season was a lean one, and therefore perfectly suited to crafting this satiny Cabernet. (See below for the vintage play-by-play.)

Mondavi is an off beat choice for us to be so excited about, no doubt. We usually have our heads buried in Burgundy, Champagne, the Piedmont or Germany and Austria. When we tasted the wine cynicism was rampant - for the most part we're a merry band of Winegeeks debating wine-esoterica: The merits and weaknesses of 96 red Burgs, the best producers in Friuli, the worst vineyard sites in Rudesheim. But as each of us tasted our faces went from boredom to intrigue.

Try for yourself, really: Pour this wine for your friends blind and listen as they guess left-bank Bordeaux, Napa mountain fruit or a Sonoma red from a top producer and vintage.

Most shops in the U.S. have this bottle at $90+, though frankly the quality of this wine is such that $100+ is a fair price. But let Spring spring and let Summer begin because we've just locked up a parcel of this wine that we can offer at only $68.53 - discounted nearly 30%!

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The 2000 Growing Season in Napa
California wine enthusiasts (including the Crush staff) will tell you point blank: The 2000 vintage was one of the trickier vintages in the last few years, no doubt. This is not one of those across-the-board blockbuster vintages that light the critics' hearts aflame.

The truth, however, is more complicated than a simple black-and-white, good-or-bad analysis. If you're looking for wines of subtlety and purity - with fruit and acidity all in an elegant and balanced framework, a more subdued vintage like 2000 is actually a strength.

Indeed, 2000 was a rare vintage in Napa which for the most part thrives on the consistency of its easy growing seasons. But like we have said time and time before, great winemakers are proven in the good but atypical years - and when a vintage suits the vision of the winemaker - well, watch out!

Napa in 2000 began with a good flowering that was followed by a cool June and an even cooler July and August. There was a short heat spike in September but then more cool weather and rain. Patience (and a healthy dose of courage) was needed.

Those who picked too early often did so in poor conditions that added insult to the injury of a lack of ideal ripeness. Tim Mondavi had a number of things going for him - prime vineyard sites and a certain financial cushion. While the vintage that rots away on the vines can absolutely destroy a small winery, an estate like Mondavi could afford to take some chances - in this case, it paid off.

For Mondavi, the fruit reached full ripeness, yet remained balanced, suave and stylish. Indeed, while one should probably be careful when buying 2000 Napa reds, it is a buy when it comes to Mondavi's better wines like the Reserve.