As I write this, standing on the desk near the computer are two bottles of Robert Mondavi Private Selection wines. Like the rest of the Mondavi Private Selection wines (there are 11 in all) the 2011 Meritage and the 2012 Chardonnay are solid, well-made, affordable ($11 SRP) wines from selected vineyards in California’s Central Coast, and they all display the bright fruit, insightful construction and immediate accessibility Mondavi wanted in his line of everyday wines.
It’s been a couple of days since the wrap-up of the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and there still is so much to write about, but today it’s all about Robert Mondavi.
June 18 was the 100th anniversary of Bob Mondavi’s birthday (that’s how he introduced himself in his outgoing, direct manner that reportedly was the bane of PR people) and it’s only proper to acknowledge his role in the American wine scene.
You can read elsewhere the lengthy bios about Robert Mondavi but here’s a quick review.
He was born in Virginia, Minn., to first-generation Italian immigrants Rosa and Cesare Mondavi, who in 1921 moved to Lodi, Cal., to raise their family.
In 1943 the family, at Robert’s urging, purchased the Charles Krug Winery where Robert and his brother Peter both worked after graduating college (Robert from Sanford, Peter from Univ. of Cal. – Davis).
Contention ran in the family. The two brothers disagreed – Peter opting for value-priced wines and Robert for wines as good as Europe’s best.
These competing visions eventually led to a family break-up and soon after Robert Mondavi founded the winery bearing his name.
Curiously, his two sons, Michael and Tim, eventually would split up for reasons similar to those dividing Robert and his brother Peter.
Robert Mondavi introduced many of what now are standard winemaking practices, including stainless steel tanks, cold fermentation and using French oak barrels to age wine. But Mondavi’s real strength was in his marketing skills, said Mondavi winemaker Rich Arnold, with whom I spoke in Aspen.
“When I got there, the winery was in transition, with Michael doing the winemaking but Robert was involved with all the blending decisions,” said Arnold, who started with the Mondavi family in 1974. “But his greatest skill was marketing.”
Among Mondavi’s notable decisions was renaming sauvignon blanc “Fumé Blanc,” reportedly because he felt “sauvignon” was too hard for Americans to pronounce and so they wouldn’t order the wine.
“He put the Fumé Blanc in clear bottles when the original frosted bottles weren’t available, and soon everyone was copying the idea of white wine in clear bottles,” Arnold said.
Mondavi passed away in 2008 at the age of 94, but his legacy continues, with his wife Margrit still involved with the winery.
“Margrit is the heart and soul of the winery,” said Rich Arnold. “We get her blessing with each vintage and each bottle.”
I think of that as I look at the two Private Selections wines next to me. It’s interesting to picture a link from those bottles to the legacy of Robert Mondavi, the man known as the Father of American Wine and most-responsible for showing California’s wine industry that affordable, world-class wines were within reach and that America would buy them.
I found this quote from Margrit in a story by Katie Key Bell on the Forbes website:
“He gave everybody advice. Bob’s ecumenical spirit: ‘the more good wine that comes out of Napa Valley the better it is for me.’ So he shared, he was generous, he was philanthropic and I believe that was his biggest contribution to Napa Valley. ” –Margrit Mondavi
ASPEN – It’s late on Day One of the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and it was a lovely day, thank you.
This is the 31st annual F&W Classic here in Glitter Gulch and this town puts on a terrific hoedown.
The $1,300 general admission tickets sold out early this year, a sign the economy has recovered a bit, although some cynics might point out that most of the better-heeled fans of the Classic weren’t much bothered by the R(recession)-word.
While many events are very-exclusive, with some of the top chefs doing private meals and wine- and food-related companies tossing invite-only parties, there are plenty of opps for everyone to enjoy great food and sample some of the world’s best wines, which can make for the “Gee, now where do I go?” dilemma so dear to all of our hearts.
As usual, my weekend began with listening to Chief Terroirist Paul Grieco of Hearth Restaurant in NYC disseminate on riesling, one of his (and mine) favorite topics.
It’s Grieco, you remember, who three years ago founded the Summer of Riesling, a movement to sway bars and restaurants to pour more riesling.
This year the focus is on German riesling and Grieco spoke at length (he pleaded, to no avail, to be allowed to go beyond the 45 minutes allotted him) about the transparency of riesling, of the grape’s ability to reflect it’s place of origin.
“The beauty of riesling is it’s transparency,” Grieco said, “while the greatest drawback to riesling is it’s transparency.”
Then it was off to the first of three Grand Tastings held Friday under the immense white tents now symbolic of the Classic.
A quick stroll up and down the line of wineries got me a sip of Henriot Champagne, a splash of Torre Muga 2006 Rioja and then a stop to chat with Ben Parsons, the talented winemaker and owner of The Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery in Denver.
And soon also to be in Texas, he said.
“I’m going to open another (urban) winery in Austin,” said Parsons. “It will be the same sort of urban winery and I’ll be getting some grapes from the Texas Hill Country.”
His immensely popular line of wines includes some lightly carbonated reds (syrah) and whites (rosé, moscato) in 6-ounce cans (serious wines in a not-so-serious presentation) as well as a series in glass.
Parsons’ 100th Monkey, a blend of cabernet franc, syrah, petite syrah and malbec, was especially smooth, luscious and well-balanced.
And then it was time for author and out-sized (in a good way) wine personality Mark Oldman, who each year adopts an alternate personality (at least he claims it’s an alternate personality) for the weekend of the Classic and this year he’s wearing bolero hat, white shirt and black scarf with a new (really new, like fresh from the gag store), caterpillar-sized handlebar mustache.
Yes, he’s channeling “Gaucho Marks” and talking about Argentina malbec.
His take-home message, he said, is “Malbec isn’t for curmudgeons. But if you are the type who into sensual pleasures, a good malbec is almost everything you need.”
And that’s only part of the day. Whew.
Saturday it all starts over. What a weekend, what a Classic.
Summer fun inevitably means friends getting together enjoying light meals and similar wines. So when a vegetarian friend announced a pool party built around the theme of spicy Mediterranean-based cuisine, the challenge was set.
Baba ganoush, hummus, tomato-and-jalapeño salsa, pita bread and lots of fresh veggies to slip into a yoghurt and dill dip. And spicy?
It’s not the searing hot of Thai or Vietnamese food but there were plenty of tongue and lip-warming spices and peppers to liven up the meal.
Thanks to having recently listened to Mark Oldman, author of “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, talk about pairing wines with hot and spicy food during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, I was ready for the challenge. Spicy food calls for a low-alcohol wine with little or no tannin, said Oldman, recommending sparkling wines and still whites (Reisling, Gewurztraminer, Torrontes) and lighter reds such as pinot noir and carmenere.
“You want something a little bit sweet or sweet seeming,” Oldman told his appreciative audience. “Think in the terms of heat. Not too much alcohol or tannins and certainly nothing too expensive.”
By coincidence, I had just opened a box of wines from the good folks at Montinore Estate, the Forest-Grove, Ore., winery of Rudy Marchesi and found a selection of white wines perfect for the evening. There’s a fascinating story behind how Marchesi, the grandson of Italian immigrants, took over Montinore and built it up using biodynamic farming techniques to one of the stellar bio vineyards in the Willamette Valley and on the Left Coast. There’s a fine story about Marchesi in the Portland Oregonian here.
Among his white wines are the 2010 Almost Dry Riesling ($14, SRP); 2009 Pinot Gris ($16) and the 2009 Riesling Sweet Reserve ($16). The last one, because of its high residual sugar level (75 grams per liter), is found on the Montinore website under the heading “Dessert Wines” although it’s not as sweet as many dessert-type wines which may.
Oldman’s suggestion was to match sweet or “sweet-seeming” wines with spicy food, the sweetness in the wines off-setting the spiciness in the food. But he cautioned a sweet wine can become undrinkable without sufficient acidity to balance all the residual sugar and clear the palate.
Both the Almost Dry Riesling, with its slightest touch of sweetness and a citrusy, Granny Smith apple fruitiness, and the Pinot Gris, with highlights of melon, pear and apple, stood up well to the assortment of tantalizing dishes. They both had the body and the finish to marry well with the meal and both bottles disappeared well before their time.
The Sweet Reserve, though, was the crowd’s favorite, both during the meal and for sipping later around the pool as the moon rose. Dessert wines, as was noted, can be tricky to pull off, but Montinore white-wine maker Stephen Webber has managed to capture the essence of white flowers with flavors of tropical fruit and orange peel, well balanced by enough acidity to sparkle on the palate.
The fact it’s only 9.7-percent alcohol (the Almost Dry Riesling is 11 percent) makes it driver-friendly, too.
ASPEN – The reporter’s notebook runneth over after the 29th annual Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen.
And for good reason, since this year’s Classic was much more exuberant than the 2010 version. Nothing wrong with 2010, of course, but many people still were hurting from the recession and with that there apparently was some reluctance to spend extravagantly, even when the spending was justified by years of hard work (or even better, great genes).
This year’s version, however, was vibrant and lively, once again nearly full of the joi de vivre that has long marked this week of celebrating great wine and food in Aspen.
Curiously, more than one person on the industry side of the market (meaning someone who makes, sells or markets wine) noted this year’s Classic attracted nearly twice as many industry people (about 3,200) as it did general consumers (around 1,800). These numbers haven’t been substantiated by anyone from Food & Wine but just walking through the Grand Tasting tents it appeared there were more booths this year than last highlighting distributors, wineries and spirits.
“It’s more like what the Classic used to be, an industry show before it turned into a wine-sippers get-together,” said one long-time (29 years) attendee and fine-wine distributor.Two things about that: Nothing wrong with the wine-sippers, since most of them are endlessly enthusiastic and pay big bucks (about $1,000 for the weekend) to rub elbows with top chefs and learn wine-speak from the pros.
Second, in the past few years, as the recession caused many wineries and distributors to scale back their attendance, an ever-growing number of spirits makers (vodka, brandy, whisky and other liquors) started paying more attention to the Classic, discovering the same people who spend money on fine wine also spend money on fine spirits.
“And those are the people who had the money even in the recession,” my friend said.
A few of the many highlights:
Joshua Wesson, founder of the Best Cellars wine chain (nothing over $20 last we checked) and the 2009 Wine Enthusiast magazine Retailer of the Year, kicking off the Classic Friday by touting himself as the “Iron Sommelier” and daring others to dethrone him during his raucously entertaining seminar.
His challengers included Master Sommelier and wine writer Mark Oldman; M.S. Laura DePasquale of Palm Bay International; and M.S.-in-training Vilma Mazaite of Aspen’s Little Nell.
The audience was the judge in this food-and-wine pairing competition and in the end it was locals’ favorite Mazaite becoming the newest Iron Sommelier, pairing a Rannato Ratti 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba with Mario Batali’s Orrechiette with Sweet Sausage and Broccoli.
Oldman, who adopted a fake mustache and several pounds of (faux) gold chains for his weekend costume as porn star Dirk Diggler from the movie “Boogie Nights,” later told his own seminar (“Beat the Heat: Wines for Hot and Spicy Food”) it was time to “drink like a burglar.”
In happens that Oldman, (his newest book is “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine”) was brought into the Bernie Madoff case to assess the value of Madoff’s wine cellar, as part of Madoff’s retribution to his clients.
Oldman also bid on, and won, some of Madoff’s wines and Oldman shared a couple of bottles with his Aspen audience.
“Only about 10 percent of his wines were good stuff,” Oldman said, holding up a bottle of the 2004 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc, straight from Madoff’s cellar, complete with the red FBI warning label.
“Drink bravely,” Oldman urged.
Spicy food calls for a low-alcohol wine with little or no tannin, said Oldman, recommending sparkling wines and still whites (Reisling, Gewurztraminer, Torrontes) and lighter reds such as pinot noir and carmenere.
“You want something a little bit sweet or sweet seeming,” Oldman said. “Think in the terms of heat. Not too much alcohol or tannins and certainly nothing too expensive.”
And finally, we all know about the underground Classic, including the lineup of exclusive parties and dinners that happen with little or no fanfare.
Finally, however, there really is a truly underground Classic.
Former Grand Valley winemaker Ben Parsons and his Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery, based in Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District, hosted a subterranean Wine at the Mine bash Saturday night at the Smuggler Mine, where in 1894 the world’s largest silver nugget (2,054 pounds) was found.
The unusual setting (hard hats a must) included great food and music, memorable tours of Aspen’s past glories and some of Parsons’ distinctive urban-winery wines, including a canned Black Muscat
Parsons, whose under-earthly delights party was loudly acclaimed as the best social event of the weekend, said the lightly carbonated Black Muscat in-a-can should be available in stores by September.
My last morning at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen was spent watching part of the Quickfire Cookoff between Rick Bayless of Frontera in Chicago and Michael Voltaggio of The Langham in Pasadena, Cal. and being entertained and educated by Riesling fan extraordinaire Paul Grieco.
This final morning of the Classic traditionally is the quietest of the three-day event, as many people are thinking about heading home while there also are plenty of Saturday-night hangovers being nursed.
Grieco is co-owner of Hearth restaurant and Terroir
wine bar in NYC and such a devoted fan of the Riesling he was sporting for the weekend a big, bold, black “Riesling” tattoo.
Grieco (rhymes with echo) offered a seminar called “Riesling: A World Tour,” and after three days of the Classic, a Sunday morning seminar is unlikely to be very crowded, as he noted.
“People are either too hungover to get up or are over at the St. Regis watching the show,” Grieco offered. “So that means you (in the audience) are either lost or in love with Riesling.
“I’ll be bold enough to presume it’s the latter.”
“Finesse, harmony, complexity, longevity, all these add up,” he said, running his hand through his unruly mane of black hair, flashing the big, bold “Riesling” printed on his forearm.
But it’s terroir, and the ability to communicate terroir, that makes a wine truly great, he said.
“What do I mean by terroir?” he asked. “It’s more than just the soil or the landscape or the weather. It’s a sense of place, it’s what you grow and where you grow it and even the history of the land.”
Riesling, said Grieco, speaks of place like no other grape.
“Riesling is the greatest grape and produces the greatest wines on the planet,” he said. “Riesling is totally transparent, it gives absolute voice to the place it’s grown.”
He was also wearing a T-shirt announcing “The Summer of Riesling,” a Riesling-phile program offered at his wine bar, Terroir. Thirty wines, all Rieslings and all by the glass, comprise the bar’s white-wine menu.
“No chardonnay, no pinot gris, no sauvignon blanc, just Riesling,” Grieco explained. “We want people to experience and get to know Riesling.”
The six Rieslings he had us sample during his 45-minute included the 2007 Von Kesselstatt Riesling Trocken Josephshofer from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region of Germany.
“The measure of greatness in a Riesling isn’t the level of sugar, it’s the acidity to give it balance,” Grieco said. “The area along the Mosel is the perfect place to create wines with that balance.”
He laughed about the tattoo on his forearm, and noted we, too, could have one.
“If you love Riesling as much as I do, you’d do this, too,” he said, lifting the arm for all to see. “And so I’ve given you all the opportunity to have a Riesling tattoo.”
It’s not a real tattoo, of course, but rather a temporary water-based mark, and there at our seats were similar wet-and-press-on tattoo kits.
In spite of the hour, and any remaining hangovers, very few of the audience left without their Riesling tattoo.
Other Rieslings in Paul Grieco’s “Riesling: A World Tour:”
– 2008 Johannes Hirsch Zobinger Heiligenstein Riesling, Kamptal, Austria
– 2005 Josmeyer Les Pierrets Riesling, Alsace, France
– 2007 Herman J. Wiemer Magdalena Vineyard Riesling, Finger Lakes, N.Y.
– 2006 Cave Spring Cellars CSV Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Can.
– 2009 Craggy Range Fletcher Family Vineyard Riesling, Marlborough, N.Z.