TIM MONDAVI RESPONDS TO THE WINE DICTATOR
A Letter to Weimax:
August 1, 2001
Weimax Wines & Spirits
Burlingame, CA 94010
Thanks so much for your letter of July 3. I am delighted that my
family and I have support from many lovers of wine, both professionally
and personally. We have received an out-pouring of support for
strong advocates of the quality and style of our wine. It seems,
however, there is a small number of powerful wine writers who praise
wines that stand out in competitive tastings as contrast with
encouraging wines that enhance a meal. I am heartened to know that
many other wine writers and wine lovers share a broader perspective of
My family and I pledge to you our on-going commitment to excellence and
continual improvement with the premise as you have said that the best
wine has yet to be made and enjoyed. The greatest of all wines
should reflect their origin, vintage and to be able to improve with time
in the bottle for the purpose of enhancing the pleasure and interest of
a meal. A wine's enjoyment during the course of a meal should
allow the diner time to see the wine reveal itself more
completely. First, it is closed and perhaps dusty. With air
and time it opens, revealing sweetness of fragrance and generosity of
palate. With extended time in the glass, it may reveal delicate,
yet less powerful notes. Hugh Johnson says this unfolding of wine
in a glass is a fascinating journey that a meal setting allows. It
is unfortunate that a line-up of many wines in a "competitive"
tasting will not reveal this evolution. It is also unfortunate
that many wine writers may act like play critics who only see the first
part of the second act of a four-act play. Hardly a base from
which to make a universal judgement about any wine or play.
I have enclosed for your interest my letter to the Wine Spectator in
response to Jim Laube's article on our 'style'.
Again, I appreciate your thoughtful letter and wish you the enjoyment of
many more great wines.
Timothy J. Mondavi
Vice Chairman and Winegrower
THE LETTER TO THE DICTATORS:
|July 12, 2001
While I was disappointed to see Jim Laube's
column in the July 31 issue, I know that it was written with sincerity
and consideration, so I wanted to respond in the same spirit. For
more than 30 years, my family has traveled the world exchanging ideas
about wine, not just as a beverage and an essential complement to meals,
but as a personal passion. This global perspective, enhanced by
the invaluable opportunity to work with distinguished wine families in
France, Italy, Chile and most recently Australia, has broadened our
understanding of wine and deepened our views about what constitutes
excellence in the great wine regions of the world. At home in
California, we have always pursued wines that reflect the richness and
ripeness of our climate while adding the dimensions of elegance and
finesse that we associate with the great wines of the world.
Over the years, Jim and I have listened to each
other's point of view and often disagreed on the subject of a particular
style for our wines. Our appreciation for terroir has
taught us that style is a diverse as God's green earth and the people
who interpret it. I believe there is room for more than one style
in California, and I applaud a diversity of styles, including those
favored by Robert Parker, Jim Laube and many other wine writers and wine
producers. At Robert Mondavi, our artistic direction embraces
natural winegrowing to create classic wines of harmony, complexity,
depth and elegance that enhance a meal and age gracefully. We
strive to grow wines that are genuine reflections of the terroir
and vintage in which they are grown.
I am concerned, however, that while global wine
quality has improved tremendously, there appears to be a current trend
toward aggressively overripe, high in alcohol, over oaked wines that are
designed to stand out at a huge tasting, rather than fulfill the more
appropriate purpose of enhancing a meal. Hugh Johnson said that
great wines have many layers that reveal themselves progressively, and
our aim is to produce wines that do just that.
Our family, now in our third generation, has
always been committed to constant improvement and innovation. We
are proud to have helped lead the quality evolution in California
winemaking by incorporating such practices as high-density planting,
gentle handling from harvest through the cellar, and bottling wines
without filtration. Our new To Kalon project is another
illustration of that commitment. We led the California industry
toward stainless steel fermentation in the mid-60's -- it was the right
move for that time. Our recent renovation to embrace oak
fermentation was made after many years of research prompted by our
continuing desire to naturally deepen the richness, complexity and
interest of our Cabernets.
I believe wine is art, and as such,
subjective. That it often inspires debate is part of its
excitement. It is not essential that Jim and I agree, but I hope
we can keep the respectful dialogue going for many years to come.
What is essential for me is that the quality and style of our wines
continue to grow and achieve our main purpose--to add grace to our
tables and zest to our lives. I am very proud of the wines our
team has made and invite your readers to evaluate our wines on their own
Wishing you many more great wines,
Just for comparison...
Beringer, another large, multi-winery "family" of wines, was not taken
to task by Mr. Laube.
Here's how similar wines stack up in Dictator ratings:
MONDAVI Rating in The Spectator
Rating in the Spectator
|1996 Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
Both Wines priced at $100
Rich and complex yet restrained in style, with
pretty coffee, currant, black cherry, spice and anise flavors that fan
out nicely, this California Cabernet turns particularly elegant and
polished on the long finish. Drink now through 2007.
This is an outstanding wine, ripe and intense,
with firm layers of earthy currant, anise, black cherry and plummy
flavors framed by tight tannins and spicy, cedary oak notes. Best from
2002 through 2010.
|1998 Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay
Both wines priced at $36
Offers enough fruit depth and purity to merit a
very good rating, but the pear and citrus flavors are muted, even a
touch flat on the finish. Not as great as this wine can be. Drink now.
Tasted twice, with consistent notes.
Elegant, even understated, with a pretty core of
hazelnut, ripe pear and citrus notes, if a bit shy on complexity and
concentration. Drink now. Tasted twice, with consistent notes
Mondavi's Carneros was $35,
Beringer's "Howell Mountain" bottling cost $75.
Weaves together a supple, complex array of earthy
currant, black cherry, herb, anise, tar and cedar, fanning out on the
finish, revealing depth and nuance. Drink now through 2005.
Supple and well proportioned, with earthy
currant, cedar, spice, coffee and anise flavors, turning elegant and
polished on the finish. Drink now through 2006.
|1998 Sauvignon Blanc
Mondavi's "regular" Napa Valley bottling cost $16, Beringer's
went for $12.
A short hit of tangerine and lime quickly fades.
Good richness, dominated by buttery oak overtones
and butterscotch flavors, with a hint of citrus. Drink now.
|2000 Vintage Barrel sample of CABERNET
Mondavi's is a Napa Valley "To Kalon" wine.
Beringer's is from the Howell Mountain "Bancroft Ranch."
"A big, ripe, rich style, with juicy currant,
black cherry and plum interwoven with herb, olive, sage and spicy,
toasty, cedary oak. Long, intense finish."
Isn't this a curious description given the
"Firm and tightly focused, with a solid core
of currant, pencil lead and earthy black cherry flavors, finishing with
raw, clamped-down tannins."
|1997 "regular" bottlings of CABERNET
Mondavi's Napa Valley was released at $29, while Beringer's Knight's
Valley bottling cost $25.
Chunky and firmly tannic, but it packs in lots of
ripe, chewy Cabernet character, with currant, anise, cedar and berry.
Tightens on the finish. Best from 2001 through 2008.
Complex, with tasty currant, black cherry, mocha,
vanilla and nutmeg flavors that are rich and deep, showing concentration
and focus. Best from 2001 through 2009.
|1997 CARNEROS PINOT NOIR
Mondavi's was released at $30, Beringer's single vineyard "Stanly
Ranch" was sold for $30.
Smooth, ripe and juicy, with pretty black cherry,
wild berry, herb, sage and spice, finishing with a complex interplay of
flavors. Best from 2000 through 2006.
Gaining mature Pinot flavors and softening, with
ripe, complex, earthy plum and dried cherry, and a touch of anise and
raisin in the background. Finishes with rustic tannins. Good focus and
appealing flavors. Drink now through 2004.
We feel, of course, you should trust your own palate.
It is unfortunate the wine industry, which often complains of the
"power" certain wine critics have on sales, often adds credibility to
these writers by featuring their ratings to sell certain wines.
A wonderful article on Robert Parker cited the results of a "test" by
a shop in Los Angeles. Two stacks of Chardonnays were set up, each with
the numerical rating and a description of the wines by the critic. The
higher-scoring wine out-sold the other by 9-1. When the numerical scores
were removed and just the descriptions were posted the wines sold at a 5-5