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TIM MONDAVI RESPONDS TO THE WINE DICTATOR


A Letter to Weimax:

August 1, 2001


Gerald Weisl
Weimax Wines & Spirits
1178 Broadway
Burlingame, CA 94010

Dear Gerald,

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 wines' role.

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.

Sincerely,

Timothy J. Mondavi
Vice Chairman and Winegrower



THE LETTER TO THE DICTATORS:

July 12, 2001

Dear Editor:
     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 terms.  

     Wishing you many more great wines,

Sincerely,          

Timothy J. Mondavi          
Winegrower          
Robert Mondavi Winery          

 

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: 

WINES

MONDAVI Rating in The Spectator

BERINGER
Rating in the Spectator

1996 Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

Both Wines priced at $100
95
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.
90
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

87
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.

87
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
1996 MERLOT

Mondavi's Carneros was $35,
Beringer's "Howell Mountain" bottling cost $75.

88
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.

88
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.

82
A short hit of tangerine and lime quickly fades. Drink now.

85
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."

92-96 points
"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 Laube criticism?--gerald

92-96 points
"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 SAUVIGNON

Mondavi's Napa Valley was released at $29, while Beringer's Knight's Valley bottling cost $25.

89
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.

88
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.

88
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.

87
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 ratio!


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