Posted: Aug 12, 2018
by Andrew Chalk
Very well thanks, and have been since before man landed on the moon. Judging from a vertical tasting of their Vintage Selection line currently touring the U.S.
A who’s who of the Dallas trade packed Al Biernat’s Steakhouse in Dallas one lunch time for the tasting which, for many, will be a highlight of the year (similar events are being held in New York City and Napa).
The wines tasted were the 2016, 2015, 2003, 1998, 1991, 1983, 1974, 1966, and 1964. In other words, some of these wines were so old that they have never seen a cell phone.
None other than Peter Mondavi, Jr. and his daughter, Riana Mondavi, led the tasting.
The striking thing was how well the older wines, even those that predated the 1969 first moon landing, had aged. The 1964 (45% To-Kalon) and 1966 (88% To-Kalon) both had lively fruit and a resolution of wood and grape that explains the public’s persevering love for Cabernet Sauvignon. At the other end of the scale, the barrel sample 2016 (projected release date 2019) and the 2015 (bottled but not to be released until this Fall) had the same soft, sweet tannins, forward sharply defined blue and red fruit, and new French oak phenolics that typify expensive Napa Cabernet Sauvignon today.
The middle ground, 1974 to 2003, is where most drinkers are likely to find the most sensory rewards. They are fully mature, resolved wines without signs of thinning fruit. The 1974, in particular, lives up to that vintage’s promise. It is almost youthful in its structure, yet complex in its flavors. Unbelievably, forty-four years old.
It is important to ponder on the viticultural and oenological changes that took place over the half century spanning these vintages. In 1964 (and until the 1980s) the vineyards were dry-farmed. Some growers believe this produced wines with a different character as roots dug deeper in search of moisture and traversed different mineral layers. Also, Charles Krug dodged the 1980s phylloxera bullet thanks to Peter Sr.’s skepticism about AXR1. He asked U.C. Davis faculty if they could guarantee the phylloxera resistance of this rootstock and they demurred. He planted on St. George rootstock and did not lose a single vine. Winery founder Cesare Mondavi would have been proud of him.
The organoleptic path from 1964 to 2016 seems so vast I wonder if the latter wine will evolve down the same path as the former. It is certainly going to be fun finding out.
By Andrew Chalk
August 12, 2018
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