10 Vintages of Robert Mondavi

Tim's Wine Market

Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – Tasting

Last week I had the privilege of sitting on a panel tasting of ten vintages of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  The tasting took place at the Bull & Bear Restaurant at the newly opened Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  This tasting was only attended by industry professionals and joining me on the panel were Master Sommeliers Eric Hemer and George Miliotes, as well as Robert Mondavi winemaker Gustavo Gonzales.

All of the wines presented were served from 750 ml bottles direct from the Mondavi cellars.Overall this was a very interesting tasting.  Unlike so many marquee wines that have changed style to agree with the tastes of critics, the Mondavi’s and their succeeding winemakers have maintained a commitment to making balanced, ageworthy wines.  Gustavo, the current winemaker has made some changes to the structural elements but the general style remains the same.  MS George Miliotes summed this up best with the phrase, “power without flash,”  which is definitely a recurring theme across not just the ten years of this tasting but also in wines I have seen from this property dating back to 1972.1996 – Beginning to show it’s age.

The 1996 showed the most intensely green bell pepper aromas, complicated with hints of coffee grounds and tarragon.  In the mouth the wine was compact and bordered on shrill as the acidity and tannins overwhelmed the modest fruit. 78/1001997 – My 2nd favorite, may have been #1 in general voting.  Mostly cherry cordial, spearmint, anise and espresso in the nose; fruit was dominant and polished, with obvious but integrated acidity and tannins.  This one can probably go another five years. 94/1001998 – Showing signs of age.  Here the aromatics were higher pitched; fresh cherries, coffee grounds, tarragon and roasted green peppers.  Fruit was apparent but fading with well integrated acidity and tannins.  This wine is probably a year past it’s peak and certainly no star, but not disappointing given the vintage. 82/1001999 – Give it time.  Most obvious barrel aromas of the oldest wines; cherry cordial, allspice, clove, toasted nuts and fresh picked mint.  Broad sense of fruit framed by vibrant acidity and well integrated but obvious tannins.  Needs another five years, maybe more.  91/1002000 – Surprise of the vintage, my #1 pick.

I have found in several retrospective tastings including Caymus Special Select, Beringer Private Reserve and Silverado Limited Edition that this vintage consistently shines even after derided by critics.  This is also the first vintage where the wine underwent alcoholic fermentation in upright oak tanks, a Tim Mondavi improvement to the winery still used today.  Exotic nose of cherry confit, sea foam, Thai basil and a slight touch of wild mushroom that hints to a little brett.  Broad shouldered sense of fruit with plenty of barrel notes; caramel, milk chocolate and allspice.  Well integrated acidity and lightly intrusive tannins with a faint basil note at the finish.  Really good now, may improve for the next two to three years. 95/1002001 – The end of an era.  Not the last Mondavi made wine but this one represents the last of the lighter, more elegant style.  Fruit is riper in the nose; black cherry, mocha, Thai basil and Kenya AA coffee.  Dense and broad in the mouth with barrel character wrapping up the fruit and forceful, muscular tannins but modest acidity.  This one needs at least five years.  90/1002002 – Typically brooding.  I always liked the size of the wines from this vintage but retrospective tastings are showing the wines are slow to evolve.  Here the fruit came across almost cooked, with cherries and blackberries also dominated by barrel notes of anise, clove and juniper.  In the mouth this wine displays big, almost ponderous fruit framed by firm, imposing tannins and soft acidity. 

I question if the tannins will soften enough before the fruit falls off. 88/1002003 – A triumph in a tough vintage.  I would have almost expected this and the 2002 glass to have been switched.  This wine showed a sweet, floral quality to the nose with overt raspberry and cherry jam complicated with notes of double strength vanilla, allspice and fennel seed.  In the mouth the wine was very dense and concentrated with obvious tannins buffering the solid core of fruit.  Give this wine at least five more years. 91/1002004 – The beginning of the modern era.  Gustavo’s first vintage (I think) this wine shows a subtle but obvious change in style.  A higher percentage of fruit from the To-Kalon vineyard is used in the blend as well as more Cabernet Franc.  The result is a wine that shifts from garnet to purple hues (also due to young age) with cherry cordial, red plum, blackberry and Thai basil notes dominating the aroma.  In the mouth the tannins are big and obvious but well rounded, with the sweet fruit framed by more obvious acidity.  This wine will probably age at least a decade. 92/1002005 – The fun girl comes to the dance.  I have always liked the precocious nature of this vintage even if the wines won’t be as long lived.  Enticing nose of very ripe cherries, cooked red plums and black currants wrapped by barrel notes of vanilla, allspice, clove and mocha.  The big mass of up-front fruit is lifted by a lively sense of a fresh acidity and then framed with some pretty firm and obvious tannins. 

This may be one of the longer lived 05s I have tasted, give it ten years. 92/1002006 – One for the ages.  Color again shifts to purple and is almost opaque.  Big nose of cooked black cherries, black currants, blackberries, fresh fennel, dark chocolate and allspice.  In the mouth this wine shows the power of the vintage; a massive sense of fruit veiled by a firm sense of tannins that rise quickly.  This wine also has a great sense of acidity that keeps the whole thing from coming off too dense.  This one needs at least a decade, it may go twenty years. 93/100.