I was delighted to attend a pop-up wine dinner held in a historical, stunningly renovated brownstone in Brooklyn, featuring up and coming winemaker Joe Harden, of Robert Mondavi winery and innovative chef Theo Friedman. The event was a sensory pleasing showcase of the modern approach Joe is applying to the historic Mondavi vision.
Emmy award winner, James Beard award recipient, author and television personality Ted Allen hosted the evening. Incredibly knowledgeable in both food and wine (and also the history of Brooklyn and its brownstones), Allen brought a graciousness and warmth to the entire event.
The legacy of Robert Mondavi is that of a man who put the Napa Valley wine region on the map. For over 40 years he pioneered sustainable viticulture and crafting high quality, approachable wines that express the terroir of Napa Valley. Today, Joe Harden is carrying forward his iconic vision.
A former professional basketball player, Harden grew up making wine with his father in a 30 acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. After obtaining a degree on oenology, he completed his training under renowned Mondavi winemaker Genevieve Janssens, learning the entire process from field to bottle in the To Kalon vineyard in Oakville, Napa Valley. Harden’s wine philosophy is to make the best quality wine that is balanced and food friendly. For a detailed account of Joe’s journey, click here.
Chef Theo Friedman of Theory Kitchen [a traveling, pop-up kitchen], has trained at The Musket Room, Gotham Bar and Grill and other prominent NYC restaurants. At only 24 years old, Friedman has been creating pop-up dining experiences since 2010; establishing a cult following of passionate eaters, providing him with the opportunity to cook in kitchens and pop-up spaces across the country. As I was the only vegetarian attending the event, he was kind enough to go out of his way to create an entire meat-free menu for me. To read more of about his fascinating career, visit theorykitchen.co
To begin the evening, we enjoyed two very different Fume Blancs [Robert Mondavi is actually the man responsible for the name Fume Blanc], both hailing from the legendary To Kalon [ancient Greek for “the highest beauty”] vineyard in Oakville. To Kalon is “ recognized as one of the finest first-growth vineyards of the world” and Joe Harden is a “ firm believer in the power of To Kalon”. Predominantly Bordeaux grapes are grown at To Kalon [Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah], these 2 Fume Blancs are the only white wines coming from this historic vineyard.
Robert Mondavi Winery ‘Oakville’ Fumé Blanc Oakville 2014
Winemaking: Grapes came from the To Kalon vineyard, specifically from the young vibrant up and coming Sauvignon blocks that aren’t quite up to the caliber of the reserve wine. Hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. 91% of the wine was fermented in 60 gallon French oak barrels, then barrel aged [8% new oak] on its lees for 8 months with hand stirring [bâtonnage] to integrate the flavours and develop its creamy texture.
Tasting Notes: Bright and fresh with citrus, herbs and a trace of floral accented by a streak of clean minerality, finishing crisp and fruity. Easy drinking, fantastic sipping on its own or easily paired with a wide variety of dishes. [It was wonderful with crispy maitakes with cured egg yolk and parsley ranch.]
79% Sauvignon Blanc, 21% Sémillon
$34 [average price]
Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Napa Valley 2014
Winemaking: Grapes were sourced from the iconic, dry farmed, Sauvignon Blanc vines planted in the 1960’s in To Kalon vineyard. Hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. Almost all of the juice was fermented in French oak [42% new], and then aged on its lees for 9 months and hand stirred [bâtonnage] twice weekly, for a creamy texture and to enhance the volume and length. A small amount of Sémillon was added to increase richness and body. Additionally, 2 egg shaped cement fermentation vessels were utilized to explore the purity of fruit that this process is known for, and added to the final blend.
Tasting Notes: Fresh pear, herbs and bright acidity fuse with soft, creamy lemon, whilst citrus zest and a streak of minerality comprise the lengthy finish. Elegant and rich, yet super easy drinking. [A perfect companion with the creamy, bright, chilled California avocado and English pea soup.]
98% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Sémillon
$52 [average price]
Robert Mondavi Winery ‘Maestro’ Napa Valley 2014
Winemaking: Maestro was created in commemoration of Mr. Mondavi. Upon the opening of the To Kalon cellar in 2000, Mr. Mondavi hired the Napa Valley Orchestra to perform, halfway though he grabbed the conductor’s baton and started conducting the orchestra. This led to a front page picture and headline calling him “The Maestro of Napa Valley”. Conceived as a free spirit, it’s a wine that allows the winemaker to explore and experiment, its not restricted by style or grape. The 2013 vintage is a red blend, whereas 2014 is mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, as it had a beautiful harvest that year. The 2014 was crafted to be approachable, soft yet dense, and to pair really well with food.
Grapes were sourced from the Wappo Hill vineyard in Stag’s Leap, along with To Kalon vineyard. Hand harvested and sorted in the gravity flow cellar. The clusters were destemmed directly into French oak tanks for cold soak, fermentation and extended maceration, a total of 24 days of wine to skin contact, serving to maximize the extraction of varietal character and complexity while keeping the tannins fleshy and supple. Next the wine was drained and pressed into 28% new French-oak barrels for malolactic fermentation, then aged for 21 months.
Tasting Notes: Vibrant, concentrated jammy fruit [think blueberry, plum, black cherry] vanilla and baking spice supported by velvety tannins. A dessert-like finish, with pink peppercorn dusted Grenache, coffee and toasted oak lingering decadently between each sip. [ A fantastic foil to the wonderfully fresh, pungent ramp pasta.]
73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot
$46 [average price]
Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Napa Valley 2014
Winemaking: The reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine that met a lot to Mr. Mondavi, “a wine he hung his hat on”. He crafted it with the intention that it be “enjoy with food and friends and family”. Today it is known as a reflection of his philosophy on winemaking, creating wines that are powerful yet gentle. [Joe provided us with my favourite quote of the evening, stating that Mr. Mondavi said: “I want my reserve Cab to be as soft as a baby’s bottom and have the power of the voice of Pavarotti”. The “First Growth” grapes form the finest blocks in To Kalon vineyard provides the wine with natural structure, acidity and power.
Hand harvested grapes spent 34 days fermenting and extended maceration in French oak tanks. The wine was then pressed and underwent malolactic fermentation in 100% new French oak barrels. The final blend spent 21 months in oak barrels, and was bottled in August 2016. Consistently being tasted to monitor its development, it is looking as though the wine will be released this October.
Indeed, my favourite wine of the evening, it is exudes elegance and power, well structured and perfectly balanced.
Tasting Notes: Food friendly acidity and well integrated oak accent fresh, ripe berries, crushed pink peppercorn and herbaceous elements. Silky smooth tannins, vanilla, chocolate and a trace of menthol linger on the lengthy, plush finish. Elegance along with a strapping, robust gentility in every sip. [Wonderful with grilled portabello covered in cocoa and malt glaze.]
93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot
Currently not released [$165 Suggested Retail Price]
Robert Mondavi Winery Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis Napa Valley 2002
Winemaking: With the dry climate in Napa Valley, the humid conditions necessary for botrytis or noble rot [the concentrating of sugars and flavour by allowing the grapes to shrivel or raisin] to develop need to be created. Following the regular harvest, select grapes are left on the vines for noble rot. Sprinklers are used at night in order to increase the humidity, with harvest taking place in November. Grapes were sourced from the Wappo Hill vineyard in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District AVA. Fermented for 2 months in French oak barrels [13% new], then aged on its lees and hand stirred once a month for 19 months.
2002 is the last year the Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis was made since the conditions haven’t been right. Joe stated that they are hoping this year they will have the opportunity for a 2017 vintage.
Tasting Notes: Fresh and vibrant with a bright acidity balancing the sweetness. Honey drizzled orange, lemon and apples fuse into lingering buttery croissant and candied orange notes. Sweet and vibrant, delicious on its own or a wonderful pairing with all types of deserts, from rich cheeses to decadent chocolate. [A great pairing with mild to stinky cheeses, dried apricot and clove preserve, and roasted nuts.]
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$100 [average price]
Media event hosted by Robert Monday Winery.