Everything Old is New Again … Or Did it Ever Change? 96+ pt. “Sumptuous, Beautifully Resonant Cabernet”

Posted on: 02/13/19 8:47 PM


There’s a lot to unpack in this bottle of wine – a virtual cornucopia of themes, histories, realities and ideas. You see this is the wine that started it all – the entire modern era of Napa Cabernet, and its story is the story of not only of the entire region of Napa, but in many senses, its story is that of all wine. Success, struggle, crises of identity, the role of critical press, ambition and ego all play out across its canvas. And because of that we can often lose sight of the wine itself, as it becomes symbolic of a trend, a moment in history, a cautionary tale or what have you.

But, as is so often the case, the truth is much more complex than the simple stories we tell ourselves.

Today, we are offering the 2015 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon vineyard. If this were 1985, I would not need to appeal to much of anything to get your attention and hope you buy the wine. That’s because in 1985 Robert Mondavi was one of the wine world’s elite, true royalty, who had almost single-handedly put Napa on the map, through a combination of guts, determination, passion and ambition.

Oh, and he made world class wine.

Moreover, he travelled the world and studied the great wines to make sure his wine was in the same league, of the same breed and caliber. And because he had a nose for quality, he sensed that Oakville was the finest place in Napa for Cabernet and that the To Kalon vineyard was the best of the best.

For decades the Mondavi Reserve Cabernet was the benchmark Napa Cab and many fine old bottles prove that not only was Mr. Mondavi correct in his suspicions, but that his success was warranted. In-fighting in the family and the temptation to expand doomed their success and eventually the winery slipped out of the family’s control and ended up under the umbrella of corporate behemoth Constellation Brands.

To be honest, there were a few vintages in the wilderness in the late 90s, but it’s hard not to see the through line to the Mondavi of old in today’s wines. The Reserve Cabernet is beautifully poised, with elegance, balance and depth distinct from many of its peers in Napa, just as in olden days. There is an Old World element of repose in this wine that sadly no longer seems popular in Napa, but was once all the rage.

The Mondavi winery knows this and they want to make this distinction central to their identity. A few weeks ago, myself and a colleague attended an all-day tasting focusing on putting Mondavi and specifically To Kalon in the context of the world’s greatest Cabernets. There were tasting trials placing Napa Cab against other regions, and the Oakville against other areas of Napa; there was a lengthy discussion of the qualities and terroir of To Kalon and a tasting putting it next to some serious heavyweights: Ch. Margaux, Penfolds 707, P. Hobbs Beckstoffer To Kalon and Shafer Hillside Select; finally, we tasted a vertical of Mondavi Reserve from 2005 to 1976.

What was clear was that this is indeed world-class wine. Moreover, the character, complexity and complexion of this wine was decidedly old school and definitely reminiscent of the Old World. It was also reminiscent of the Mondavi wines of old. Fancy that!

I’ve gone on long enough here. But I hope I’ve put this iconic wine in context. Yes, being owned by Constellation is not “sexy,” but corporate ownership doesn’t mean that quality has to suffer. In fact, it seems quite the opposite here, where a hands off approach has allowed an iconic American winery to flourish.

This is serious and delicious Napa Cabernet. I encourage you to revisit it. You might find that Robert Mondavi has changed your mind about what’s possible in the world of wine … again.

2015 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve To Kalon Vineyard

96+ points: “Mondavi’s Cabernet Sauvignon The Reserve To Kalon Vineyard is fabulous. Rich, powerful and voluptuous, the 2015 oozes with class from the very first taste. The flavors are deep, dark and boldly sketched in this sumptuous, beautifully resonant Cabernet. The tannins will need time to soften, but I can’t imagine readers opening bottles anytime soon. The 2015 Reserve is one of the very finest wines I have tasted from Robert Mondavi Winery.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous

96+ points: “Composed of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Reserve features a deep garnet-purple color and wonderfully expressive nose of creme de cassis, preserved plums and black forest cake with hints of cigar boxes, aniseed, dark chocolate and forest floor. Full-bodied, rich and concentrated in the mouth, the ripe, opulent black fruit is well supported by velvety tannins and plenty of freshness, finishing long and spicy.” Lisa Perotti-Brown, The Wine Advocate

Posted in Reserve List By Ian Halbert