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Susan's tasting notes and food pairings
By Susan Reynolds

When I told my friend, Isaac, that I was doing a tasting of the Mondavi Private Selection, his eyes lit up. “I love those wines,” he said. “They are wines I can afford and never be embarrassed to take to a dinner party.”

Indeed, the “affordable elegance” is a big part of the branding for Mondavi Private Selection (the price point is around $12), but an equally important feature is the ease with which the wines pair with food. Below are my tasting notes and pairing ideas for the seven wines from the Robert Mondavi Private Selection (PS):

2007 Pinot Grigio Composition: 84 percent Pinot Gris, 10 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 3 percent Gewurztraminer, 2 percent White Riesling, 1 percent Semillon

Viticulture: 100 percent of the grapes came from vineyards in the cool-climate Central Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA), mostly from Monterey County.

Notes: Very drinkable every day white; crisp, bright and citrusy; a nice American take on Italian Pinot Grigios, of which I am a big fan. I liked it slightly better than some of the Italians in this price range because it is a bit rounder and smoother without that acidic “bite.”

Perfect for: Warm summer days. Pairs great with: Pasta tossed with olive oil, parsley and prawns; Dungeness crab salad sushi rolls; grilled chicken breast over polenta; burrata with olive oil and sea salt. 2007 Chardonnay Composition: 98 percent Chardonnay, 2 percent Riesling

Viticulture: 100 percent of the grapes came from vineyards in the Central Coast AVA, mostly from Monterey County.

Notes: I’m not a huge fan of California Chardonnays, which tend to be too oaky and heavy for my taste; however, Mondavi PS Chardonnay breaks the mold with its clean, tropical tones and crisp, refreshing finish. It’s still buttery and rich with concentrated flavors (8-10 percent fermented in barrels), but I like the Central Coast minerality and French oak nuances. Perfect for: A night around the barbecue. Pairs great with: Grilled pork chops; cream-based pastas like carbonara; Ted Allen’s tandoori(ish) chicken (see recipe).

2007 Riesling Composition: 87 percent Riesling, 6 percent Malvasia Biancia, 3 percent Gewurztraminer, 2 percent Tocai Fruilano, 2 percent Muscat Canelli

Viticulture: Monterey County, at the marine-influenced northern end of the Salinas Valley, in the Central Coast AVA.

Notes: There’s been a turnaround of sorts with Riesling grapes – they’re back in vogue, perhaps because of their versatility. The Mondavi PS Riesling is not cloyingly sweet; it has crispness and an acidity that should appeal even to people who don’t normally like sweeter wines (like me). It is a full-bodied and full-flavored wine with overtones of honeysuckle, peach and citrus blossom.

Perfect for: The holidays. Pairs great with: Baked ham; smoky, grilled sausages; Asian cuisines, like Thai, where the slight sweetness offsets the heat and spiciness.

2006 Pinot Noir Composition: 76 percent Pinot Noir, 16 percent Syrah, 4 percent Mourvedre, 2 percent Petite Sirah, 2 percent Merlot

Viticulture: The cool microclimates and well-drained alluvial soils of the vineyards in the Central Coast AVA allow the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly throughout the growing season.

Notes: Sideways hysteria was actually not all good for Pinot Noir – many vintners rushed their products out to keep up with the voracious demand created by the hit film, resulting in some very mediocre wines. Because the 2006 growing season was one of the coolest and longest in recent memory, the Mondavi PS Pinot Noir comes from fruit that was able to ripen slowly and evenly, enabling growers to harvest the grapes with an excellent balance of sugar and acidity. It is bright, fruity, velvety and easy to drink, with a peppery finish; the medium body is perfect for people who like a lighter red with just a little oak. Perfect for: This classic, perky little red is perfect anytime, anywhere.

Pairs great with: Herb-roasted salmon; slow-cooked, sweet and sour pork belly; orange/honey/ginger-marinated duck breast; Ted Allen’s grilled pork tenderloin with poblano chili and goat cheese (see recipe on Page 19). 2006 Merlot Composition: 80 percent Merlot, 19 percent Syrah, 1 percent Petite Sirah

Viticulture: Central Coast, mostly Monterey County, a region that provides the temperate climate, cool breezes and moist alluvial soils that nurture Merlot. Notes: Another wine crushed by Sideways hysteria, Merlot fell out of favor after fans of the film dumped it in droves to start a romance with Pinot Noir. In reality, Merlot is an extremely versatile, drinkable wine that pairs easily with food. The Mondavi PS Merlot is a bit bigger and bolder; earthy and dark with well-rounded tannins and subtle hints of chocolate, black currant and plum. Perfect for: Bringing to a dinner party where you’re not sure what’s on the menu. Pairs great with: Roasted mushroom and wild rice-stuffed Cornish game hens; fennel sausage, red onion and rapini pizza; chicken coq au vin; black bean cakes with mole sauce. 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Composition: 86 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent Syrah, 2 percent each Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah

Viticulture: 89 percent from the Central Coast AVA and 11 percent from the North Coast AVA (Lake, San Benito and Mendocino counties). Notes: Big, robust wine with more structure than Merlot; darker tones of black cherry and plum with pronounced but balanced tannins and oak; long, earthy finish. The acidity and depth of the Mondavi PS Cab lends itself to aged, hard and sharp cheeses and richer, fattier meats (remember: fat is flavor!). Perfect for: Cold, rainy nights curled up in front of the fireplace. Pairs great with: Prime rib; bacon-wrapped filet mignon; barbecued baby back ribs; cheeses like Italy’s Grana Padano; Roaring Forties Blue from Australia; and hard, English cheddar. 2005 “Vinetta” Composition: 68 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Merlot, 11 percent Petit Verdot, 5 percent Malbec, 2 percent Cabernet Franc

Viticulture: 85 percent from California’s Central Coast AVA, specifically Monterey, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties; the balance of fruit comes from the vineyards in the North Coast AVA. Notes: Vinetta is Mondavi Private Selection’s proprietary blend, a collage of the five classic Bordeaux red varieties. This was my favorite of the brand; it’s the most complex and interesting, and it will change with each vintage. Because it’s a proprietary blend, the winemakers can adjust the percentages, something they aren’t allowed to do with the other varietals. For example, the 2005 Vinetta is Cab-driven, but for the 2006, they dropped the percentage of Cab. It has a lingering mouth-feel, with a finish of well-integrated tannins and toasty oak nuances that don’t overwhelm. Aromas of black cherry, plum and blackberry enhance this plush and elegant wine. Perfect for: Quiet meals at home or bustling holiday parties, sipping and sunning on an afternoon with a good book and a plate of “stinky” cheeses. Pairs great with: Osso bucco; grilled rib eye or porterhouse steaks; spicy vegetable frittata; Cajun spice-injected fried turkey; stinky, big-flavored cheeses like Roquefort, Taleggio, or Pont-l’Eveque. – S. Reynolds

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