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Wine Report from the Fort
Food and wine pairing with the Robert Mondavis
By Fred McMillin

Some vintages ago, Mrs. Robert Mondavi invited my wife and me to lunch at the winery to plan a program for our classes. We soon were in a discussion of what wine she had selected for the first course, a salad, and why.

Salad and wine by design
The Salad: Orzo pasta with red and yellow tomatoes and arugula
Margrit’s comments about the wine: “An explosion of flavors is what I want to match this pasta, cheese and mixed-tomato salad. The orzo pasta and the cheese were included to tame the tomatoes so their acids would not interfere with the wine.”

The Wine: A three-year-old Mondavi Reserve Chardonnay provided Margrit’s explosion of flavors. My 17 tasters tried the 1994, and it topped a group of rival $30 California Chardonnays by a substantial margin. The grapes were primarily from the cool Carneros.

Postscript – Later we had lunch with both of the Mondavis, and for the main course of chicken, they served another three-year-old, but this one was red:
• Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Pinot Noir Reserve

Can you get a “B” on this wine quiz?
Match each name (1-4) with one event (A-E) below. Three correct = A, two = B.
1. Jacob Beringer
2. Ernest Gallo
3. Francis Korbel
4. Ernie Weir

A. Makes kosher wines
B. Made cigars before making
C. Killed when the tractor he
was driving overturned
D. Learned how to make wine
and barrels in Germany before
coming to Napa Valley
E. Was a basketball star at
Gonzaga University

1. D: Beringer was from
2. C: Gallo died in a tractor
3. B: Korbel first made cigars
4. A: Weir makes kosher wine

Postscript – The basketball star is Jed Steele of Steele Wines.

Head of the class
In my latest Fort Mason course, two wines were selected as best of all. Here they are:

Salutatorian … A fruity mouthful:
• Gary Farrell Starr Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir 2002, $38

Valedictorian … A red berry beauty (that we rated 91!):
• Steele Wines Parmelee Hill Vineyard Syrah 2005, $28

Until tannins do us part
“Tannins are a group of chemical compounds that produce the astringency in wine. Tannin levels are much lower in white wines than red.” (The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson [ed.], 2006.)
About 10 percent of my students reject tannins and like only white wines. Just for fun, we checked the gender of the tannin-haters, and they were almost entirely women! One of their big favorites:

• Joseph Phelps Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2006, $32

Mount San Helena?

Question: The Spanish friars named many California places after saints – San Francisco for Saint Francis; San Jose for Saint Jose, husband of the Virgin Mary – so why wasn’t Mount Saint Helena named Mount San Helena?

Answer: The Russians got there before the Spanish and named it after their ship, the St. Helena. Incidentally, they could see the mountain 75 miles from shore.

Postscript – At the Fort, one of our highest-scoring wineries near Mount Saint Helena is Mayacamas Vineyards (707-224-4030,, known for its unique high-elevation Cab, Merlot and Chardonnay.

A final gourmet grin
A reader asks us to repeat the hot dog item published a while ago. Here it is:
My favorite San Francisco hot dog cart sports a brilliant, yellow umbrella with the words, Mustard’s Last Stand!

Save some gas, take a class!
Come join our Saturday wine classes at Fort Mason and taste 20 wines in each class.
• July 19: Sonoma vs. Napa – taste and compare wines from the two greatest wine regions in the New World.

• July 26: California vs. the
World – taste and compare California wines with their counterparts from France, Australia, Italy, and elsewhere.

To enroll or wait-list, phone
San Francisco City College at 415-561-1840 or visit

Credits: Edgar Vogt (tastings); Ophelia Mercado (statistics)

Fred McMillin was voted one of
the best wine writers in the United States by the Academy of Wine Communications. Phone him with questions at 415-563-5712 or fax him at 415-567-4468.

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