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james laube's wine flights

Dial M For Michael Mondavi Cabernet

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Apr 23, 2008 12:59pm ET

M by Michael Mondavi is the name of the new Napa Valley Cabernet, made by the former chairman of Robert Mondavi Corp. and his family.

It’s been a long time since Michael Mondavi, 65, has been this hands on with winemaking, and he seems happy about that. In one of those odd trivia questions few people know, Michael was the original winemaker at Robert Mondavi Winery and he was there from day one with his father in 1966 when the winery made its first wine. He oversaw winemaking until 1974.

But from then on he worked more on the business side of things.

When RMC sold to Constellation in 2004, Robert Mondavi’s eldest son was quick to put together his own company, called Folio Fine Wine Partners, which owns M, I’M (named after his wife, Isabel Mondavi), Oberon and Hang Time. Folio imports a wide variety of domestic and imported wines from around the world. It operates out of the former Carneros Creek winery in Carneros, which it has retooled and modernized since purchasing.

On Monday I tasted the first three vintages of M, which is produced from a 14-acre Atlas Peak Cabernet vineyard, near Stagecoach, owned by Michael and Isabel Mondavi since 1997.

The first vintage to be released will be the 2005, for about $200 a bottle, later this fall. Two earlier vintages, 2003 and 2004, were declassified, Mondavi said, because they didn’t reflect the level of quality and style he and his family are pursuing. “The wines were too hard, too austere for our palate,” he said. The "our" refers to the Folio company, which is owned in part by Mondavi’s two children, Rob and Dina, who each own 39 percent. Michael and Isabel own 10 percent and Folio employees, many of whom are partners, own 12 percent.

I liked all three of the Cabernets. All three exhibit excellent balance and reflect the same style of Cabernet that the Mondavi family has used as its signature wine for decades, back to the 1960s.

Production in 2005 is 600 cases and should grow to about 1,200.

The 2005 is bottled and made in a rich yet elegant style, with loamy currant, spice and dried berry with a touch of cedary oak and a hint of graphite. It’s very tight and young now, but well-balanced and fairly typical of the 2005 vintage for Napa Cabernet. These are not as big, rich and fleshy as the 2004 vintage, for example, and the level of ripeness is toned down along with the alcohol level.

The 2006, drawn from a barrel sample, was the showiest, offering a little more of everything, from riper, purer Cabernet flavors to more flashy, toasty oak. At this stage it offers a rich, focused core of black cherry and currant fruit that’s deep, persistent and concentrated, with fine-grained tannins and great length.

The 2007 is a baby and a bit wobbly. It too shows jazzy toasty, smoky oak and rich, concentrated currant and spicy dark fruit components.

M will be targeted at upscale restaurants and resorts as well as being sold direct.

Bill Robinson
Calgary —  April 23, 2008 5:55pm ET
James,As to your Blog from April 11th, would you say it worth $200?
Steve Kirchner
Huntington —  April 24, 2008 3:36pm ET
did you get a chance to taste the disqualified 2003 and 2004 versions?

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