By The Glass
A return to California classics
Last week I attended a grand tasting in which one of my suppliers offered some of the crème de la crème from the company's portfolio. Out of 200-plus wines, two really stood out to me. It wasn't that the rest of the wines were bad -- they were good -- but these two really showed why these producers are considered classic.
In my book, just because something is old doesn't make it classic. A classic is something quintessential and has been that way for a good amount of time.
The wineries that made these two outstanding wines are classics, Robert Mondavi and Heitz.
Robert Mondavi 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($120): Robert Mondavi is often given credit for pioneering American wine and putting Napa Valley on the wine map. While more trendy wineries do exist, nobody in this country can match Mondavi's prolific history of making great wines in quantities that are readily available.
It is one thing to make 500 cases of great wine, a whole different thing to make 20,000 cases of great wine. In that respect no one in Napa can really touch Mondavi, except maybe Joseph Phelps. Mondavi took a hit from critics in the late '90s, but since 2001 has been back on track making stellar wines.
Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Martha's Vineyard ($155): Heitz might not be as prolific as Mondavi, but has one of the most famous vineyards in the world. Martha's Vineyard is an icon. In the '70s few wines could match it. In fact the 1974 version is considered one of the legendary wines of the world. (Coincidentally, I know someone who will be auctioning a rare case of the 1974 and is expecting to sell it for more than $2,000 a bottle!)
I always tell my customers that there has never been a better time to be a wine consumer -- there are so many good, quality wines to choose from at all price points and from all over the world. The selection is amazing. But while many of these wines are technically sound and aesthetically pleasing, many are missing an ingredient that can't just be added: soul.
Besides their histories of greatness, what gives these wines soul? In an age where wine styles have changed, where power and fruit usually trump elegance, refinement and subtle complexity, maybe these two wines are dinosaurs, but when I tasted them they reminded me of some of the great vintages I've had, thanks to my father, who collected many of the Mondavi and Heitz classics.
I could taste the common, unique thread that exists in the wines. Many people call this a "sense of place," or "terroir." When you combine the memories of past vintages I've tasted, the terroir, the style that emphasizes grace, refinement and subtlety -- and brings back memories of my deceased father -- that, my friends is soul.
Jay Kam is president of Vintage Wine Cellar, a company founded by his father, the late Allen Yung Yee Kam. This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org