Mondavi Honored by Volunteer Group : Friends of the Junior Art Center Salute Vintner as 'Wine Man of Year'

Nathan Chroman is a free-lance wine writer and author who also practices law in Beverly Hills

Peter Mondavi Sr. of Charles Krug Winery is a quiet and reserved vintner. So much so, his fine wine-making efforts generally go unnoticed and unpraised. To correct this, the Friends of the Junior Arts Center, a volunteer support group that raises funds for art instruction for Los Angeles children, honored him with its "Wine Man of the Year" award at its 13th annual California wine seminar at the Sheraton Grande Hotel.

Previous honorees include Andre Tchelistcheff, Eleanor McCreat of Stony Hill Vineyards, Robert Mondavi, Jack and Jamie Davies of Schramsberg, and Louis Martini. For this year's dinner and tasting event, Louise Brinsley, the arts center's president, summoned a group of other vintners, including Cary Gott-Corbett Canyon (Shadowcreek, Brut Sparkling Wine), Ron Bunnel (Napa Chardonnay, 1983, Beringer), Stephanie Rosenbloom, ("November New" Pinot Noir, 1985), and Brother Timothy (Zinfandel Port, Christian Brothers).

Mondavi's Charles Krug efforts were represented by two beautifully styled wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage Selection, Lot F1, 1974, and Pinot Chardonnay, 1974, the kind of mature and well-aged wines for which Charles Krug should be known but is not because of its longstanding reputation for low-priced, high-quality volume wines. Add to this Mondavi's low-key personality, unlike that of his noted brother, Robert, and it is easy to see why wine lovers seldom hear about Krug's fine complex varietals.

Still spurning the spotlight, the honoree at the dinner tried to avoid questions about the so-called feud with his brother, Robert. "It never really existed," he said. "My brother and I have taken separate roads to high-quality wine-making status and are the best of friends. If you'll notice, he is here tonight to support me at this dinner."

A Rightful Place

The Krug F1, still available at the winery, can take its rightful place among the many fine California '74 Cabernets, easily the best vintage of the '70s. The wine is velvety soft, showing a bit of tawny color, in-depth scents of a matured violet-like bouquet and long lush flavors. An outstanding Cabernet and a joy to drink.

Also outstanding is Chardonnay, '74, which is rich, voluptuous, syrupy and crisp, with layers of flavor, uncharacteristic of decade-old California Chardonnay when most are over the hill.

Interestingly, two Krug current releases are excellent buys, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage Selection (Cesare Mondavi Signature), at $12.50 and Chardonnay, 1983, at $10. The Cabernet shows the intensity and style of the 1974, not to the same degree, of course, but is otherwise an excellent bottle capable of an additional five or more years of age and complexity.

The Chardonnay, in a different style--lean and crisp--is a beauty. Lighter bodied than the '74, it is easy and generous with a lot of flavor packed into the finish, an excellent rare style for immediate drinking.

Upper-Crust Wine

A quick review of Mondavi's record reveals that there should be no surprise at his ability to make fine upper-crust wine. Ever the innovator, as early as 1938 after graduation from Stanford University, he volunteered to research the cold fermentation method for white and rose wines that is now a worldwide standard technique. Among the first to use French oak barrels for aging varietal wines, a universal practice today, he registered another first in employing glass-lines steel storage tanks to eliminate metallic tastes.

Today, Krug is a state-of-the-art winery operated by computer and Mondavi's two sons, Peter Jr. and Marc. Still the innovator, Mondavi spends most of his time tinkering with the grape and experimenting with wine-making techniques such as "playing" with different fermentation temperatures that change the length of time that wine must is in contact with the skin.

In distinct contrast to Krug's '83 Chardonnay, is Beringer's '83, showing considerable tropical fruit flavor tones in an assertive, fruity style with a bit of acidity. Wine making was supervised by Bunnel, who noted that considerable aging is needed to bring out the best in this barrel-fermented, slightly buttery wine. Some oak was in evidence, derived from its eight months in Limousin oak, as was a bit of finish heat. Priced at $10.50.

A Change of Pace

For a change of pace, try Creston Manor's highly stylized Pinot Noir, 1985 in a somewhat spritzy, "new" Beaujolais style. It provides a lovely, slightly sweet flavor that some tasters describe as "strawberry soda pop." Made by the Beaujolais technique of carbonic maceration, it is lovely to drink now, slightly chilled, as a thirst-quenching wine to be enjoyed soon.

Gott's Shadowcreek, Brut, California Champagne, produced from Sonoma County Pinot Noir grapes, is a winner, especially if it gains finesse from a year or two of additional aging. This is light pink, Blanc de Noir-type sparkler, with a luscious smooth completeness of taste. It shows a bit more color than expected. The cuvee is a special blend of several vintages, made in classic French technique with yeast contact for 18 months. It is attractive as a meal starter at a cost of $11.89.

Brother Timothy, a 1977 FOJAC honoree, celebrating his 50th year in California wine, concluded the tasting with his Christian Brothers, Zinfandel Port. Here is a rich, not hot, California-style Port produced exclusively from Zinfandel grapes that fits nicely at meal's end. Lingering attractive flavors mark this multidimensional wine, a worthy Port prototype. For the Brothers, it is an extraordinarily good dessert wine.

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