“You can tell a lot about a person by the wine he or she drinks and collects,” said a friend recently. “People who collect fine Bordeaux are perceived as somewhat stuffy. They prefer to sip their wine at formal restaurants, dress in a formal way, and are rather reserved when meeting new people. On the other hand, people who collect California Cabernets – which can be the same price as a fine cru classe Bordeaux and possibly even more – are very different. When they drink their California Cab, it may well be in jeans during a summer barbecue laughing with friends.”
Agree or disagree? Many might concur that my friend’s observations do ring true. The French are generally rather formal, and even when they are entertaining in an outdoor setting, you can be sure the elegance of the table and cuisine matches the splendor of the classed growth wine.
Recently, Genevieve Janssens, Director of Winemaking at Robert Mondavi Winery, sent me two bottles of their newly released 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley Merlot. As you may know, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the two primary grapes used in Bordeaux, with Cabernet Sauvignon used more in the left bank of the Gironde river and Merlot in the right bank. So even though top wineries in California’s Napa Valley offer Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as single varietals and Bordeaux style blends (known as Meritage), when experienced the varietals express themselves in different ways because of the difference in terroir.
Now with regard to the Mondavi wines, the majority of the grapes for the Merlot was sourced from the Stag’s Leap AVA, with one third coming from Oakville and their To Kalon Vineyard. And even though the wine is labeled “Merlot,” by law it can contain 25% of other grapes (in this case 13% Cabernet Sauvignon in addition to other blending grapes such as Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah). You will experience ripe wild berries and bay leaf on the nose, and fleshy blueberry and blackberry notes on the palate. The Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon was crafted from grapes from many vineyards in the Napa Valley, including To Kalon. This wine expresses itself with concentrated aromas of blackberry, currants, and a complex, layered palate that suggests black plum and olive.
The wines are affordable (under $30) and can go with jeans and barbecue, yet why not do as the French and dress it up a bit? Take down that expensive stemware you’re afraid of breaking and live dangerously. Sure, buy that ground round on sale at the local supermarket, yet take a hint from celebrity chefs such as Daniel Boulud (who created the DB Burger with Truffles for $150) and do something special, even if it’s something as simple as spiking your burger with fresh thyme (to match this aroma from the Cabernet Sauvignon). Be sure to add a generous sprinkling of good friends – after all, this is what wine, food, and the good life are all about.