A Renaissance for the Mondavi Family

Today’s Story: Continuum Estate

Continuum Estate was established in 2005 by Robert Mondavi and his children Tim and Marcia following their sale of Robert Mondavi Winery in 2004 to Constellation Brands. In 2008, they purchased the estate vineyard high up on Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountains on the eastern boundary of the Napa Valley, and the winery was finished in time for the 2013 harvest. While most of the fruit they used starting 2008 was from the Continuum estate vineyard, they did not use 100% estate fruit until 2012. Though Robert passed away in 2008, Continuum is still run today by siblings Tim and Marcia Mondavi with the help of their children.

Continuum consists of about 172 acres, of which roughly 62 acres are planted to the Bordeaux varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. The property sits at elevations between 1,325 and 1,600 feet, offering both optimal winegrowing conditions and impressive views of the valley below. Continuum focuses on one premium Bordeaux blend each vintage, though they do produce a second wine called Novicium from the younger vines and it is typically Merlot-dominant or closer to an equal blending of the four varieties.

In making their wines, Continuum practices organic viticulture though they are not certified. All fruit is hand-harvested into small baskets, then hand-sorted, destemmed, and hand-sorted again. The resulting fruit is gravity-fed into small French oak and cement tanks for fermentation to begin. Following primary fermentation, the wines are drained into 85% new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation and aging. Each vintage roughly 25-30% of the lots will be declassified because they do not meet the strict quality standards of the team, and each vintage spends 19-20 months aging in barrel. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Continuum Proprietary Red

65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot; 14.8% ABV

The 2014 Continuum is opaque deep ruby in color with deep purple hues. Given about 2 hours in the decanter, this blossoms into aromas of blueberry, plum, blackberry compote, black cherry, licorice, pipe tobacco, tilled rocky soil, sage, pine, and cedar. Meanwhile on the palate I get notes of cassis, sweet blueberry, spiced plum, redcurrant, blue and purple florals, pine, crushed rock, baking spice, iron, dried vanilla, light smoke, and green herbs. This is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine-grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. A very opulent and silky wine that probably needs another 3-5 years of cellaring.

Price: $220. Like many of the wines produced on Pritchard Hill, this is not an inexpensive bottle. In value terms, I think this is a bit of a stretch and there are wines which drink just as well if not slightly better around the $150 mark. Nonetheless, this is a delicious wine and I think it is a solid renaissance for the Mondavi family.

Incredible Value from Andy Erickson

Today’s Story: Leviathan Wine

Leviathan was founded in 2004 by renowned winemaker Andy Erickson. Andy’s goal with creating Leviathan was to create a unique red blend sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot from some of Northern California’s best vineyards and each year releasing a bottling of different blends. For those of you who are not familiar with Andy, his resume in California winemaking is extensive and includes stints at Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate, and Staglin as well as consulting roles at Dalla Valle, Arietta, Dancing Hares Vineyard, Mayacamas, and Ovid. Andy also co-founded and co-owns Favia Wines with his wife Annie and together they are producing some of my favorite wines I’ve really come to love over the past several years.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Leviathan

Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot (exact blend not provided); 14.8% ABV

The 2015 Leviathan is deep purple and almost black in color while being completely opaque like a starless night sky. Once this opens up, the nose emits aromas of blackberry, black plum, wild blueberry, redcurrant, black raspberry, graphite, dried tobacco, potting soil, black truffle, mocha, cinnamon, and cedar. On the palate, I get notes of black cherry, cassis, blackberry compote, black licorice, violet, worn leather, charred earth, smoke, green peppercorn, chocolate, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) grippy tannins, and a long finish dominated by dark chocolate and black fruit notes.

Price: $45. This is an outstanding value while its complexity and high quality are both mind-boggling but not shocking because this is after all an Andy Erickson wine. Pair this with steak au poivre, grilled lamb, or grilled portobello mushroom.

Corsican Beauty

Today’s Story: Domaine Comte Abbatucci

Domaine Comte Abbatucci was founded in 1950 (though wine history of the family estate dates back more than a century) by Antoine Abbatucci. The Abbatucci name, however, has even deeper roots in Corsica that stretch at least as far back as the French Revolution. Jean-Charles Abbatucci and Jacques-Pierre Abbatucci, for instance, were both Generals during the French Revolution with Jean-Charles considered a hero who fought with Napoléon Bonaparte. Unsurprisingly, there are streets, monuments, and entire plazas in Corsica named after various Abbatucci family members, particularly in the capital city of Ajaccio.

Circling back to the winery as it exists today, the domaine is located in the heart of the Taravo Valley in southern Corsica. During the 1960s, Antoine grew concerned with what seemed to be the impending extinction of native grape varieties thanks to life disappearing in mountain villages that were home to some of the island’s oldest vineyards. As President of the Chamber of Agriculture of Corsica, Antoine removed cuttings from each threatened vineyard he discovered and planted them in one single plot of granite soil on his estate. Through these efforts, this one plot of vineyard land is planted to 18 varieties and pays homage to the winemaking history of Corsica. The fruit from this plot goes into the wines of the highly limited Domaine Comte Abbatucci Cuvée Collection.

While Antoine created arguably one of the most important vineyard plots in Corsican winemaking, his son Jean-Charles made his own vital strides when taking over the domaine. A biodynamist at heart, Jean-Charles converted the estate to biodynamic farming in 2000 to further preserve the original terroir and grape varieties of Corsica. With care for the natural habitat of the vineyards, Jean-Charles conducts work periods based on lunar cycles and the time of day, plowing is accomplished on horseback, and a flock of sheep grazes on the natural and permanent grass cover between rows during the winter. During harvest, all fruit is harvested by hand in small boxes and carefully sorted both in the vineyards and at the winery. Winemaking is accomplished by gravity-flow, fermentation is completed only using indigenous yeasts, and maceration is gentle with alternating punch downs and pump overs. Though Jean-Charles did change the farming practices, he follows in his father’s footsteps by providing cuttings of the salvaged native varieties to other vignerons throughout Corsica.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Cuvée Collection Ministre Impérial

22% Sciaccarello, 18% Nielluccio, 15% Montanaccia, 15% Carcajolo Nero, 12% Morescono, 10% Morescola, 8% Aléatico; 14% ABV

The 2016 Ministre Impérial is named for Jacques-Pierre-Charles Abbatucci, a leading military figure under Napoléon Bonaparte’s Premier Empire and later a senator and official councillor to Napoléon III. He was Jacques-Pierre Abbatucci’s grandson and Jean-Charles Abbatucci’s nephew. The wine itself is a moderately transparent pale ruby color with rose variation toward the rim. Once this opens up in the decanter, the nose emits aromas of cherry, redcurrant, boysenberry, red florals, ground herbs, leather, smoked gamey meats, earth, graphite, smokey minerality, and a hint of woodiness. On the palate, I get notes of cherry, redcurrant, wild blueberry, dried rocky soil, granite, herbs, smoke, slight peppery spice, and mineral. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, elegant and refined medium (-) tannins, and a long finish dominated by red fruit and rocky minerality. 500 cases produced.

Price: $95 (though if you can find this in Europe it seems to be closer to $60). This is a really cool wine to taste given the backstory on these varieties and the simultaneous elegance and complexity it presents for a Corsican wine. If you can find a bottle, I highly recommend giving it a try. Pair this with lamb, wild boar, veal, or charcuterie and cheese.

Why Wait for Screaming Eagle?

Today’s Story: Jonata

Jonata came onto my radar in unlikely fashion about two years ago, as these wines very rarely call retail stores home. I sat on the Screaming Eagle waitlist twiddling my thumbs for the chance to purchase an allocation (I am still waiting), and I received an email that their sister winery, Jonata, had offerings for purchase. I quickly discovered that Stan Kroenke, owner of Screaming Eagle and the LA Rams, owns Jonata as well and since their wines are highly regarded began seeking some out.

Jonata’s vines are planted in the Santa Ynez Valley on California’s Central Coast, and although Kroenke bought 586 acres of property only 84 acres are planted under vine. Like many wineries in the area, Jonata found success planting Rhône varietals such as Syrah but also grows Sangiovese and Bordeaux varietals. As far as soil goes, the entire Jonata property is sand (specifically Careaga Sandstone) which is known to be highly aerative with low water holding capacity and therefore low fertility for fruit. However, thanks to their adept winemaker Matt Dees, Jonata is able to produce exceptional wines and some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in the Ballard Canyon appellation.

On the topic of quality, Jonata in their words seeks to become “the vanguard of an emerging quality movement in California winegrowing.” Great care is put into their vineyards and the winemaking process, resulting in a relatively small production of about 4,725 cases per year across 8 wines (2,426 cases being their Todos red blend). Sustainability is also a major point of focus for the winery, integrating livestock (chicken, turkeys, goats, pigs, and sheep) into the farming model to naturally enhance the soil. Jonata also maintains a communal garden and an orchard that produces olive oil and honey from bees raised on the ranch. Source: https://www.jonata.com/.

Today’s Wine: 2005 El Corazón de Jonata

41% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 11% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, and 2% Sauvignon Blanc; 14.9% ABV

Our wine today is a very deep, opaque purple color with ruby variation toward the rim of the glass. We let this slow ox in the bottle for about 30 minutes before additional air-time in the glass, as it was still slightly tight as a pop-and-pour. On the nose are enticing aromas of black cherry, blackcurrant, red berry fruit, cigar box, sweet tobacco, licorice, and oak. Once in the mouth, we get notes of jammy blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, graphite, smokey/charred earth, and a touch of chocolate. Opulent and showing no signs of age, today’s Jonata is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, mature medium tannins, and a long finish that lingers with notes of iron.

Price: $65. I think this is a little high (I’d love to see ~$50) but still worth a try due to its rarity and complexity with plenty of gas left in the tank. We paired this with smokey barbecue chicken, but I think this would also stand up well to a New York Strip.