Cab Throw-down: Tenuta vs. Mondavi
Cab Throw-down: Tenuta vs. Mondavi
Cab Throw-down: Tenuta vs. Mondavi
Cab Throw-down: Tenuta vs. Mondavi

One of the joys of wine (and perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree, sex) is discovering how it changes over time. Joy, in this case, can also mean: surprise, mystery and astonishment.

Grabbing an older bottle of wine from the cellar can be a crap shoot at times, but it can also be the perfect way to learn and appreciate the evolving characteristics of our favorite fermented libation.

So last night I experimented.

It helped that doe-eyed little Loni was traveling. This means, that I (the taster) can brilliantly circumnavigate her (the collector) arduous approval process (i.e. – ten ways to “no” in under 60 seconds). Then again, Loni’s collector mentality has resulted in a decently stocked cellar that we’ve enjoyed over the years. Converting an unused closet (basements are a rarity here in Northern California) was one of the best home improvement decisions we’ve made (the home theater is still #1!). So while I like to chide her for her hoarding ways, it’s on these occasions that I’m thankful I can pull out a bottle and see what’s what.

Now, to clarify: no way I’m touching the Harlan, the Scarecrow, Etude, etc. That is wrist chopping¬†territory. ¬†For now, at least, I kept my ambitions in check. So I pull an ’03 Tenuta private reserve Cabernet. A what?! Tenuta Vineyards I say… the one up in Livermore. A boutique winery, yes? A few years back we bought some futures. Each bottle was only $25. Now an ’05 is going for $48. For the Lonis out there: a 92% return, all things being equal. But of course they’re not. Regardless I was curious to see how Nancy Tenuta’s vino would fare after a few years of rest. And, yes, before I go any further, I agree: it’s a bit of a stretch to call putting a bottle away for a few years “aging.” Still, now I have a benchmark, and will enjoy seeing how the wine ages year-over-year. Call me crazy, but this is what us wine-orati tend to do on occasion.

For comparison purposes I opened a sample that Team Mondavi (e.g. Constellation Brands) sent us. An ’08 Robert Mondavi cab is about as Napa as you can get, and a good, ready-steady kind of example to compare and contrast. And not that I’m one to give advice, but I do highly recommend opening multiple bottles from time-to-time to compare. Over the years I’ve learned a lot by tasting across varietals, or vintages, or — in this case — vintage and winery. Why not? Life is short, grab a waiter’s friend, mon ami.

2003 Tenuta Vineyards Livermore Cabernet Private Reserve ($25)

Wine is even better when compared, discussed.
Wine is even better when compared, discussed.

In a nutshell, it was a hit. I could tell almost right away based almost entirely on the nose. It had that wonderful, full aromatic quality you get from a wine that’s just a little mellow (tannins) with a confident swagger (fruit). I was hoping it would be good, but didn’t expect it to be this good.

My notes, as transcribed from a purple smudged post-it note:

* not tobacco/leathery

* light cherry – not much vanilla – austere
* aged well, pleasant nose, and light finish
* in the glass: marvelous, textured, darkened red
* the sophisticate compared to Modavi ’09 Cab — younger, brighter on nose, fruit forward
* Tenuta is good example of boutique winery -> a wine with character, off the beaten path

2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet, Napa Valley ($28)

Definitely concentrated, and young. If I had to chose one word (and I know it’s so cliche): bright. You know when you sniff a wine, and the nose is right there. Over-powering. My first reaction is almost always the same: let it sit. Maybe pull out the venturi and see if that can calm things a little. This is a decent wine, nothing¬†spectacular, but in comparison to the ’03 Tenuta it was a distant second in this comparo.

So what did I learn?

Well, for one, a traveling spouse makes for unabated cellar access.

Two, I’m sure that doesn’t come without consequence.

And three, aging a wine can make a world of difference. Don’t just look to the big guys, sometimes seeking out those boutique wineries — in this case in Livermore just off Highway 680 about 45 minutes north of Silicon Valley — can do wonders for the palate. Just don’t reach for the collective cults quite yet. Stay with me on this, the time will come. For now, though, let’s not risk a wrist chopping.

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear