Saturday, November 09, 2013

California Terroir: A Tribute to Robert Mondavi's 100th Birthday at Rivera

Rivera's John Sedlar and Margrit Mondavi
Before Robert Mondavi, California wine was barely considered drinkable. When he opened Mondavi in 1966, it was the first major winery to open in Napa Valley after prohibition and set the stage for not just the huge growth of the Napa Valley and for winemaking in the whole country.
Robert Mondavi died in 2008, but what would have been his 100th birthday was a fine occasion for a dinner remembering his legacy at Rivera, where his widow Margrit Mondavi told stories of how the winery has been involved in every step of the American food revolution.
Mondrian-esque caviar appetizer
In fact, when Chez Panisse opened, Alice Waters had just three wines on the menu -- two Mondavi varieties and one French selection. And Rivera chef John Sedlar got to know the Mondavis when his pioneering St. Estephe opened in the 1980s, serving their wines with his new Southwestern cooking. One of Margrit's memories was of a rollicking rafting trip on the Snake River with Sedlar where 16 cases of wine came along for 16 people.
A salmon mousse tamal a good foil for Mondavi's 2011 Fume Blanc Oakville -- and a chance to hear how Robert invented Fume Blanc, a uniquely Californian interpretation of Sauvignon Blanc.
scallops with spicy broccoli puree
Scallops with green lentils and spicy broccoli puree were served on plates layered with Robert's photo underneath, with a creamy 2011 Reserve Chardonnay. Filet mignon with chocolate onion sauce got a 2010 Cabernet Reserve that was peppery enough to stand up to the chayote chutney served with the beef.
This was a modern Rivera menu, but Sedlar paid hommage to the St. Estephe days at Margrit's request with a Neon Tumbleweed dessert -- recalling a southwest sunset with fruit sauces painted on a plate holding a cream bun and a cactus-shaped cookie. Mondavi's 2001 Sauvignon Blanc Late Harvest Botrytis was a terrific and rare dessert wine selection.
Margrit acknowledged that some of Mondavi's cheaper labels like Woodbridge may have tarnished the family name a bit, but though it was sold in 2004, she remains the VP of Cultural Affairs at Mondavi, which has been instrumental in funding Napa institutions such as the restored Opera House.


Janette @culinaryginger said...

Wow, 100 years and still going strong, I'm a chardonnay fan. Great article.

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