Michael Mondavi wines express spirit of Napa Valley

Emblem Chardonnay
Emblem Chardonnay

I’ve tasted quite a few Sauvignon Blancs in my wine exploration, and few have captured my imagination like Animo Heritage Sauvignon Blanc from Michael Mondavi Family Estate in Napa Valley.

It’s a premium white, costing $65 a bottle, and only 132 cases were produced in 2015. I prefer less expensive bottlings, simply because I know there are many quality Sauvignon Blancs out there that fit my working man’s budget. However, if you love wine like I do, it’s great to get an opportunity to taste the best in class — and in my modest palate’s opinion, Animo sets a standard of excellence in this category.

Animo, which means spirit in Italian, draws its name from Mondavi’s Animo Vineyard, which is located on high, rugged ground in the prestigious Atlas Peak appellation. The iron-rich soil is rocky from volcanic deposits. The key to the Animo Sauvignon Blanc, however, is the vines: They were started from cuttings from Oakville’s ToKalon vines, which trace their lineage directly to Bordeaux’s famous Chateau d’Yquem — a producer of the world’s finest sweet Sauternes.

To say that Animo Sauvignon Blanc has good DNA is not an understatement. Genetics in viticulture does matter, and viticulturists are learning more each year about the importance of the vine’s root stock. Michael Mondavi is certainly one of the leading innovators in this regard.

Animo Heritage Sauvignon Blanc
Animo Heritage Sauvignon Blanc

What makes Animo Sauvignon Blanc so impressive is its creamy texture and finish. There’s enough fresh exotic fruit flavor to make your eyes roll back in your head in delight, yet it’s the soft palate flow that knits it all together. The mouthfeel is clean, refreshing and exquisite.

The Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, gave Amino five lip smacks out of five — a rare sign of perfection.

Another gem from Michael Mondavi Family Estates is the 2015 Emblem Chardonnay from the Carneros region. The owner’s children, Robert and Dina, serve as winemakers for the Emblem label, which includes eight wines.

The 2015 Chardonnay ($35) is the product of a drought year that produced smaller, more concentrated berries on the vine. The Mondavis press whole clusters after harvest and stir the juice daily in barrels to heighten fermentation and bring out the rich character traits of this ripe fruit. The wine rests in new French oak for 10 months, and brandishes a nice full-bodied texture.

This Chardonnay goes beyond the norm in releasing appealing aromas and flavors. I like apple and pear notes in my glass, and Emblem amounts to a bright, sunny orchard of captivating tastes that keeps delivering well after the slightly sweetened finish. There were 454 cases produced in the current vintage.

The Animo and Emblem brands are available in limited quantities in New England, and can be purchased online at www.michaelmondavi familyestate.com.

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