Wine: The Peter Principles 

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It so happened that a visit this month from Charles Krug Winery’s Peter Mondavi Jr. this month coincided with my reading of Julia Flynn Siler’s book The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty. I was eager to meet Peter Jr., whose father is Peter Mondavi, brother of Robert. Peter Jr. and I are about the same age but grew up in very different circumstances, needless to say. Siler’s book is full of family turmoil, the sort of stuff that would make a great docu-drama, TV miniseries or movie of the week. According to Peter Mondavi Jr., while Siler’s book is generally accurate, some scenes in The House of Mondavi—such as the famous fisticuffs between Peter and Robert—have been embellished. And he thinks that the characters in the book are portrayed too much in black and white. As for me, the nagging question of who’d play Robert and Peter Mondavi Sr. in the movie wouldn’t let go. Pacino and De Niro, I think, although I’m not sure who’d play which Mondavi.

I’m guessing that, on occasion, Peter Jr. would just as soon lose the name Mondavi, since it causes confusion. He’s been told thousands of times by well-intentioned folks that they love his Mondavi wines. But you see, his wines are those of the Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley’s very first winery. How the Mondavis—Peter Sr., Marc and Peter Jr.—came to be associated with Charles Krug is a long, involved story and best recounted in The House of Mondavi. What Peter Jr. wants us to know is that Charles Krug is again making great wine. The San Francisco Chronicle agrees: It placed two Krug (no relation to Krug Champagne) wines on its “Top 100 Wines of 2007 list”: the 2004 Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon and 2006 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

I was able to sample the 2006 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc ($17) at the Bill White/Peter Mondavi Jr. wine dinner (see Dining, p. 29) and also at lunch with Peter at the Cottonwood Oyster Bar. I was impressed both times. This is as pure an expression of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal as I’ve ever seen in an American wine; it’s absolutely beautiful. And it gets that way because of very little interference. According to Peter Jr., the fruit is picked at night and is cold fermented with minimal handling. It undergoes no oak and no malolactic fermentation, which means that this wine actually tastes like Sauvignon Blanc! With luscious green apple, pear, peach, banana and grapefruit notes, the Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc is simply one of the best I’ve ever come across. It worked beautifully at the Oyster Bar with everything from raw oysters to seafood gumbo.

The Peter Mondavi family is currently in the midst (since 2000) of an ambitious 10-year replanting program of most of its 850 Napa Valley acres, costing some $22 million so far. The replanting is focused on red Bordeaux varietals, weeding out stuff like Chenin Blanc. Unfortunately, at lunch, we ran into a corked bottle of the Charles Krug 2005 Cabernet ($21)—the only bottle available at the time. So while I can’t vouch for the Cabernet, I can tell you that 2005 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($20) is a soft, lovely, well-balanced wine—a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and a smidgeon of Petit Verdot. I’ve also become quite fond of a Meritage-style blend from the Charles Krug Family Reserve list called “Generations” ($42), as well as the yummy 2006 Carneros Chardonnay ($15).

Who gets to play Peter Mondavi Jr. in the movie? Why, Tom Selleck, of course.

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