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Brand loyalty

There are brands I love: Heinz Ketchup (“Slow Good”), Hellman’s (“Real Mayonnaise”), Coca-Cola (“It’s the Real Thing”), and my favorite brand of wine, Robert Mondavi.

Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, California.

I don’t remember exactly when I had my first glass of Robert Mondavi, but I do know it was in the 1970s. Mondavi wines are available at a range of price points, and I’ve found all of them to be of great value.

Twenty years ago this month, my wife Karen and I made a trip to Napa Valley to visit some wineries. I had always loved California wines, and the chance to visit some great wineries was very special. My good friend Burt Notarius offered to help set up the visits. The “must” winery was Robert Mondavi, and we ended up enjoying a special private lunch and tasting some incredible wines. Besides the wines on the menu, we also tried several additional reserve wines.

The very first Mondavi Cabernet Reserve I tasted was from 1971, which wasn’t a very good year for California wines. This wine, however, was amazing. It was blended with 40 percent Cabernet Franc, which was unusual. After the tasting, I tried to buy as many bottles as I could find. We drank more than a case. Even though we enjoyed our last precious bottle about 10 years ago, I can still remember this unique wine.

I believe we have enjoyed every vintage of Mondavi Reserve Cabernet since the beginning. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many cases of 1985 Cabernets we drank, but I’m sure it was at least ten. I have had Pinot Noir, Merlot, Oakville Cabernet, Stags Leap Cabernet and many other types as well.

Recently, we were invited to dinner with friends to celebrate their daughter’s high school graduation. Karen asked if we could bring the wine so we could also celebrate the twentieth anniversary of our trip to Napa. They choose Osteria 166 on Franklin Street. I brought four wines from my cellar — three Mondavis, and a special Chardonnay from Domaine Drouhin called Arthur (our friend’s favorite). The Mondavis included a 2002 Merlot, 2007 Cabernet, and a 2010 Cabernet Oakville. (These may be available at your local wine shop.)

The wine

2002 Robert Mondavi Merlot Stags Leap District

I was worried this wine would no longer be good, but surprisingly it was still a very nice tasting Merlot. Still had excellent fruit and color. Everyone loved the wine.

2007 Robert Mondavi Cabernet
Napa Valley, approximately $28

This is an outstanding example of what I love about Mondavi. Gorgeous color, elegant fruit, smooth tannins, wonderful finish. This wine can age for at least another 10 years. I think this may be my favorite non-reserve bottle since the incredible 1985 vintage. I wish I had more of this wine in my cellar…

2010 Robert Mondavi Cabernet
Oakville, around $50 (and well worth it)

This is the real deal in Cabernet, and it tastes as good as California Cabs that are selling for more than double the price. Huge fruit and dark berries excite your senses, with an amazing finish. I have a case of this wine in my cellar, as it will live for well over a decade (if I can keep myself from drinking it all before then).

The meal

Nani’s Sunday Sauce was served over pasta and a veal cutlet; the perfect complement to our Mondavi wine.

Nani’s Sunday Sauce was served over pasta and a veal cutlet; the perfect complement to our Mondavi wine.

Osteria 166 is a terrific new addition to the Buffalo restaurant scene: warm, friendly, with a menu I found perfect. The following are some of the dishes we tried. Everything was high quality and delicious:

Grilled Octopus, served charred with arugula (a crowd favorite).

The Meatball. I ordered this to compare with meatballs from other local restaurants. I wasn’t disappointed (and no one else was, either). It was big enough to pass around the table.

Antipasti to pass. An excellent selection of meats and cheeses, plus some roasted garlic.

Pasta. This is a must-have. I enjoyed “Nani’s Sunday Sauce” over homemade pasta with a veal cutlet on top. Everyone who tried the veal loved it.

Chicken Lasagna. Several people ordered this and raved about it.

Next time we’ll go back for the Bolognese.

Warren T. Colville is Publisher and President of The Buffalo News.

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