Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato 2008
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Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato 2008

The towns of Lodi and nearby Woodbridge are located in California's Central Valley, just north of Stockton. Central Valley is hot, yet Lodi benefits from two climate reprieves; it has altitude, and it enjoys the cooling breezes from distant San Francisco Bay because of its location just east of the Sacramento River Delta. Winemakers like warm dry days and cool nights. Robert Mondavi grew up in Lodi. Woodbridge winemaker Todd Ziemann is a fourth generation native of the area. The new 2008 Moscato combines Mondavi's concept of a food friendly wine with UC Davis educated Ziemann's winemaking prowess.

“Robert Mondavi believed in producing wines with crisp acidity that are well balanced with food,” Todd told me. We met at the launch of the new Woodbridge Moscato wine at Kurve restaurant in Manhattan's East Village; the wine was showcased with a range of sweet and savory bites designed around the wine and produced by my friend chef Pichet Ong. “Don't overpower the wine with huge heavy tannins or pushy flavors, Robert Mondavi believed,” Todd continued. “We follow this philosophy in creating this wine using three types of Muscat grapes.” The $9 wine is 60% Muscat Canelli, 30% Orange Muscat and 10% Muscat of Alexandria. “My goal in blending these three related varietals was to have good complexity of flavor without one dominant flavor.”

The 2008 Moscato is a light greenish straw in color, teasing my nose with gentle aromas of peach, apricot, honey and white flowers. The wine is about 5% sugar (52 grams per liter) giving it a sweet flavorful edge but by no means pushing it into the dessert wine category. Alcohol level is a modest 10%. The sweet is very well integrated with some forceful acidity and yet another fine surprise, a slight bit of frizzante (Todd uses the Italian term for effervescence as a tribute to the partial inspiration for the wine, Italian Piedmont's fruity Moscato d'Asti). True to its conception, the wine brought a range of pleasant floral and fruit notes to the mouth. The finish is reasonably dry given the sugar. On its own, the wine is mouth filling and flavor stimulating, with a defined gentle side.

The real test for the wine, however, would be its front-line food-friendliness, and here it passed muster with Pichet Ong's inventive menu, which included a number of savory munchies:

  • Vietnamese style vegetable spring rolls
  • Foie gras on brioche toast with Thai chili pepper jam
  • Kaffir lime and coconut marinated chicken skewers, peanut sauce
  • Tuna tartare with tamarind chutney
  • Ceviche of shrimp, thai chili, cilantro, and pineapple
  • Goat cheese & date crudite
  • Peking duck summer rolls
  • Meyer lemon oil & herb marinated mozzarella
Not to do things by halves, Pichet also served up a quartet of sweet confections:
  • Raspberry cayenne bittersweet chocolate truffle
  • Squash cupcake with salted caramel and cocoa nibs
  • Chocolate bacon and caramel crunch cookies
  • Chevre cheesecake, walnut crust

Robert Mondavi was an innovator whose name is associated with many fine and expensive wines but, according to Anne Siegel, Director of Public Relations for the Robert Mondavi Family of Wines, “he had a soft spot for the simple, drinkable wines families could enjoy together with food, and he loved Moscato.” Sadly, I never met Robert Mondavi, but I know that impish grin from so many photographs, and hence it doesn't surprise me to hear from both Anne and Todd that Mondavi liked to keep a bottle of Moscato in his freezer so he could turn to it whenever he wanted to refresh himself with a slushy.

“Moscato was originally a side item for the winery,” Todd told the group. “We came out in 2004 with 125 cases of our first Moscato Bianco which we sold entirely to winery visitors. Word of mouth and anxious requests for more told us we had something for the general market.” The spring 2009 launch of the 2008 vintage, California appellation, will put 60,000 cases on the market.

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi produces a range of widely distributed wines, all in the sub-$10 range, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, White Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and now this Moscato. I have no guess as to how the other nine varietals will fare if you try to make them into slushies, but I may attempt this one day with the Moscato.

Verdict: We ought to be drinking this all summer.

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Good food friendly wines always have a place on American tables.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato

The Woodbridge Moscato.

Todd Ziemann

Woodbridge winemaker Todd Ziemann.

Pichet Ong

New York chef Pichet Ong.

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