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Reasonable Wines at Reasonable Prices

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Winemaker Charlie Gilmore of CK Mondavi and Family Winemaker Charlie Gilmore of CK Mondavi and Family

By Dan Clarke

The world can use more reliable seven-dollar wines and that’s the objective of winemaker Charlie Gilmore of CK Mondavi and Family winery.

Recently Taste Publications sampled three such wines. These wines, all whites from the 2017 vintage, carried a $6.99 suggested retail price tag. One did not impress, but two of them we liked—one very much.

CK Mondavi is the value label of the Napa Valley family that also owns famed Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. You can’t produce seven-dollar wine using pricey Napa Valley grapes, but that doesn’t mean that fruit from somewhere else necessarily begets an inferior product.

CK Mondavi Pinot Grigo label Picmonkey

All three of these wines bore a California appellation on the label, which usually means grapes were sourced from warmer climes more inland than Napa or Sonoma. The winery owns substantial vineyard acreage in the Dunnigan Hills region of Yolo County and has long-standing relationships with growers in Lodi. Good, if not great, grapes are available in these locales that allow a winemaker to turn out affordable wines for everyday drinking.

Let’s get the negative out of the way first. I didn’t like the CK Mondavi and Family 2017 Sauvignon Blanc. Sometimes your palate can just have an off day, so when I taste wines for review I try to leave enough to re-taste the following day. In this instance I first tasted the wine on its own Saturday afternoon, then Saturday evening with food and again on Sunday. My notes read, “tasted Saturday—seemed insipid, not specifically bad, but no distinctive personality . . . tasted Sunday and still didn’t like it because it showed little S.B. (Sauvignon Blanc) traits. O.K. at best.” I’ve been tasting and reviewing wines for a long time and I’ll stand by my comments in this case. However, there’s always room for another opinion.

A fellow who writes under The Wine Curmudgeon identity called this wine “easily the cheap wine find of 2018.” Lest that seem to you like damning with faint praise, he also wrote, “ .. . . it’s crisp and refreshing and delivers infinitely more value than many wines that cost two or three times as much.” That’s substantial praise from a fellow wine writer whose work I respect.

The CK Mondavi Chardonnay was another story. Comprised mostly of Chardonnay (79%), it also includes Viognier (9%), Pinot Grigio (9%) and Muscat (3%). My guess is that the Viognier and Muscat enhance the aroma, without robbing this entry of its traditional Chardonnay personality, which seems fairly represented for a wine selling at $10 and under. Though this bottle wasn’t spectacular, I thought it delivered a solid, middle-of-the-road experience.

Higher-end Italian Pinot Grigio and much Oregon Pinot Gris (same grape, different name) can be wonderful wines. There’s some good California Pinot Grigio, too. However, supermarket shelves are full of inexpensive examples of wines labeled Pinot Grigio. Unfortunately, most inexpensive examples of this variety we’ve experienced—whether coming from Italy or California—have seemed really pallid. We’re happy to report that the 2017 Pinot Grigio from CK Mondavi does not. This is a seven buck wine that sparkles. Aromas of white peaches and Asian pears give a nice introduction and are followed by flavors incorporating those two fruits, as well as some creamy pineapple and papaya. Most unusual aspect of this delightful wine, though, was the texture. It seemed somewhat oily and viscous in the mouth (a positive feature, no matter how unusual the description might sound). The effect was to add a richness to this Pinot Grigio, which may be due to the 10% Chardonnay which is part of the blend.

We hear that Charlie Gilmore enjoys making homemade pizzas and thinks the wines he crafts are especially good accompaniment. Red wines come first come to mind when I think of pizza, but if your topping is something other than pepperoni, maybe these whites would be appropriate possibilities. Come to think of it, I recall a wood-fired pizza I ordered at Hotel La Fonte dell’Astore in Castelpetroso some years ago. I knew that “Fruta di Mare” meant something fishy, but was surprised when my order came to table topped with calamari and mussels still in their shells. The pizza was delicious and I remember enjoying a glass or two of white wine with it.  They produce a lot of Trebbiano in that area, but who knows—maybe it was Pinot Grigio.

While that particular night in Italy can’t be duplicated, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend seven dollars for a CK Mondavi and Family Pinot Grigio to accompany a more Californian rendition of pizza.

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