Spellbound Cabernet Sauvignon
$11.99 – $15.99
When the weather turns not quite so delightful and temperatures start to drop, a hearty red wine seems an appropriate answer to the sleet-smattered cold and the right choice to accompany winter fare or to enjoy while sitting around the wood stove and listening to Linda Ronstadt’s “Duets.”
There are a number of good, inexpensive California cabernet sauvignons on the market in our area that could fill the bill, but Spellbound is one of the best buys I’ve discovered.
It’s rich and flavorful; a wine so complex that it’s hard to believe that it can be found regularly on sale in the $12 range.
Although the winery has been around only a handful of years, it has deep roots that go back more than five decades to winemaker Rob Mondavi, Jr.’s grandfather Robert Mondavi, a founding hero of modern California wine production.
During part of my misspent youth, I co-owned a restaurant in Atlanta, a place my partner, Chef Louis Osteen, and I liked to refer to as a “high-end neighborhood restaurant.” The food was well above average, and we catered to a crowd who knew a bit about eating and drink. Our house wine was Robert Mondavi, and the customers were blown away by how good it was.
At the time, most house wines in restaurants around Atlanta were swill, and Robert and his sons, Michael and Tim Mondavi, produced excellent white and red table wines that competed for quality with higher-end European wines. In fact, the Mondavi wines were so good that they dominated our wine sales.
When Robert Mondavi started his winery, in 1966, California was a fine-wine wasteland, and Mondavi’s goal was to create wines that would compete with the best. He succeeded in raising the quality of the state’s wines and receiving international acclaim, but the road was not exactly smooth, and there were strained relations with family members along the way and conflicts between those who wanted to produce good, inexpensive wines and his desire to make the absolute best.
Although Mondavi produced some of the top-ranked wines in the world (particularly with his Opus One and Continuum Estate labels), is an international icon and has given tens of millions of dollars to oenology in California, most American wine drinkers likely associate him with the inexpensive wines that bear his name. And, ironically, the Robert Mondavi wines that everybody knows, the Woodbridge and other inexpensive labels, are no longer produced by the family since being acquired in 2004 by the world’s largest wine company, Constellation Brands, which paid $1.36 billion in cash and assumed the company’s debt.
Robert Mondavi wines hit a low point around the time of its founder’s 90th birthday. (Robert Mondavi died in 2008 at 94.) The niche the company had held for years — good inexpensive wines — was being invaded. Competition had emerged from such wines as Charles Shaw, aka “Two-Buck Chuck, ” among others, and revenue was slipping, according to a New York Times article in 2003.
“We concentrated too much on Coastal and Woodbridge,’’ Robert Mondavi told the Times. “Now we’re known for wines at $7 and $9 a bottle. In the mid- to late-1990s, the wines were available in fine restaurants. Now, it is difficult to get restaurants to offer them. We’ve got to get our image back, and that’s going to take time.’’
Now, the third generation of the Mondavi family has reached that time, finding a nice middle ground between more expensive and mass produced wines with the Spellbound line.
Rob Mondavi, Jr. and his managing partner and assistant winemaker Geoff Whitman are producing excellent quality wines that are reasonably priced and drink like they cost at least $10 more.
Spellbound cabernet sauvignon, which is 13.5 percent alcohol, is aged in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The result is a smooth tasting wine with bold fruit flavors and, the winemakers say on the company’s website, an aroma of cedar and tobacco.
The Spellbound cab and others in the line are widely available in the Pioneer Valley. The wines are distributed by Horizon Beverage. If you can’t find it, ask your wine merchant; it’s worth the effort.
Spellbound’s cab is a nice wine to drink with grilled meats or spicy foods or while reflecting on how far California wine-making has come in the last 50 years and the contribution of Robert Mondavi. Listening to Ronstadt also helps the mood; her music covers about the same period.•
Suggestions for wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.