Because in these trying times, we’ll take all the comfort we can get.
Sunset over vineyards with red wine grapes in late summer
I’d never never heard the term “comfort wine” before but in a lot of ways that phrase makes a lot of sense. There were a lot of things I’d never heard of pre-global pandemic so like many people, I’m taking the time in quarantine to learn a thing or two and wine happens to be at the forefront of that list. Simply put, comfort wine is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the bottle of New Zealand Sauv Blanc you turn to on a hot summer day or that famous Camus you love to pair with a nice filet. It’s the wine we know we can count on to make us feel a type of way, much like a warm bath or binging ten episodes of House Hunters International.
“Comfort wines are the wine’s that have legacy and heritage,” winemaker and third generation proprietor of Charles Krug Winery Peter Mondavi Jr. said in a virtual tasting experience Wednesday. “They are trusted.”
Hailing from one of Napa Valley’s oldest wine families, Mondavi grew up on the property of Charles Krug and spent much of his childhood in the vines on the estate. Since the 1990’s, Mondavi has been charged with shepherding the winery forward into the next chapter of Napa’s evolution. But today is a new day in wine and Mondavi, like so many others are also adjusting to this new normal, which in today’s world means going virtual.
Charles Krug Tasting Room in Napa Valley, California
It’s a sentiment that feels all too familiar. A travel writer by trade, like so many of my friends and colleagues whose jobs have been relegated to what’s been coined armchair travel—or places you can visit from the comfort of your own home—the time to learn and talk about comfort wine couldn’t have come at a better time.
So on a Wednesday at 1pm (PST), 4pm ET, with six bottles of Charles Krug in front of me, I sat down for my first ever virtual tasting with Mr. Mondavi and a select group of participants who, I’m assuming anyway, were eager to break up the monotony of quarantine, even for an hour. If anything, it was as good excuse to put on a nice shirt anything other than pajama bottoms.
“Welcome to Napa Valley. Virtually,” Mondavi said at the start of our Zoom session. And off we went.
Prior to today’s tasting, in addition to the wine, I was sent a very specific set of instructions “in order to assure the most optimal tasting experience.” Step one, “chill both whites the night before the event and remove from the fridge 30-minutes prior to the start of the tasting (12:30 pm PST).” Not a problem. “As for the reds,” the instructions continued, “please open each 60-minutes prior to the tasting.” I asked Alexa to set the reminder and carried on with my day.
After a quick powerpoint introduction about his family and the winery, we get right to the business at hand. “Has anyone tasted Charles Krug before?” Mondavi asked the group. A few hands shot up for what looked like a fairly even split between those who were familiar with the wine and those who weren’t.
Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc
Our tasting began with the first of the white wines, a 2019 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($18). Modeled closely to a New Zealand style Sauv Blanc, the grapes are harvested primarily at night in order to “preserve the freshness of the fruit,” Mondavi told us, after which the wine is cold fermented in stainless steel tanks to further enhance the freshness. “This is a nice springtime wine,” Mondavi said. “Good to drink as it gets a little bit warmer, maybe on your balcony or patio. Or wherever you can socially distance,” he added. I wondered if that was the first time anyone’s ever had to include that addendum in a wine tasting.
Next we moved on a 2018 Carneros Chardonnay ($21). Mondavi starts by asking the group who has a penchant for California chards and who might be chard averse. Again, I’m not an expert but in general I find Chardonnay to be the varietal I gravitate towards the least.
Charles Krug 2018 Carneros Chardonnay
The grapes for this bottle comes from Carneros, Mondavi explains, which is known for producing fruits with a strong balance of acidity and ripeness because it is the area that gets the most fog and coolest temperatures in the valley. He points to the “creaminess” and “lushness” of this varietal which all sounds great, but this isn’t my comfort wine.
The next wine we try is, a 2018 Carneros Pinot Noir ($28), is right up my alley. Aged for eight months in French oak barrels, the gorgeous long finish with notes of black cherry and brown sugar pairs well with a bolognese or roasted salmon, Mondavi says. “Don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect pairings,” Mondavi added when I pressed him further on what he’d pair with this particular varietal. He continued by explaining that Krug wines in general are very universal when it comes to pairing with food, something he and his family have delighted in a lot later in quarantine.
Charles Krug 2018 Pinot Noir
Next we moved on to a 2017 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($39). On the nose, this wine was bursting with everything from blueberries and blackberries to cherry and black current. That’s what the tasting notes said anyway. I just loved the richness of this blend both in body and on the nose. Mondavi explained the grapes for this varietal are sourced from a number of vineyards around the valley and between that and the wine being aged for 1.5 years in French oak, along with an exceptionally hot summer season, the end result was this decadent Cab Sauv that is honestly unlike anything I’ve had in a long time. Could this be my new comfort wine? I can live with the price tag I thought to myself.
Charles Krug 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon
Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon
After that gorgeous cab we moved on to a 2016 Napa Valley Generations Red Blend ($70). “I like to describe this wine as a little more spice driven,” Mondavi explained. A Bordeaux-style blend, with, what Mondavi artfully described as having “one foot in the old world, one foot in the new world,” definitely had the spice factor, but when one of the participants called out the merlot notes and tannin-driven profile, I knew I was out of my depth. “The merlot in this softens this up a little bit,” Mondavi explained. Fair enough.
For our last and final wine, we dipped into a 2016 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($125). The best word I can think of to describe this, is butter. Not in terms of profile or flavor, but in smoothness, or mouthfeel as the connoisseurs would say.
Charles Krug 2016 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Estate Grown
First produced in 1944, Mondavi tells us there are only 1,000 cases of this vintage produced every year. In addition to this being bottled for their 75th anniversary, for him, this perhaps is Krug’s finest example of a comfort wine. It’s opulent and big and balanced and stays with you for a while and whether you open it up and drink it right away or you can hold on it for a while, this is the wine that will truly stand the test of time.
“This is going to be the norm, for the next indeterminate amount of time,” Mondavi said as we neared the end oof our Zoom session when asked about the future of the wine industry. “We’re still moving forward.”
Charles Krug plans to offer live tastings on social media and in the meantime, Mondavi encourages those who are interested in finding their favorite wine, comfort or otherwise to visit the website and click on the wine finder tab to find wines available near you.