by Fred McMillin
for November 3, 1998


Salad and Wine by Design


Mrs. Margrit Biever Mondavi has a prodigious menu memory. For example, my wife conducted a cooking lesson at the Mondavi winery some time ago. At a luncheon seven years later she recalled the menu. "The entree was Game Hens Armagnac with Flaming Liver Toast." Consequently, when she talks about menus and wine-food pairings, I listen.

Chef Chipchase & Margrit Mondavi
Chef Michael Chipchase and Margrit Biever Mondavi

As for that luncheon, Margrit had invited just the two of us to try some dishes with appropriate Mondavi wines. Salads have always been difficult, so we were particularly interested in what Margrit and winery Chef Michael Chipchase would do in the opening course. Here's the delicious answer.

The Rest of the Story

The Salad
Orzo Pasta with Red and Yellow Tomatoes and Arugula.
Margrit's Comments About the Wine—"An explosion of flavors is what I want to match this pasta, cheese and mixed-tomato salad. The Orzo (barley- shaped) pasta and the cheese were included to tame the tomatoes so their acids would not interfere with the wine."

The Wine

Margrit's explosion of flavors was provided by a three-year-old Reserve Mondavi Chardonnay. My 17 tasters just tried the 1994. It topped a group of rival $30 California Chardonnays by a substantial margin. The grapes were primarily from the cool Carneros. Here are the details that explain how Winemaker Tim Mondavi produces that rare spectrum of flavors.

In the Vineyard—Grapes that are candidates for the Reserve are harvested by hand and pressed immediately on-site while still cool. This maximizes fruit flavors.
Winemaking —Both native and Montrachet yeasts were used to add complexity, as the juice fermented in small oak barrels. Then the wine was aged for over a year on the yeasty sediment with occasional stirring in the French oak drums. Finally, the barrels of wine that made the cut were bottled unfiltered to avoid removal of even a tad of those exquisite, winning taste.
Contact—Office of Nancy Light, (707)259-9463. Price—$31 range


About improving the compatibility of salad and wine, Margrit taught my wife something that day that she used in many subsequent cooking classes; select a cheese with compatible flavors and sprinkle a light coating on top of each dish of salad. We all know wine and cheese go together.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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