The iconic To Kalon vineyard at Robert Mondavi Winery. (photo by Jeremy Ball)

The 2017 The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($175) from Robert Mondavi Winery is a bottle for a celebration—even a small, socially-distanced one. 

The work of chief winemaker Geneviève Janssens and her team, this wine is sourced from the finest blocks of fruit within the To Kalon Vineyard, which was first planted in 1868 by Hamilton Walker Crabb (a trailblazer in Napa wine) in the Oakville sub-appellation. The vineyard, whose name means “highest beauty” in ancient Greek, has been the winery’s home since 1966 and today spans 450 acres. These grapes were hand-harvested early (in July and August) during the 2017 growing season, a temperamental and challenging year of weather and natural disasters. Heavy winter rains (ending a five-year drought) were followed by a mellow spring and summer heat waves, which gave way to wildfires in October.

Luckily, 98% of the grapes had been picked prior to the fires, and the remaining 2% were disposed of. (To provide the acidity and tannin structure needed for The Reserve’s aging ability, the team annually picks grapes earlier than most other local wineries.) There were three stages of sorting (on the vine, individual clusters, and single-berry with destemming) and myriad tasting trials during more than a year and a half of barrel aging (31 days in traditional French oak tanks followed by 100% new French oak barrels).

It all culminates in this bottle, with 94.5% cab, 5% petit verdot and 0.5% cab franc to add flavor and complexity. Opening with a rustic nose of leather and smoke (as well as sage and vanilla bean) that gives way to black currants, bramble and herbs, the full-bodied wine is velvety and supple on the palate, with balanced tannins and developing layers of cocoa and dark cherries, and, eventually, juicy plum. The wine is a beautiful expression of the vineyard’s terroir (the adjacent Mayacamas mountains shield the vines from too much sun and ocean climate) and the team’s dedication to experimenting with growing techniques; for example, the vineyard features high-density plantings (more than any other Cali vineyard), yielding smaller berries and stronger fruit flavors.

The wine lends itself to rich grilled meats. We paired it with fajitas for a more casual, impromptu occasion, though you might be more inclined to try it with prime rib or rack of lamb for your intimate holiday table—after all, you won’t want to share this bottle with too many people.