Discovering Mondavi's Wines at The Great Arizona Picnic

We, along with the rest of the metro area, headed to Great Arizona Picnic at the Scottsdale Culinary Festival Sunday but had just one stop in mind: The Robert Mondavi Discover Wine Tour.

The man is both famous and infamous in American wine history, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to experience Mondavi's Napa Valley in our own backyard (little did we know the winery would be transporting a remake of the tasting room to Scottsdale in an 18-wheeler): A newly stained set, plus an Essence Station for smelling common wine aromas and an iPad station to register for a trip to the winery in Napa or pull up wine-pairing recipes.

"Mondavi first sold his wine from door to door, so we figured there might be something to it," says Jaki Palacios, the associate marketing manager for Robert Mondavi Private Selection, crediting Mondavi's passion for wine education and wine accessibility as the inspiration for the 5-year-old Discover Wine tour.

Click through for the juicy details on the Mondavi wines.

A crowd clustered around the bar for a $5 entry fee and $1 glasses of Mondavi's finest Napa Valley wines, mid-value Private Selection wines made from grapes from California's central coast, and sparkling wines made from grapes grown in Mondavi's boyhood home of Lodi, Calif.

The tipsy crowd assembled for a wine education session that quickly drew a standing-room only crowd, as Palacious queued up Margrit Mondavi to introduce the winery via video and called on wine distributor Brian Bergeron to fill in the tasting note gaps on the Napa Valley-grown Robert Mondavi Winery collection.

Mondavi's Napa Valley Fumé Blanc, made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes with a marketing gimmick of a name, is what Palacious calls "summer in a glass" and we'd toast the sentiment. It hit the spot on the surprisingly sunny day, and would be great at a real picnic if kept on ice. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were underwhelming, and it was just too warm to truly enjoy the Cabernet Sauvignon that Mondavi does so well. Crowd tip: Pair the cab sav with gnocchi in gorgonzola cream sauce for an otherworldly experience. Consider us non-meat eaters game.

The crowds meandered back to the tasting area, only to resurface for Sunday afternoon's cooking demo with Chef Chad Bolar of the Wrigley Mansion. (What would a picnic be without food?!) Bolar paired a Hamachi Ceviche with the Fumé Blanc and a cocoa-braised beef short rib with the Meritage, of which we tried neither (play the vegetarian card at a culinary festival, and you'll likely go hungry... not to mention feel the buzz), but heard rave reviews. Chef Christopher Gross cooked up tasting portion's for Saturday's small but fearless crowd that weathered the weather. Check out both chef's bios and recipes here.

If you missed Mondavi at the GAP, you could either a) schedule a weekend trip for the winery's Discover Wine Day with free admission this Saturday or b) stop by your local wine shop, pick up a few bottles of Fumé Blanc, put on your Ray Bans, and gather 100 of your closest friends in your lawn (or lack thereof) and pretend you fought the masses like we did this weekend... Now if only Mondavi would have a kickback weekend and lower the price of a bottle to its original 79 cents, then we could all really indulge in Mondavi's famed "gracious living." Right?!

Check back next Wednesday for Wine School with the recently-elected President of the Arizona Wine Growers Association Peggy Fiandaca and leave your questions for the wine gurus below.

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Hannah E Williams