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In Bordeaux, many châteaus were coasting on reputation, and their vineyard work and winemaking were haphazard at best.

By 1987, though, the year the next wines we tasted were made, changes had occurred.

The stylistic trends of the ’80s continued; as sommelier Gillian Ballance of Murray Circle at Sausalito, California’s Cavallo Point Lodge said when we tried the 1990 Mondavi, “OK, your black fruit.” (When harvested at lower levels of ripeness, Cabernet tends to produce more red currant than black currant or blackberry flavors.) In fact, the 1990 was fantastic—for several of us, the best wine of the tasting.Wine obsessives have one huge advantage over food fanatics. For instance, most foodies I know would give their left eyeteeth (though that would make it hard to eat) to have chef Fernand Point cook them a meal at his famed La Pyramide—but since Point died in 1955, that isn’t going to happen. Robert Mondavi passed away in 2008, but to celebrate the centennial of his birth, the winery put together a retrospective tasting of wines from its cellar: Mondavi Reserve Cabernets dating back to 1978, together with great Bordeaux from the same vintages. That was one of the things on my mind at an extraordinary tasting I was lucky enough to experience at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley.(Willi Sherer, the wine director for Redd and Redd Wood in Yountville, California, and another of the experts in attendance, was at one of those tastings in the early 1990s.) Along with the ’78 Mondavi, we opened a 1978 Château Mouton Rothschild, the Bordeaux first-growth estate.Its proprietor, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, had partnered with Mondavi in 1979 to launch Opus One, the first American wine to sell for more than a bottle (you inevitably run into a lot of firsts when writing about Robert Mondavi), so it seemed appropriate.

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