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Isabel Mondavi Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2008
These words embody Isabel Mondavi's joie de vivre - and the panache she used to fashion her own brand - I'M Wines.
Named for her initials, I'M Wines was created after Isabel asked her son Rob, a winemaker, to make a Rosé from the family's Cabernet Sauvignon to serve at her weekly luncheon for a group of friends. Isabel expected 20 cases; Rob gave her 300, presenting both a problem and a solution. Though the lunch gathering could not hope to drink the entire production, the wine was impressive enough to make a name for itself on the market. Thus, the label was born. In addition to I'M Rosé, it includes I'M Chardonnay, with a Pinot Noir in the works.
Armed with nearly 40 years of experience as a close witness and advisor to the wine business, Isabel refused to be encumbered by industry standards when creating her label. Her Napa Valley Cabernet is pink, not the traditional deep red. She didn't stop there. Since she is a fan of Sonoma County Chardonnay, Rob has made her one in the style she loves best.
Every aspect of the brand is family based. Dina, Isabel's daughter, worked with her mother and a designer to create the label and the aesthetics of the bottle. The unusual use of a Bordeaux shape for the Chardonnay bottle was chosen by Dina because Isabel finds it easier to pour.
One of Pinot Noir’s most successful New World outposts, the Willamette Valley is the largest and most important AVA in Oregon. With a Mediterranean climate moderated by a Pacific Ocean influence, it is perfect for cool-climate viticulture—warm and dry summers allow for steady, even ripening, and frost is rarely a risk during spring and winter.
Mountain ranges bordering three sides of the valley, particularly the Chehalem Mountains, provide the option for higher-elevation, cooler vineyard sites. The three prominent soil types here create significant differences in wine styles between vineyards and sub-AVAs. The iron-rich, basalt-based Jory volcanic soils found commonly in the Dundee Hills are rich in clay and hold water well; the chalky, sedimentary soils of Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton and McMinnville encourage complex root systems as vines struggle to search for water and minerals. Silty, loess soils are found in the Chehalem Mountains.
One of the most finicky yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is a labor of love for many. However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. In fact, it is the only red variety permitted in Burgundy. Highly reflective of its terroir, Pinot Noir prefers calcareous soils and a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality and demands a lot of attention in the vineyard and winery. It retains even more glory as an important component of Champagne as well as on its own in France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions. This sensational grape enjoys immense international success, most notably growing in Oregon, California and New Zealand with smaller amounts in Chile, Germany (as Spätburgunder) and Italy (as Pinot Nero).
In the Glass
Pinot Noir is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and cherry with some heftier styles delving into the red or purple plum and in the other direction, red or orange citrus. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and a lively acidity. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount) it can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice, dried fruit and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon and tuna but its mild mannered tannins give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry: chicken, quail and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, Pinot noir has proven it isn’t afraid of beef. California examples work splendidly well with barbecue and Pinot Noir is also vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
For administrative purposes, the region of Beaujolais is often included in Burgundy. But it is extremely different in terms of topography, soil and climate, and the important red grape here is ultimately Gamay. Truth be told, there is a tiny amount of Gamay sprinkled around the outlying parts of Burgundy (mainly in Maconnais) but it isn’t allowed with any great significance and certainly not in any Villages or Cru level wines.