Memorial Day is when we honor and remember veterans, especially those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. To honor and support veterans and to pay homage to patriarch Peter Mondavi Sr., a World War II veteran, the Mondavi Family has challenged winemaker John Moynier to create a wine that salutes the Purple Heart medal, a symbol of ultimate unselfishness among our military men and women.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Peter at his winery. I could sense Napa Valley history just by being in the same room with him.

The wine is the Purple Heart Red Wine Sonoma County 2015 ($19.99), a Left Bank-style Bordeaux blend with 19 percent California zinfandel added. The production and availability of Purple Heart wines is the result of a collaboration between the Mondavi Family and the Purple Heart Foundation, whose mission includes support, outreach and advocacy for combat wounded veterans and their families. Much of the focus of the foundation’s work centers on employment for people with disabilities, homelessness and women veterans issues.

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The Purple Heart wines, along with other efforts, will hopefully increase awareness and funding needed to continue and expand services. A noble cause, but let’s talk about the wine.

Purple Heart is not head winemaker John Moynier’s first rodeo. He has been making wine for the Mondavi family for nearly 33 years. It’s the only place he has worked since earning a degree in Fermentation Science from UC Davis.

It is hard to imagine telling my parents in the late 1960s that I was majoring in fermentation science. They would have seen it as a metaphor for everything but studying. Things have changed. Today, it is an honorable profession that balances brains with brawn.

Moynier, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was inspired enough by the project to return from his retirement. He felt up to the challenge to create a wine worthy of the cause it would support.

The 2015 Purple Heart wine is a merlot-dominant blend that includes zinfandel, petit verdot and cabernet franc. There is a reason why merlot is the third most planted grape globally. Early to ripen, it is intended to be a good blender and flourishes with the support of the other Bordeaux grapes.

Purple Heart Red Wine Sonoma County 2015. (Courtesy photo)

If zinfandel was grown in Bordeaux, it would be a good addition as long as its bold flavors were held in check. Here, the 19 percent zinfandel adds, for the most part, to the flavor profile, not a high alcohol level (14.2 percent) or an imbalanced pH.

In contrast to the merlot, petit verdot is late-ripening and, although it can add dynamics to the wine, it definitely influenced the deep color here. The cabernet franc is evident in the spice hints.

I tasted the 2015 Purple Heart three times, once after 20 minutes in the glass, hours later and, finally, the next day when the flavors were fully integrated. Each time, after much swirling, it expressed nice texture with balanced, accessible flavors. If your budget is under $20 per bottle and you enjoy red wine, I recommend this one without hesitation.

Dark and opaque in the glass, the medium-bodied release offered dark plum and a hint of licorice on the nose, a rich mouthfeel with more red fruit flavors and some spice on the finish. The added zinfandel grape was evident, but did not dominate. With healthy balanced tannins, Purple Heart will cellar well, but is very drinkable now.

The task of creating a complex red blend, using Sonoma County fruit, for under $20 cannot be a simple one. Kudos to Moynier for an effort to be proud of.

It would be appropriate and symbolic for those enjoying wine with friends on Memorial Day, or at any time, to include a bottle of Purple Heart wine to toast and remember our heroes. I knew and know a few who would appreciate it.

Purple Heart wines are available in some outlets and, with a little research, can be easily located throughout the Bay Area.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com.

Lyle W. Norton
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Lyle W. Norton

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