Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Grgich Hills Estate Revisited

Happy Birthday Miljenko "Mike" Grgich who will be 90 this April 1st.  Mike was inducted into the Vintner Hall of Fame in 2008 in honor of his many contributions to the wine industry and is one of the most well known vintners in Napa Valley.  Grgich Hills will be offering some special events throughout the year in honor of his birthday, including the Gala event on April 13th when they will release a Chardonnay in the same style as the one that won the 1976 Paris Tasting.

Entry sign

About a year ago I received a request from a woman in Brazil asking what Napa Valley wineries I recommended she visit on her upcoming trip to Napa.  She indicated that the only winery she had definitely decided upon visiting was Grgich because she especially loved Chardonnays.  Mike Grgich is forever associated with Chardonnay and the famous Paris Tasting of 1976.  Less well known is that in 1980 during a blind tasting of 221 Chardonnays at the Great Chicago Showdown, the 1977 Grgich Hills Chardonnay was the winner. But Grgich Hills makes five other excellent wines in addition to their Chardonnay, with all of their wines noted for their integrity and terroir.  They do not make wines that follows popular trends or chase after high ratings.

Entry way

Grgich Hills Estate was founded in 1977, a year after Mike Grgich crafted the famous 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that placed first in Paris in 1976. I have a vivid memory of tasting this wine back in 1976 while living in Southern California, and it really was a wonderful wine.  I was fortunate enough to purchase a case of it, the second case of wine I had ever purchased.  Our last visit to Grgich was about two years ago on March 29, 2011 and I have been there many times over the years.  Service is always very good and the wines are always interesting.

Tasting bar

The 366 acres that constitute Grgich Hills Estate is all family owned and certified to be organically and biodynamically farmed. All five estate vineyards are farmed without artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.  These include estates in American Canyon, Carneros, Yountville, Rutherford and Calistoga. Only natural wild yeasts are used in their wines. They are also a dog friendly winery and allow dogs in their tasting room.

Wine Train stops at Grgich

As always, the tasting at Grgich begins with their famous Chardonnay.  This was the Grgich hills Estate Napa Valley 2010 Chardonnay at $42.  Grapes are from their Carneros and American Canyon vineyards.  Production was 25,853 cases. It sees no malolatic conversion and is aged in French oak for 10 months, with 60% neutral and 40% new oak.  After a good aroma, I got a dry, crisp peach with some minerality and a bit of citrus.  The finish was medium length.  It is quite nice and should pair really well with food.

Entry fountain

Grgich, like Mondavi, is also known for their Fume Blanc, a Sauvignon Blanc modeled after drier Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc rather than Bordeaux.  We tried the Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley 2010 Fume Blanc ($30).  As I would expect this is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and is from certified organic grapes from their American Canyon and Carneros vineyards. It is aged 6 months on the lees in neutral oak barrels. Production was 12,791 cases.  After a light nose, I got a crisp, dry, clean grapefruit and lemon on the palate with a medium length finish.  It is one of the better Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs and should go marvelously with a wide range of food.  I really liked it but it is a very dry, crisp Sauvignon Blanc that will appeal to those who like this style.

Birthday announcement

Although not on the regular tasting list, they had some Grgich Hills Estate 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Essence ($48) open and offered us a taste.  This is usually available only to club members and is made from their finest Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  It had a moderate nose of grapefruit and lemon followed by a full bodied, fairly complex, tart lemon palate with some minerality.  It had more nose and a longer finish than their Fume Blanc and seemed more concentrated and intense while still being well balanced.  This is an excellent Sauvignon Blanc.  It was my favorite of the white wines, followed by the Chardonnay.

"Bean" feeling at home

Red wines came next and our first sample was the Grgich Hills Estate 2009 Zinfandel at $35.  Production was 6,856 cases.This is a light to medium bodied Zin with great spice, some earthiness and good acid and balance.  I'm fond of spicy Zins and this one has it in spades.  It is 92% Zinfandel and 2% Petite Sirah with 6,856 cases having been made. Grapes are from Calistoga. I liked it alone, but it should pair well with Italian, Mexican, or anything tomato based or with bbq or steak.

Entry sign and fountain

Grgich Hills Estate 2008 Merlot ($42) was our next sample.  It is 100% Merlot and is aged 18 months on French oak with 30% of that being new oak. Production was 3,117 cases. It had a light aroma.  On the palate it was fairly full bodied for a Merlot with tart red fruit, mostly plum, and good tannins.  It had more complexity and structure than many Merlots and a medium length finish of puckery red fruit reminiscent of plum skins.  It should pair very well with food.

Front entrance

Our final offering was the Grgich Hills Estate 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon at $60.  It is 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc with 15,500 cases having been made.  It saw 21 months in French oak with 60% of that being new oak.  On the nose I got currants, coffee, smoke and oak but on the palate it was black cherry with good smooth tannins and a medium to full body.  Finish was medium long.  This was my favorite of the reds. A very nice Napa Valley Cab that is drinkable now.

Stone sign

Grgich Hills definitely belongs on your list of wineries to visit when you are in Napa Valley. They have very good white and red wines, are quite hospitable and are an iconic Napa Valley winery. Grgich Hills Cellar is on Highway 29 in Rutherford, is very easy to find and has ample parking. It is open to the public without reservations. Tours are available by appointment.  Grgich Hills is in the Napa Neighbor Program.  It is one of those wineries that everybody should visit at least once.  But once you have visited, you will want to return.

Today's tasting selections

1829 St. Helena Hwy.
Rutherford, CA 94573
Date of visit: March 6, 2013

An Iconic Winery

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