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Grgich Hills Wine Tasting – August, 2015

GHE-Website-Logo-CreamYou’ve probably heard of Grgich Hills Estate. It’s a fairly iconic Napa Valley winery headed by a very iconic winemaker, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. Mike was born in Croatia and started his enological studies there, but fled the Communist regime and found his way to the U.S.  He arrived in 1958 and proceeded to work with various wineries and winemakers, including legends Andre Tchelistcheff and Robert Mondavi.  Mike joined Chateau Montelena in 1972, and is responsible for making the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that turned the wine world on its head when the wine beat theyountville-vineyard best whites the French had to offer at the Judgement of Paris. Instantly Mike was a wine celebrity.

In 1977 land was purchased and ground broken on a winery partnership between Mike and Hills Coffee family member Austin Hills. The result was Grgich Hills, and it has been turning out quality Napa Valley wine ever since. Mike himself is still going strong at 92, and his family is firmly entrenched in the winery and its future. Good things should come from here for a long time.

Grgich Winery-Sign-BannerWe recently attended a tasting of Grgich Hills Napa wines at the Kingstown Liquor Mart, 6800 Post Road in North Kingstown, RI. If you’ve never attended an event here you might want to consider it, as they do a very good job and have created an excellent venue above the retail shop.   Bill McPharlin, Grgich’s Northeast Regional Sales Manager,  was on hand to pour and describe the wines. He also provided a few very entertaining anecdotes.  But this was all about the wine, and below are our tasting notes.

GRGICH Wines

2013 Fume Blanc – light straw colored, the wine has a big nose of peachy fruit with lychee, orange peel and a touch of vanilla (crazy but true for me at least).  Fume Blanc was initially created by Robert Mondavi when he introduced an oaked Sauvignon Blanc, in the style of the Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley, into the American market.  This GHE Fume Blancone is complex, and was one of those wines that just presents discrete aromas and flavors.  That doesn’t always happen so vividly.   It sees some oak, and in fact spends six months in neutral French oak on the lees, although still a vibrant wine with good acidity.  You get a little more body and a touch of the lees creaminess. The finish is very long.  This is delicious and excellent. Around $25.  If you’re a white wine person it is worth it.

2012 Chardonnay – definitely a European, Burgundian style of Chardonnay, the wine yields tropical fruit on the nose.  The oak is noticeable, and the wine sees 10 months in French oak, 40% of which is new.  Bright acid keeps it well balanced.  It’s clean and long and just screams quality.  About $35, and well worth it when you compare to your favorite wine from the Cote de Beaune.

2011 Zinfandel – let’s start by saying that Cheri and I tend to not like Zinfandel.  It simply is what it is.  This wine we liked.  It has a dusty, muted red color with a touch of brown.  The nose is earthy with dark fruits (plum), pepper and a touch of sweet molasses.  The nose is big here.  The wine is pretty big too, but not crazy checking in at 14.5% alcohol. Again there is bright acid balancing the tannins.  Good length caps off a complex wine.  It is very atypical for a California Zinfandel. About $30.

2009 Merlot – this has some bottle age, and it works.  Made of 100% Merlot from four different vineyards, covering the length of Napa Valley, the wine is dark purple red with some amber tinges at the rim.  The nose brings dark fruit and spice, a pretty classic Merlot profile.  Tannins build slowly after you take a sip, offset with good acidity.  It is really, really long.  Think of a high quality right bank Bordeaux.  It’s delicious. About $35.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon – this is 86% Cabernet, with 7.5% Merlot and 6.5% Petit Verdot.  It’s a deep purple red in color.  Lean is how I would describe the nose, with reserved fruit but grudgingly given.  There are some green, vegetal notes as well, and they are not good.  On the palate the wine lacks depth, with the green notes again presenting and the mid palate disappointing.  In my mind this shows the tough 2011 vintage.  It is a wine we would skip, although some at the tasting liked it.  Considering it is the same price as the next wine, we suggest you forget 2011 here.  About $50.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – dark purple red as well, this has an explosive nose of currant, blackberry and spice.  You can so clearly see the difference between the lean 2011 and this wine.  It is riper, richer and deeper.  The tannins are a bit stiff but balanced with clean acidity.  It is very drinkable but will get better.  A long finish caps off a complex and excellent wine.  About $50.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon – a library wine here, which I was excited to try after having others from this vintage recently and being pretty impressed.  This did not disappoint.  It’s really dark purple red.  There is the slightest touch of Amber at the edges, but it does not look old by any means.  The nose is big, full of dark fruits, coffee and mocha.  Very full bodied the wine is luxurious and rich, but still fresh and not jammy.  It’s the proverbial rose in the iron fist, elegant and powerful.  We loved this and bought some to put in the cellar for a special occasion.  About $60 and not a lot of it available.

2010 Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon – this is their flagship wine, made from theGRGICH Yountville Cab 26 acre Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard which was planted in 1959 and is the second oldest Cabernet vineyard in The Napa Valley.  The wine is rich, with loads of currant flavor, good acid and high tannins right now.  It’s really good, and obviously high quality.  It’s also $200.  So here we’re comparing to wines like Joseph Phelps Insignia, Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, Realm To Kalon (a favorite from Newport a few years ago) and others.  While not in the stratosphere like Screaming eagle, Harlan and Bryant, this is expensive juice.   I still can’t get my head around paying $200 retail for a wine.

If you haven’t tried any wines from Grgich Hills you definitely should.  They are high quality, food friendly and delicious almost across the board.  Not inexpensive, most fall in the middle of the Napa price range, far below the elite wines.  The 2006 Library Cabernet was spectacular.  It’s not often we drop $60 on a bottle, but we did on this one.

They’re all available at Kingston Liquors, and if the one case of 2006 is gone they can order more.

If you’re going to The Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival in late September Grgich Hills will have a table, so you’ll have another chance to see what they have to offer.

A votre sante!

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