Return to Grgich
In February of 2017, we visited Grgich Hills Estate in Napa Valley. Mike Grgich’s story was fascinating, but the wine tasting was underwhelming. The new marketing and PR manager, Nick, had read our original article and invited us to return to the winery. A second chance to give them a chance to impress.
There are plans to renovate the tasting room. However, the addition of some more lights has lifted the gloom somewhat. Our tasting was in the library room. With good lighting and comfortable chairs, this provided a better environment for tasting.
Amber comments: I have to say that my initial impression of the entire experience changed this visit. Maybe it was because the tasting room felt just a little more cozy with all of the Christmas decor, or the upbeat happy music playing in the background. I also felt a more welcoming vibe from the staff and simply more enthusiasm there.
Brief Tour of Grgich
Our host, Brittany, took us on a brief tour of the winery before our tasting. Much of what she pointed out, we had seen and written about on our previous visit. However, we did see a cork tree in the garden. Despite it being December, we also saw a crew pressing grapes. Presumably, this was for a late-harvest wine.
Brittany told us about “The Great Chardonnay Showdown”. This event held in Chicago in 1980 was a tasting of 221 Chardonnay wines from around the world. Mike Grgich won the event with his 1977 vintage; the first from his new winery.
Amber comments: Although we had heard many aspects of the story before, I was impressed with Brittany’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the history and story behind the wines. We even had the opportunity to visit one of the private tasting areas and new patio area in a renovated farmhouse that sits on the property. What a treat!
Tasting Grgich White Wines
We started with the 2016 Miljenko’s Selection Chardonnay. We tasted this wine as we walked around the winery. The nose was of ripe peach laced with heavy floral notes. The richness of the bouquet was in sharp contrast to the palate. The wine was austere, with good acidity, and flavours of green apple. The finish exposed a minerality balanced by a light hint of cream.
Amber comments: I could never really understand people’s obsession with Grgich Hills Chardonnay after our previous tasting. However, my opinion completely changed upon tasting this one. A lean, beautiful Chardonnay with an elegance that won me over.
When we reached the tasting room, there was a cheese plate. Each piece of cheese on the plate had been selected to pair with one of the wines that we would be tasting.
Our second white wine was the 2015 Paris Tasting Commemorative Chardonnay ($60). The nose was of apple and vanilla. A smooth, rich mouthfeel was supported by good acidity and flavours of apple. The wine spent ten months in French oak. A fine example of how to use oak to enhance a wine. Having said that, I preferred the austere style of the first Chardonnay.
Amber comments: I do like a bit of oak in my Chardonnay. Even though again I was impressed by this tasting, I too preferred the elegance and European style of the first wine we tasted.
Tasting Grgich Red Wines
The 2013 Miljenko’s Selection Petite Sirah ($55) was our first red wine. It is only available for sale to club members. The nose was intense and full of blackcurrant aromas. In the mouth, I encountered a complex and balanced wine. Fruit, black-pepper, well-integrated tannins; all backed by good acidity. The finish was long and lush, with a subtle bitterness and a touch of green peppers. The Petit Sirah had spent thirty-two months in French oak.
Tasting Grgich Cabernet Sauvignon
Next, we tasted the 2014 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon ($90). The medium intensity nose was dominated by aromas of plum. The wine offered a soft mouthfeel with raspberry, blueberry, and bright acidity. In the mid-palate, there was a mix of summer fruits. The dusty tannins felt too distinct and not well integrated. Drinkable now, but would definitely improve with age. The salt in the cheese with which it was paired helped pull the elements together. This is clearly a wine that benefits from food.
Following up from the Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Brittany poured another Cab. This was the 2013 Yountville Old Vine ($185). Lifting the glass, I found rich aromas of plum. The mouthfeel was silky soft, with a fine balance of fruit and acid. Tannins danced in the mid-palate. A long finish brought forth raspberry, plum, black pepper, and cloves. This was an excellent wine.
Amber comments: While all of these wines were excellent, and I was really taken aback by my sudden fandom, it was the 2013 Yountville Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon that stole the show for me. What a beauty! Ready to drink now, but will age beautifully for years to come. The flavor is very ripe and round, a crowd pleaser for sure that doesn’t need a huge steak to bring down its tannins.
Tasting a Grgich Late Harvest Wine
The list of wines we were due to taste ended with the 2014 Violetta. This is a late-harvest field blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. The price for a 375ml bottle is $85. The flavours were a mix of honey and almond, supported by a stiff backbone of acidity. On its own, I found the sweetness to be a little too cloying. Paired with the provided blue cheese, the wine came into its own. The sharpness in the cheese cutting back the sweetness and allowing me to focus on the wine’s flavours.
Tasting a Grgich Library Wine
When first we visited Grgich, nearly two years ago, we tasted the 2012 Merlot. Amber and I both commented that the wine showed promise, but needed time. We were offered an opportunity to see how well the Grgich Merlot ages with a taste of the 2011 vintage.
The nose on the 2011 Merlot was intense. It offered a wonderful mix of bright fruit and forest floor. The flavour profile was of raspberry, pepper, and a delightful earthiness. A tantalizing spiciness emerged on the finish. This wine was truly excellent. We shall see how a few more years improve this wine, as we purchased a bottle of it.
Amber comments: I think at its price point, the current release Grgich Merlot has the best quality for price ratio of all of the red wines we tasted of the day. The last two releases: 2014 is $50.00 and 2015 is $43.00 respectively. They call it a Cabernet Sauvignon drinker’s Merlot and I can see why they would say that. Its baking spices and fullness in the mouth will not leave you wanting.
Our experience upon our return to Grgich was altogether more enjoyable than our first trip. We found several wines that impressed us. Whilst tasting sat at a table in the library helped, there is no doubt that this was a more interesting selection of wines.
Amber comments: I so enjoyed our tasting. It is hard to change someone’s first impression from just meh to favorable. Grgich brought their ‘A’ game and changed mine to enthusiastic. I enjoyed the wines, our young hostess, the thoughtful pairings, and the warm welcome. I am looking forward to going back again soon.