“Any time you drink Grgich Hills,” I told my partner in wine crime, “you’re drinking a bit of California wine history.” So much more so when sipping on their Chardonnay seeing as how original owner and winemaker Miljenko “Mike” Grgich has been called “The King of Chardonnay” since founding the estate back in 1977. So, needless to say, this wine’s reputation preceded itself and I was (probably over-) eager to see what “The King” is producing today.
I’m going to go ahead and plagiarize myself a bit here just to reiterate the importance of Grgich wines in Napa Valley for those who may be unfamiliar.
Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, a Croatian native, gained international wine recognition during the, now infamous, “Paris Tasting” of 1976. The blind tasting panel was filled with, shall we say, skeptical French judges who blind tasted a wide array of the best of France’s white Burgundies amongst a small sampling of New World Chardonnays from the Napa Valley. I think “shocked” is putting it mildly when the judges, and the rest of the wine world, discovered that the white wine winner was none other than Mike Grgich’s 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. Needless to say, Grgich’s reputation sky-rocketed.
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The following year, he founded Grgich Hills Estate. And, to this day, as an advocate of sustainable viticulture, Grgich wines are all estate-grown, free of pesticides, artificial fertilizers and other unnatural additives. As of 2006, the Grgich property was completely converted to solar power.
Learn More about the Vineyards
About the Wine: The 2013 Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested from the estate’s American Canyon and Carneros vineyards in Napa Valley. Due to the cooler climate area, the grapes are allowed a longer hang time and thus have a strongly developed acidity which adds a unique flavor profile to the wines produced. To preserve that uniqueness the grapes do not undergo any malolactic fermentation — a process that would otherwise turn that acid into that oh-so-typical California-cream texture.
The wine is fermented and aged in oak (60% neutral; 40% new) for 10 months.
Flavor Profile: A light straw yellow in the glass, the aromas are ripe with green apple — a stereotypical aroma that is in no way indicative to the rollercoaster of flavors you’ll experience on the palate. The initial taste will punch the tip of the tongues with a hit of sour apple to start — almost as if waking up the senses, getting you to pay a bit more attention. The flavors quickly subdue into something calmer — not creamier, but if you’re paying attention (as the wine wants you to do), you will get the most subtle hints of nuttiness (think soft nuts like raw cashews or blanched almonds). Just when you’ve caught your balance and you’re ready to ride this wave, the soft flavors and textures seem to melt away and again comes a strong hit of fruit — tropical this time (think just-under mango, a bit of lemon, and certainly a zest of lime). And then all at once it’s over. But there’s a prickling sensation that spans from the center of the tongue out towards its edges — a bit of heat (a bit of spice?) that leaves you, well left me, a bit confused.
And I mean this in an utterly complimentary way. Never before have I experienced a Chardonnay that took me for such a flavorful ride. And my partner in wine crime and I battled back and forth about which flavors were primary and which were secondary. And what is happening with that finish?
I can only attest that I now know what all the fuss is about — Grgich Chardonnay is unlike any other. Although the winemaking may take its influence from the French, who don’t fuss around with ML (and most traditionalists still don’t age in oak), this wine is a testament to California’s sunshine coast, our modern winemaking methods, but also our ability to maintain an Old World refinement. It’s no wonder the judges were baffled. Tasting blind — I don’t know that I would have guessed this was a California Chardonnay either.
Hail to the King, I guess.
Food Pairing: The night I popped the cork on this bottle I had, I enjoyed a bowl of crab risotto garnished with fresh persimmons and parsley. Was this the perfect pairing? I’m not so sure. And to be fair I wasn’t so sure when I lined up the food and the meal beforehand. But I thought — what the heck? Sometimes risotto can be cloyingly creamy to an utter fault. And knowing that a Napa Valley Chard would go agains the creamy-Sonoma grain, I thought I’d give it a go. Now, my personal risotto recipe, is not that heavy (you’re talking to a former personal fitness trainer here). So I think what my dish actually needed was some good old-fashioned California creamy Chard. However if your recipe is a heavier one or if you’re ordering a risotto at a restaurant where Grgich Chardonnay is on the menu then, yes, absolutely, one-hundred percent, go for this wine.
In my mind, the perfect pairing would be something a bit fresher in nature. I think this wine would pair well with a simple chicken salad, tuna nicoise, or even a light pizza (I’m thinking like a broccoli rabe here, nothing tomato based). I want something that celebrates the fruit and herbs in the wine, something that won’t hide that lingering heat. And, ultimately, I think this is a case of opposites. If you eat something that isn’t cream based, that mid-palate soft oakiness will shine through even more.
Although, as my partner in wine crime said, “It’s a good wine. It doesn’t even matter when a wine’s this good.” Well, that’s a fact.
More Info: If you haven’t read my review of Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc, please do so. It’s the wine that made me fall in love with the name. I received this bottle of Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay as a sample, but for more information about the estate and to purchase wines directly, please do visit the Grgich Hills Estate website.
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