There was a time when I was very much intimidated by the name Grgich Hills, thinking I was not worthy of the wines produced. After all, there’s a lot of Napa fame and history behind the label. But I dipped my toe, sunk my teeth, no — wetted my palate with the 2014 Fumé Blanc, was taken aback by the 2013 Estate Chardonnay, and pretty much threw a party in honor of the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. What I’ve come to learn is that Grgich Hills can and does produce fun and affordable wines. And Grgich Hills 2012 Zinfandel is one such gem.
About the Wine: Grgich Hills 2012 Estate Zinfandel is made from 98% Zinfandel and 2% Petite Sirah grapes harvested from Grgich Hills Estate vineyards located just north of Calistoga in Napa Valley. After harvest, the Zinfandel and Petite Sirah were co-fermented with indigenous yeast before being pressed off the skins and conducting final aging in neutral French oak for 15 months. Obviously, since this is a newly released 2012 vintage, the wine was left to age a bit further once in bottle.
Flavor Profile: The initial smell out of the bottle is a bit sulfer-y with hints of burnt rubber. (Did someone skid stop over a skunk?) Don’t let that put you off at all and keep in mind that this is an age-able Zinfandel, so a little stank is not only expected, but appreciated.
In the glass, Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel looks like purple met rouge on a cloudy day. The aromas are a bouquet of dark berries (black berries, boysenberries, black cherries) and little hints of cacao nibs. Move your nose around the perimeter of the glass and stop at the top. Deep breath in, inhale the aromas of cliff-top rocks overlooking a foggy valley.
The palate of Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel is a bounteous mouthful. Straight-away I feel like I’m tasting a chewy, fruity candy with flavors reminiscent of cherry cola. The mid-palate gets a bit more serious with hints of spices — but friendly spices like cumin, paprika, white pepper (think spice-ful, not spice-y). This addition of savory perfectly paves the way to an herbaceous, dirty-earth finish with firm, but plush tannins.
The wonderful thing is that those initial fruits sensed on the nose and in the first sip do carry through to the finish, but they just delicately and seamlessly fade into the background. Similarly the savory and earthy elements are there at the beginning, but are just so subtle and then they begin to amplify from mid to finish. This translates to the textures of the wine as well: the refreshing burst of berry juice is immediate, at first taking all your attention but then leaving just enough of that, what I call, “watery” quality to keep the overall experience balanced, the palate light; tannins are present from start to finish but it’s not until that dirty-earth conclusion that you can really feel them on the tongue, solidifying the finish.
I will add this note, the finish is short and somewhat abrupt. Not necessarily a bad thing. For me, this quality is what made the Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel a fun wine to discover. Take some time to get to know it — flavors, textures, aromas — take several sips if you need to. It’s cool. I did.
Food Pairing: I’m not going to lie to you. I paired the Grgich Hill Estate Zinfandel with a pizza. A homemade pizza with mushrooms, olives, bell pepper, and jalepeños.
Choosing vegetables native to the ground (ok, except olives) really helped, well, ground the wine, pulling forward those earthy elements and subduing more of those fruits. Meanwhile, the tomato sauce did well to add some needed acid, which is not all that pronounced in the wine (an un-noticeable factor that didn’t seem to affect taste, texture, or drinking experience).
Was this the perfect pairing? Heck yah. I’m not usually a spicy ingredient kind of girl, but here it really balanced the overall wine and food pairing experience. Grgich recommends spicy sausages or burgers — those are dishes that aren’t quite to my palate, but I can see how the spice-meat grease-grilling situation could bode well for a pairing as well.
More Info: If you haven’t yet read my reviews of the Grgich Hills Fume Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon, please do so. I received this bottle of Grgich Hills Estate 2012 Zinfandel as a sample for review. (Cheers!) Suggested retail of this bottle: $36. For more information about Grgich Hills and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Grgich Hills website.
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