Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wine Tasting at the Historic Grgich Hills Estate – Rutherford, Napa Valley

Last Saturday was an absolute gorgeous day, not a cloud above and the sky was crystal clear blue. THIS is the kind of weather is a wine country photographer prays for!

So, on my second trip during the 2010 Mustard Season I decided to head up to Rutherford in Napa Valley to snap some shots around the historic Grgich Hills Estate and then do some tasting in this historic winery.

I first visited this winery about five years ago when I was still relatively new to learning about the history, climate and wines of the Napa Valley. I remembering at the time thinking to myself that the winery facility was unimpressive and the wine maker I met in the somewhat worn tasting room was a funny old man wearing a beret. Little did I know that this kind soft spoken gentleman was one of the giants in the hall of fame of Napa Valley Wine Making who held put the French wine snobs in the famous Judgment of Paris wine competition in 1976. 

If you want to learn more about this Jedi-Master of wine making I highly recommend reading George Tabor’s book Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine in which your discover the real story and find all the details that were left out of the largely fictional movie “Bottle Shock.”

One of the unique qualities of Grgich Hills Estate is that it is one of the few historic wineries in the valley that is still family owned and operated and it has maintained its historic charm in its simplicity. Yet it is also innovative in its farming and wine making techniques in that it practices sustainable, environmentally friendly methods of growing grapes as the vineyards are certified organic certified Biodynamic®. 

The result of maintaining both tradition and earth-friendly wine making is that they produce superb quality wines. After roaming around the vineyards with my camera I stepped into the tasting room. 

My first was the 2008 Napa Valley Fume Blanc. This is bright straw golden-yellow with beautiful floral and fresh tropical notes of pineapple, white grapefruit peach, grapefruit, and golden delicious apple. It has fresh acidity, fine minerality, slightly dry and yet it is also rich and full-flavored with a lingering clean finishes. It would probably be more appreciated on a hot summer day as I found it to be a little steep at $30. 

While I found all of the wines to be exceptional, I particularly liked my second wine which was the 2005 Napa Valley Merlot. It is deep purple in color with ruby highlights near the rim. On the nose it has plenty of black cherry, plum and wild blackberry followed by anise, dried herbs, with a hint of oak and cigar box. A full-bodied wine, on the palate it is has supple ripe tannins with balanced acidity, medium weight and is well structured. On the initial impact there is plenty of ripe red cherry, plum, and blackberry, damp earthy notes, followed by hints of dark chocolate and toasted oak. It has a prolonged silky finish with fresh plums, dark cherry a slight earthy quality followed by spice and cocoa notes. A great example of a Napa Merlot for $42 so I brought a bottle home.

My third wine was the 2006 Napa Valley Zinfandel. It is deep garnet to burgundy in color and on the nose it displays refreshing layers of raspberry, strawberry, blackberry jam, and ripe plums with undertones of earth, cocoa powder, and black pepper. On the palate is medium bodied with tight tannins that grip your mouth. Yet this is not your typical bombastic over-the-top and in-your-face California Zinfandel. It is complex and and well balanced as this wine displays layers of dark berry jam, raspberry, strawberry, plenty of spice, and a hint of beef jerky with a medium length finish. A fine wine for $35 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2005 Miljenko’s Vineyard Petite Sirah (a blend of 79% Petite Sirah and 21% zinfandel) This wine is inky garnet color, on the nose it has concentrated blackberries, fresh ground coffee with a slight earthy quality to it. On the palate there are layers of blueberry and dark chocolate with chewy-gritty tannins. The finish is prolonged with mocha and black cherry pie. This was a club-member wine and for some stupid reason I forgot to write down the price.

To see more pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit Grgich Hills Estate you’ll find them on the highway 29 at 1829 Saint Helena Highway Rutherford, CA 94573. For more information call (707) 963-2784 or check out their web site: http://www.grgich.com/