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Grgich Hills Estate | Napa Valley

Grgich Hills Retrospective: SOMM Journal

Vol. 2 No. 4
{ milestone tasting }Grgich Hills Retrospective. FRED SWAN RELISHES A CLASSIC VINTAGE

THE PARIS TASTING OF 1976 IS A WELL-KNOWN MILESTONE in California wine history. Yet, 1980’s unheralded Great Chicago Chardonnay Showdown was arguably a more important indicator of North Coast California Chardonnay quality.

While the Paris Tasting pitted six white Burgundies against six Chardonnays from Northern California, the Great Chicago Chardonnay Showdown of 1980 gathered 221 Chardonnays from around the world, including California and France. At the time, it was the largest competitive, single-varietal tasting of its kind In both competitions, wines made by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich came out on top. “It makes me proud every day,” Mike Grgich, now 92, recently told The SOMM Journal. “It really proved how good Napa and Sonoma Chardonnay can be.”

Impressively, the Showdown-winning 1977 Sonoma Chardonnay was also the first wine he produced for his new Grgich Hills venture. And it almost didn’t happen, because he had to build a winery from the ground up. Deeply concerned, Grgich had gone to his friend and former employer, Robert Mondavi. “Bob,” Grgich said, “ I don’t think I’m going to make it. I’m committed to all this fruit, but I only have five months to build the winery. It’s not enough time.”

“You’ll do it,” Mondavi responded. “I started on my winery just three months before harvest and it worked out. But, if you need something, I’ll loan you space and equipment.” As it happens, the winery did get completed in time, though Grgich didn’t find the last key component, an electrical panel, until the very last day. He also borrowed a few items from Mondavi.

That showdown-winning 1977 Grgich Hills Sonoma Chardonnay is still superb today. The same characteristics that helped Mike Grgich’s wines triumph against the French in competitive tastings make them unusually age-worthy for New World Chardonnay. Well-balanced with plenty of fruit, they feature prominent acidity.

Thirty-five years after the Chicago Showdown, the Grgich Hills 1977 Sonoma Chardonnay is gold-hued and beautifully aromatic with notes of ripe peach, baking spice, honey, toasted almond slices, fresh flowers and a hint of sandalwood, It is supple and extremely fresh in the mouth with the texture of satin. The flavors of peach, tart apple and spice are focused and delicious.

A recent retrospective tasting at Grgich Hills Winery highlighted the 1977 Chardonnay, along with eight other vintages. Each was excellent and notably zippy. “We pursue harmony, elegance and balance,” says winemaker Ivo Jeramaz. “And from “And from day one, Mike never put Chardonnay through malolactic conversion.” SJ

Grgich Hills 1995 Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Silky with high acidity and flavors of yellow and green apple, pear skin, ripe peach, sweet herb and cinnamon toast.
Grgich Hills 1998 Chardonnay, Napa Valley
Harvested late in a cool, low-yielding year. A fresh but delicate wine with snout-to-tail pear—fruit, blossom and leaf—complemented by botrytis and honey.
Grgich Hills 2001 Chardonnay, Carneros
Selection Perfumed apple, ripe pear, quince, jasmine and cream with medium-plus body and high acidity.

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