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Wine Review: Time to pay homage to winemakers; here’s to Grgich

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As a group, generally, we only raise statues of great politicians or generals. But there are many others who deserve that honor who were not making laws or leading military battles.

The wine industry has its heroes, too; real heroes who deserve a statue but do not yet have one. Why not a statue of a living wine great? My suggestion for a statue of a living wine hero is 96-year-old Miljenko “Mike” Grgich.
 
Mike, who is always seen wearing his signature beret, has had a profound effect on the California wine industry. This Croatian immigrant played a great part in putting California wines on the map. Mike was the Napa Valley winemaker who produced the legendary 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that kicked the pants off of all the French wines at the famous (or infamous depending on what side you were on) Paris wine tasting of 1976. That initiated the ascendancy of California wines and was featured in the movie “Bottle Shock.” Mike went on to establish Grgich Hills Estate, which became one of the top and most progressive wineries in the country. Here’s my review of three Grgich Hills’ selections.
 
Grgich Hills Estate 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($90)
This wine is made in a manner similar to the techniques of days gone by: Fermentation is induced by the wild yeast that naturally forms on all fruit and is often specific to a particular vineyard. After fermentation, the wine was allowed to rest on the grape skins for several weeks to develop extra color and depth, then placed in oak barrels to slowly age. Putting the wine in oak after it has been fermented, gives the winemaker the opportunity to tightly monitor and control the amount of oak that will be married to the wine. This cabernet sauvignon is a wine with the feel of silk about it. It has a kaleidoscope of fruit aromas and flavors, a background of soft oak and an earthy component that introduces new flavors and depth with each sip. The finish is elegant and lingers long.
 
Grgich Hills Estate 2015 Napa Valley Fume Blanc ($31)
Most sauvignon blanc wines that call themselves fume blanc are doing so simply to command a higher price. This is not the case with this wine. The grapes were handpicked, then fermented in wooden barrels and set aside for six months to age and mellow in smaller French oak barrels. These barrels not only soften the wine but also impart an oak background and creamy finish, which is the signature characteristic of a true fume blanc. This wine also displays the traditional flavors and aromas of citrus and grass, with ripe melon, nectarine and peach in the background. This is an exceptional wine that is big, bold and very enjoyable.
 
Grgich Hills Estate 2015 Napa Valley Zinfandel ($36)
Zinfandel grapes originally were used to make cheap red jug wines or as a coloring agent in equally cheap red wines. In the 1960s, the variety was used to make the sweet white or blush zinfandel, which further turned off many other vintners. As a result, serious winemakers avoided the variety for a long time, and it took serious winemakers, like Mike and his team at Grgich Hills, to bring out the true possibilities of this variety. Needless to say, the effort proved there was true greatness to be found in that often maligned variety. This example is a full-bodied wine that displays an aroma alive with cherry, blackberry, pomegranates and cranberries, which carry over to merge with the flavors of black plums and spices. While this zinfandel is the perfect accompaniment to almost any meat dish, it is also definitely the king of the backyard barbeque where it can beautifully accompany anything that comes off the grill. It can be served with confidence and pride at any dinner table.
 
Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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