Grgich Hills Estate: A Napa Valley legend

There are certain producers whose name must be included when discussing Napa Valley’s rise to prominence in the wine world. Grgich Hill Cellars is on the shortlist. Back in the ‘70s, founder Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Chateau Montelana. It was Mike who produced the 1973 Chardonnay that ultimately won the Paris Tasting in 1976. Up against many French wines, Chateau Montelena won that day. But really it was Napa Valley as a whole that was the beneficiary, and Mike’s wine was what captured the prize. A year later, Grgich Hills Estate was born.

40 years after that tasting in Paris, Mike Grgich’s name is one of the few that must be mentioned in the same breath as Robert Mondavi when discussing the most important people in Napa Valley history. Grgich Hills has continued to make world class wines that speak strongly of their Napa Valley origins. Here’s a look at three of their current releases. These are wines that are available around the country and offer a peek into why Napa Valley is one of the greatest wine-growing regions in the world – not to mention why Mike Grgich is one of the most legendary figures to make wine there.

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Grgich Hills Estate 2013 Chardonnay ($43)

The fruit for this wine came from Estate Vineyards in American Canyon and Carneros. It’s composed entirely of Chardonnay. It was fermented and aged in French oak over a period of 10 months in a combination of new (40%) and neutral (60%) oak. 30,300 cases were produced. From the first whiff to the last sip, what stands out most about this Chardonnay is the pure expression of fruit. The oak regimen provides accents but never detracts from that. Aromas of white peach and apple light up the nose. Bartlett pear, subtle nutmeg and golden delicious apple flavors are all present on the palate. Continuing spices and a host of minerals drive the impressive, crisp and refreshing finish. Mike Grgich has been making world class Napa Valley Chardonnay for over 40 years, and this is the latest example.

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Warm weather means Rosé

Summer is here, and it’s time to start drinking more Rosé. Well-made examples of Rosé bridge the gap between red and white wines. Generally, using red grapes and white wine production methodologies Rosé’s tend to lean toward the structure of red wines and many of the refreshing qualities of white wines. That’s an oversimplification, but the real point is that when you drink a good Rosé, you’re in for the best of both worlds.

To be clear, when I use the word “good” here, I’m talking about dry Rosé’s, which have a long and storied history in many countries around the world. What I’m not referring to is White Zinfandel, Blush wines or other insipid offerings that lean closer to grape juice than wine. Here are four currently available Rosé’s you should consider keeping in your refrigerator all summer long.

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El Coto de Rioja 2015 Rosado ($12)

This Rosé from the Rioja region of Spain was produced from equal parts Tempranillo and Garnacha. The color is an intense bright pink. Aromas of red cherry and watermelon light up the nose. The palate is loaded with all manner of juicy, red fruit flavors. Bits of candied apple emerge on the finish along with wisps of savory herbs. Firm acid add to the refreshing and mouth-watering nature of this wine. Year after year, this is one of my favorite Rosé values. It’s a consistently delicious crowd pleaser, so stock up.

Sip 2015 Rosé ($15)

The fruit for this wine (entirely Pinot Noir) came from vineyards in Napa and Sonoma. The color is a lovely pale pink. Ripe wild strawberry aromas lead the nose. The palate is stuffed to the brim with appealing, bright red fruit flavors galore. Spices such as white pepper and hints of nutmeg are in play as well. Red raspberry, plum and continued strawberry notes are all part of the long, crisp finish. This ultra-refreshing wine is hard to put down. Pair it with all but extremely hearty foods.

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Australia’s Henry’s Drive continues to deliver

I first became aware of Henry’s Drive about a decade or so ago through their well-known blend, Pillar Box Red. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to taste their wines on numerous occasions, often with founder/owner Kim Longbottom and/or their winemaker. On a recent trip to Düsseldorf Germany to attend ProWein (the largest Wine & Spirits trade show in the world), I had the pleasure of once again tasting with Kim. We went through their current portfolio. As always, I found quite a bit to like in their wines, as well as plenty of value for my wine dollars. Wines that I have always found to be tasty and well-made have continued to evolve and improve from one vintage to the next. Here’s a look at four of my current favorites.

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Henry’s Drive 2014 “H” Chardonnay ($27.99)

Composed from 100% Chardonnay from Padthaway; aging took place in French oak over a period of 10 months. Apple aromas, which are underpinned by bits of vanilla, light up the exuberant nose. Yellow melon, pineapple and toasted nut characteristics are present throughout the palate. Minerals, white pepper and continuing yellow fruit flavors dominate the above-average finish. This is a fine example of Chardonnay that shows off plenty of fresh fruit and good complexity.

Henry’s Drive 2013 Pillar Box Red ($14.99)

Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are blended to create this wine. Each variety is vinified and aged separately. The blend is created just prior to bottling. Red cherry and spice aromas dot the nose. Taking the first sip, I was immediately struck by the mouth-feel of this wine, which is softer than prior vintages. Bits of savory herbs counter-balance oodles of red and black fruit flavors on the substantial palate. Earth, leather and toasty oak are all part of the terrific finish. This wine has been an outstanding value for years. This particular vintage is likely the best version of this wine yet. It’s simply a delicious mouthful of wine that will provide drinking pleasure for the next several years.

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Ironstone Vineyards: A tale of two California regions

Ironstone Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery in California. Their winery facility is located in the Sierra Foothills. They grow grapes there and in the Lodi region. In total, they have more than 8,000 acres planted in a multitude of crops, with more than 4,000 under vine. Their wide-ranging portfolio offers a taste of both varieties that immediately spring to mind when you think of the region: Petite Sirah, as well as less obvious ones like Cabernet Franc. Prices start at $12 and range up to $75. I recently tasted through quite a few of their current releases with a member of the Kautz family while I was attending ProWein in Düsseldorf, Germany. In short, there is a ton to like there. Their wines are fairly priced, delicious and show genuine characteristics of the varieties in question, as well as a sense of the place they were each grown. Here’s a look at my favorites from that tasting.

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Ironstone Vineyards 2014 Chenin Blanc ($12)

Ironstone’s Chenin Blanc is composed entirely of the namesake grape. All of the fruit came from the Lodi region. Orchard fruit and white flower aromas light up the welcoming nose. The moment you take a sip, the super-soft mouth-feel envelops your senses. Lots of gentle pear, apricot and lychee fruit flavors are present. White pepper and a hint of nutmeg are on the mellifluous finish. This wine is perfectly suited to pair with light foods, but it’s also remarkably delicious on its own. This is spring and/or summer in a glass.

Ironstone Vineyards 2013 Reserve Viognier ($18)

This wine is composed mostly of Viognier (90 percent) with a dollop of Chardonnay (10 percent) blended in. It was produced from Estate fruit grown on their Sierra Foothills property. Yellow peach and apricot aromas fill the welcoming nose here. The palate is loaded with stone fruit flavors, spices and hints of papaya. Hints of crème fraiche are at play alongside continued yellow fruits and hints of spice on the long, balanced finish. Some Viogniers are too forward, too fruity and almost sweet. This particular example is remarkably balanced and delicious; it’s also impressive for its price point.

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Four delicious reds for $20 and under

If you scan the shelves of your local wine shop, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that you can spend virtually any amount of money on a bottle of wine. That could be just a few dollars or literally thousands. Of course, most of us aren’t going to spend anywhere near the upper end, and the bottom end is, shall we say, hit and miss. That leaves a very wide middle ground to consider.

Within that I have often found the $15 to $20 range to be of interest for a number of reasons. On the one hand, while no dollar figure guarantees you’re going to like a wine, spending more than $15 increases the odds that it’s a well-made selection. And for a lot of wine drinkers, $20 is a bit of a glass ceiling for everyday drinking. So here are four red wines that perfectly fit into that price window. Two of them are from California’s Paso Robles, and the others are from Chile’s Viña Ventisquero. Both of those areas also represent places one can still find a lot of outstanding values for everyday drinking, which is precisely what these wines represent to me.

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Chronic Cellars 2013 Suite Petite ($15)

Suite Petite is composed of Petite Sirah (87 percent) and Syrah (13 percent). I’ll tell you a secret about my wine tastes: I love Petite Sirah. The truth is, when I’m out tasting, I will never turn down a Petite Sirah, no matter what. So with that in mind, I’m always interested in drinking them and seeing what they’re like. This example from Chronic Cellars does a really nice job for $15. The dark nose is full of violet and plum aromas, along with bits of leather and sage. Black cherry, blackberry and an avalanche of dark fruits mark the juicy palate. Plum pudding spices, black pepper and a touch of chocolate sauce are evident on the finish. Nice tannins and sufficient acid provide solid structure. If you like your wine dark and somewhat brooding, here you go.

Chronic Cellars 2014 Purple Paradise ($15)

This offering is a blend of Zinfandel (70 percent), Syrah (14 percent), Petite Sirah (11 percent) and Grenache (5 percent). This Zinfandel-dominated wine has a healthy dollop of Petite Sirah blended in, which I’m quite fond of. Not just because I love Petite Sirah, though – Zinfandel and Petite Sirah are great partners. If they were in a band together, Zin would provide the screaming lead guitar and Petite Sirah would hold down the bottom end with some deep bass notes. Red raspberry aromas lead the nose. Blueberry, plum and more raspberry are evident on the somewhat jam-laden palate. Toast, white pepper and strawberry notes are all evident on the clean finish. Whether your Tuesday night dinner consists of pizza, burgers or a tamale pie casserole, this wine is going to carry the day for a song.

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