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(E) Grgich Hills in Forbes Magazine
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  08/6/2003 | Croatian Cuisine | Unrated
(E) Grgich Hills in Forbes Magazine
Wine of the Week

Grgreat Grgich

Nick Passmore

At 80 years old, Mike Grgich has lost none of his enthusiasms--whether for charming leggy models 60 years his junior, or for making the superlative, age-worthy chardonnay he is famous for, he still approaches life with an infectious gusto.


Now I don't know Mike well enough to comment on the former but I do know he is still making fabulous wine.

A vast majority of white wine is meant to be drunk within a year or two of being produced. However, a very small percentage of the best chardonnay can go on improving for at least ten years, and coincidently, I recently got to taste two such wines within a few days of each other. It brought home to me not only just how great some chardonnay can be when it has a few years of bottle age on it, but how the best from California are equal to, or even surpass, fine Burgundy.

When To Drink: Now
30 minutes
Grapes: 100% chardonnay
Appellation: Napa Valley
Region: California
Country: U.S.
Price: Approximately $75, if you can find it
Availability: Extremely limited, probably auction only
Web Site: Grgich Hills

The first one I tried was this week's wine, Grgich Hills Chardonnay 1991, and the second, which will be the subject of next week's column, was from Chateau Montelena. These are two of the most storied names in California winemaking and curiously they are linked by history. In 1976, before he started his own winery, Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Montelena when its chardonnay won first prize at the famous Paris blind tasting that put California winemaking on the map.

What I found most fascinating about the 1991 Grgich Hills Chardonnay was how it evolved the longer it was open.

At first it was all tart green apples and bright citrus fruits--pleasant but nothing special, a one-dimensional wine. But just a few minutes later, it opened up, and hints of oak and vanilla emerged.

Time went on, another glass was drunk, and the wine became increasingly interesting and complex. After half an hour it rounded out and softened; the bright fruit, so obvious at the beginning, was augmented by layers of other flavors: wood and spice, vanilla and honey, smoke and damp earth. Also, it now showed a finish that seemed to go on for ever.

It really came into its own when the food arrived. This is absolutely not a cocktail wine, not an aperitif wine, but a wine that shows its subtle, nuanced complexity when paired with food.

The 1991 is difficult to find and probably only available at auction. But Grgich is still making wonderful wine, so it will be a sound investment, for your palate, to buy a case or two of the current vintage (the 2000 sells for around $40 per bottle) and spend the next ten years anticipating the pleasures to come.

Forbes Fact

Although it sounds appropriately rustic, the origination of the name Grgich Hills is due more to happy coincidence than geography. The name of the winery is derived from, obviously, Mike Grgich's last name and that of his partner, Austin E. Hills, an heir to the Hills Bros. coffee company, now part of Sara Lee (nyse: SLE)

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