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Crowd Pleaser Wines | 1 Wine Dude - Page 6

Posts Filed Under crowd pleaser wines

The Miljenko “Mike” Grgich Interview (And Recent Grgich Hills Releases)

Vinted on March 7, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, interviews

Closing in on the ninth decade, the beret and the smile are still unmistakable.

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, now a California winemaking legend, turns 90 this year. For those who aren’t familiar with the tale, Mike’s life story could make fitting fodder for a TV wine drama: one of eleven kids; stomped his first grapes at age three; fled communist Yugoslavia in the 1950s; hit the Napa Valley wine scene just as it first began to bud, studying under the master  André Tchelistcheff; for all intents and purposes, practically invented the sciences of controlling cold sterilization, malolactic fermentation, and the proper use of oak barrels for wine; eventually went on to establish well-regarded and successful wineries under his own name.

The biggest feather in the beret, though, was the triumph of one of his wines – a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay – at the 1976 Paris tasting, an event that put California (and, to a large extent, all U.S. wines) back on the global fine wine map for good (for a detailed account of that fabled tasting, check out George Tabor’s excellent Judgement Of Paris).

Mike has been sunning himself in Palm Desert, but I was invited to catch up with him over email to talk about his wines and his legacy. At 90, the guy is still a sharp as a tack. Here’s the conversation I had with Mike, which includes his advice for advancing your own tasting prowess, followed by a  few thoughts on some recent releases from the apple of his vinous eye, Napa Valley’s Grgich Hills

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Of Griffins, Protoceratops And Sonoma Syrah (Qualia’s Pavo 2009)

Vinted on January 31, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, wine review

While I cannot verify it via personal experience, I strongly suspect that apart from mining, graphic novels, porn (or maybe graphic novels about porn), the wine business is the only other industry in which you can start a story with the phrase “so I once met this guy in a cave…” without raising eyebrows in suspicion of your sanity.

It was, in fact, in a cave – during a dinner event at

Pine Ridge on Napa’s Silverado Trail – that I met San Franciscan Jordan Kivelstadt. Long-time 1WD readers might recall his name as the young winemaker behind Pavo Syrah, a wine that was featured here back in 2009 and one which I compared to the Balrog (but in a good way).

Jordan’s parents bought the vineyard in 2005, on ten acres of farmland at the intersection of three AVAs (Sonoma Valley, Bennett Valley and Sonoma Mountain), which for ten years provided fruit for Landmark’s Steel Plow, and now is the source of their Syrah and red blends. When sending some more recent incarnations of his family’s wines – now called Qualia (named after a sensory perception phenomenon that, interestingly, was also profiled in a post on wine ratings that caused a bit of a stir here last year) – Jordan included a letter to me in which he wrote “I have been busy playing with wine. I cannot wait to see… what mythical creature you associate with it.”

And so it’s in that spirit that I give you some thoughts on Sonoma Syrah, Grenache, the mythical Griffin, and the extinct-but-not-mythical Protoceratops. All of which will make sense in a minute or two. I hope…

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Hourglass Recent Releases (Or, “Reports Of Napa’s Vintage From Hell Might Be Overblown”)

Vinted on January 24, 2013 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, wine review

I, along with a small cadre of other wine media peeps, recently got invited to one of those on-line Q&A / sample tasting thangs highlighting recent releases from high-end Napa Valley producer Hourglass (so named due to the shape of their vineyard holdings, which form part of the narrowest spots in the North-South winegrowing continuum that makes up the Valley).

Hourglass founder and Napa native Jeff Smith is a bit of a friend, and it took me a lot of prodding over dinner last year to get him to talk for even brief periods about happenings at Hourglass (and spill the beans that he would be parting ways with longtime consulting winemaker Robert Foley, and bringing on Cade / Plumpjack alumnus Anthony Biagi).

I figured that I owed Jeff one from that dinner, and hadn’t done an on-line tasting in a while, so I thought, “what the hell, send me the half-bottle samples and let’s do this; also, Mrs. Dudette gets all googley-eyed when expensive reds show up at the door.” Of course, it’s always fun to watch winemakers and proprietors that you know personally grapple with the uncomfortable scenario of being left alone to fend for themselves live on camera (in this case, they fared pretty well, actually). And at the very least, I figured it would be a chance to see what Biagi did with the blends, and get a feel for how much negative impact the touted-as-epically-horrendous 2010 Napa vintage actually had.

If the 2010 Hourglass releases are any indication, turns out the answer to the question of how much gloom-and-doom is to be expected from Napa’s 2010 vintage is “not that much…”

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Churchill’s Vintage Port Recent (And Not So Recent) Releases

“You can beat the sh*t out of something, and all you get is powdered sh*t!”
- Johnny Graham

As part of some prep work for recently-published Playboy Port Primer (For Your Holiday Port-ing Pleasure), in November I was a guest of importer Frederick Wildman for a lunch/tasting and dinner/tasting with Johnny Graham, the force behind relative Port newcomer Churchill’s.

The F-W folks didn’t actually know that I was sort-of on assignment for my Port Primer, but it turned out that Johnny Graham – to whom I now owe a return on a much-needed pre-dinner beer that he bought me en route to the evening event – had so much Port worth talking about that I wanted to highlight him here. I think I also owe him a beer for providing the above quote, which slipped out when we were tasting through some of the Churchill’s lineup at F-W headquarters before our dinner, while we were discussing wines that exude finesse as well as natural concentration, versus those that simply display an overly-extracted sense of concentration (for an example of the former, try Churchill’s elegantly understated Ten Year Tawny Port, which I likened to Sancerre – seriously – in terms of its prettiness).

Anyway, the highlight of the visit was a trip to NYC’s Hearth restaurant, where I finally got to see/taste what all the (well-deserved) fuss was about when it comes to Paul Grieco (and his massive soul patch), who did an admirable job pairing an entire multi-course meal to vintage Port selections from Churchill’s (not an easy feat, even if the wines are quite good, since they’re also quite demanding, and in some cases quite sweet – in short, a culinary mine field).

Graham’s family Port biz started in the 1800s, and he told me that he was “fortunate, in my youth, I was able to taste vintages like the 1908s; Vintage Port can age 20, 50 years or more, and there just aren’t many wines that can do that.” To that end, given the sh*tload of non-sh*tty wines we tasted that evening, I hope you’ll forgive me the  list-and-review style format post, but I thought it worthwhile to give you the scoop on several past vintages of Churchill’s Vintages… including a sneak-peak at the yet-to-be-released 2011…

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