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wine tasting

Travels

Visiting Grgich

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I only made it to one winery during my Californian adventure. But! I made up for it by going to a pretty special one.

We stayed two days in Napa for a wedding and on our way out of town my aunt and I stopped in at Grgich Hills Estate Winery. Don’t know about Grgich? Don’t worry, besides vaguely recognizing the labels I didn’t either. My only frame of reference was having it once or twice with my parents and feeling like it was a fancy (read: expensive) California wine.

I soon learned when I got there is that Mike Grgich, the man who started Grgich winery, is pretty much California wine royalty.

Oh, hey Mike, nice to meet you!

Oh, hey Mike, nice to meet you!

Let me take you back. The year is 1976, and this guy named Steven Spurrier decides that even though California is taking it on the chin in terms of wine discrimination, he doesn’t think the wine is all that bad. In fact, he thinks it might give French wines a run for their money. So, to test that thought, he decides to hold a blind tasting of French and California wines and has fancy-pants wine experts (all French, no less) come and taste. The whole thing becomes known as the Judgement of Paris and causes quite the upset since American wines took the top spot for both red and white wines. While the competition put a lot of French noses out of joint, it was also a big confidence boost for Californian wine-makers, and (in my opinion) was a watershed moment for the California wine industry.

What does this have to do with Grgich Winery, you might ask? Well! It turns out that the person who made the winning white wine, a Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay, was none other than Mike Grgich.

Clearly this guy knows how to make good wine.

So! Back to the tasting at hand. I tried their Napa Valley Flight, which consisted of six wines – three white and three red.

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Yep, looks like a wine list.

 

Pretty setup, now let’s get to tasting!

Pretty setup, now let’s get to tasting!

The Chard was solid, and tasted just like a classic California Chardonnay – full bodied, grassy, buttery, delicious.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the Fumé Blanc until my wine-pouring friend told me that it’s mostly composed of Sauvignon Blanc, and that Fumé Blanc is just what California wine-makers have decided to call it. Sneaky! It was crisp and citrus-y and I loved it, which was exactly what I expected once I learned it was really a Sauv Blanc in disguise.

The Plavac Mali is where things got interesting. Mike Grgich was born and raised in Croatia and has done a lot of work in the wine industry there, even while living and working in the US. This wine is actually from a winery he owns out there, and my wine-pouring friend told me that they like to include it in this tasting flight to educate people about Croatian wine and to give some history about their own winery. This wine was sharp and tangy, and had a chemical kind of flavour that I hadn’t really tasted before. If you’ve ever had Retsina, it had a similar quality. It grew on me as I drank it, but it took time to get used to because the flavour was so different from what I normally drink.

Of course they have their own branded spitting bucket - what kind of shabby place do you think this is?

Of course they have their own branded spitting bucket – what kind of shabby place do you think this is?

The Zinfandel was light and smooth and confident and friendly. That might make me sound like a weirdo, but it’s true! It was really approachable, easy to sip. A great transition as I moved from the whites to the reds.

The Merlot was heavenly. Medium-bodied, smooth, inviting, velvety – like easing into a hot bath after a long day. I could drink this wine every day and be happy.

The Cab Sauv was the biggie of the bunch, which isn’t surprising considering Cabs are big boy grapes, and one of the jewels in the crown that is California wine. It was fuller bodied but well balanced, meaning no one flavour overpowered my taste buds. You know those people who just have effortless confidence, who can walk into a room and be well-liked by everyone? That’s what this wine was like.

Thanks for the tasting, Mike! Yes yes, your barrels look lovely.

Thanks for the tasting, Mike! Yes yes, your barrels look lovely.

Sadly, after meeting these six wonderful wines we had to leave Napa to get on the road (to drive the coast to LA – it’s a hard life, isn’t it?) but I did take a moment to enjoy the scenery as we left.

Kind of a humdrum view, don't you think?

Kind of a humdrum view, don’t you think?

All in all, a good first visit to Napa. The only thing left to do is plan another trip.

Learning About Wine

Adventures in Wine Tasting

I had a long weekend a couple weeks ago and decided to head home to visit my family. While planning what I’d like to do with my parents the idea of a wine tasting came to mind. It had been a while since we’d done one and we thought, why not?

I was also bringing home two good friends who live in the Niagara wine region of Ontario, and so I suggested we frame the tasting as a Canada-Europe grudge match. My stepdad was happy to oblige and managed to find three Canadian reds and three French ones, pairing three different varietals – Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I should note that the French wines are most likely blends (most French wines are) and so my stepdad was probably guided by the region in matching these wines with their Canadian counterparts, since each region specializes in a few different types of grapes.

 

So, how do we do tastings? I thought you’d never ask!

 

I happily benefit from my stepdad’s years of practice in planning and hosting tastings – by the time I met him he had it down to a science and an art. Over the years he has devised a double-blind system that means no one at the tasting will know which wine is which.

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The wines all nestled in their sleeves, waiting for us to enjoy them

My mom and stepdad are a great wine tasting team – he will open the bottles and either decant them or put them in sleeves, and then she will come by and put a little coloured sticker on each bottle. He doesn’t know which wines are which colour and she doesn’t know which wine she’s labelling – it’s win win!

He’s also created a great grid to help structure the tasting.

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In case you can’t make out the wine list, here is what we tasted:

  • Clos deu Marquis, Saint Julien, France (1997)
  • Marynissen Vineyard, Lot 66, Niagara Peninsula, Canada (1997)
  • Chateau de Courteillac, Entre-De-Mers, France (1998)
  • Mission Hill, Merlot, BC, Canada (2001)
  • Couly-Duthiel, Les Gravieres, Chinon, France (2001)
  • Stoney Ridge, Wismer Vineyard, Reserve Cabernet Franc, Niagara Peninsula, Canada (2001)

Quite the list!

We usually make it an informal and fun affair, and put out cheese and baguette to munch on as we go. The baguette helps cleanse the palate, wiping out the flavour of a wine before going on to another. I usually stay away from the cheese until I’ve finished filling out the grid because the flavour of the cheese will change how you taste the wine, and that usually makes things go haywire for my still-learning palate.

 

So How Did the Tasting Go?

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All set up and ready to go

My main goal was to try and correctly identify some wines. It sounds like an easy task but is actually pretty hard! I’m good at knowing the flavours I do and don’t like, and am getting better at being able to differentiate between varietals, but knowing which wine is exactly which? I’ve got a ways to go.

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My place at the table

I made a bigger effort to fill out the entire grid this time, even though my stepdad always tells us the only thing he needs from us is our rankings (he keeps all the sheets from each tasting he hosts!). These tastings are great practice at being able to identify what I’m smelling and tasting, so I focused on that for the first few minutes. It was a while before I even took my first sip!

It was a really tough tasting in terms of the rankings. Everyone around the table agreed that we all really liked all the wines! I managed to come up with some sort of ranking, but to be honest I could easily have switched my numbers around and been just as happy. And no, my stepdad wouldn’t let me rank ties – I asked!

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I managed to correctly identify two of the wines – a new personal best!

 Interestingly, the averaged rankings are close to my rankings. With one exception, each average rank is only one off from mine, and a couple ranks were the same. All but one of us chose the same wine as our number one pick, and of course once we had averaged our rankings we were all dying to know which wine was which.

 

And the winner is… 

Stoney Ridge!

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They’re arranged in order of average rank first to sixth, left to right

 I can tell you, we were all surprised that a Niagara wine ranked number one! It just goes to show that sometimes a wine or region will surprise you, and that its worth trying new wines because you never know what you’re going to like.

Once the grand reveal was over, there was only one thing left to do – go back and re-taste! Like good wine tasters, we finished the bottles.

 

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I don’t think we used enough glasses…


See? Tastings can be lots of fun, and aren’t very difficult to arrange – you should try it!