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Refinement Rather than Power
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Sep 9, 2014
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Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 ($60):  There’s something to be said for difficult vintages.  The cool 2011 growing season in Napa Valley was challenging for winemakers and growers due to a rainy Spring, a cool summer and late ripening, but it has produced some lovely Cabernet Sauvignons -- provided that, like me, you enjoy Cabernet wines that skew toward elegance. 

The 2011 Grgich Hills Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a fine example of what this vintage produced in the hands of top winemakers.  The wine is delicious, complete, and seamless, with all the fresh fruit character that you want, but just a tad less power than is typical.

Grgich Hills ranks as one of my favorite Napa Valley Cabernets because it consistently seems to show an element of finesse and refinement.  In 2011, the style of the vintage and the style of the winery march in lockstep.

This 2011 Cabernet comes from estate vineyards mainly in Yountville, in the cooler, southern part of Napa Valley, with some grapes from Rutherford and Calistoga also in the blend.  All the vineyards are farmed organically and carry biodynamic certification as well.  Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 86 percent of the blend, supplemented by Merlot at 7.5 percent and Petit Verdot at 6.5 percent.

One of the contributions that the cool growing season seems to have made to this wine is the clarity and complexity of the aromatics, both on the nose and in the mouth.  The fruit notes are bright and fresh, suggesting black currants and some dark plum, with no over-ripeness; peppercorn spice, cedar, inky and stony mineral tones, and dark chocolate all complement the fruity notes.  The winery’s tasting notes include “balsamic glazed figs,” and I can’t say that I would disagree.  What is most impressive about these aromas and flavors, though, is that for a very fruity Cabernet, this wine is so much more than just fruity.

Structurally, the wine is full-bodied, of course, with a serious tannin component that speaks to the wine’s youth.  These tannins are ripe but not as integrated as they will be even just a year from now, and they give a grippy bottom note to the wine’s velvety texture.  The wine fills your mouth in a way that conveys ripeness, depth and completeness, with cool reserve.  The finish is simply terrific -- long and flavorful with concentrated fruit character.

Winemaking techniques involved fermentation with indigenous yeasts and four long weeks of skin contact to enhance color and flavor extraction.  Each lot aged separately for several months before blending and subsequent aging for 21 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent of them new.

Depending on personal taste, serving temperature and glassware, you can find this wine perfectly ready now (large glass and the wine not very cool), or (narrower glass, cellar-cool temperature) intriguingly young.  The wine has the quality to accommodate both interpretations.

92 Points