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A Candidate for the Holiday Table
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Dec 5, 2017
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Grgich Hills Estate, Napa Valley, Zinfandel 2013 ($36):  The holiday season brings the perpetual dilemma of what type of wine to serve with the major meals.  In reality, no single wine can complement the entire mash-up of flavors on the holiday table.  The sensible route is to choose a good-quality wine that works fairly well with most of the food, is easy to drink and is enjoyable to a wide range of personal tastes.  This Zinfandel fits the bill.

I have always enjoyed the wines of Grgich Hills because I find them to have a note of refinement that is not the norm for California reds.  Founded forty years ago, the winery rose to prominence on the reputation of founding winemaker Mike Grgich, who was the talent behind the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the legendary Judgment of Paris wine-tasting in 1976.  Grgich is now 93 years old and still active, while his daughter Violet and son-in-law Ivo Jeramaz have taken the helm. The winery has remained small by choice, and all the wines are estate-grown.

The 2013 growing season that produced this Zinfandel was a very warm and dry one in Napa Valley.  Grapes ripened quickly to high sugar levels and harvest began weeks earlier than usual.  In the estate vineyards at Grgich Hills, the 34 acres of Zinfandel occupy the warmest site.  The heat and drought produced small bunches of Zinfandel grapes with small berries, resulting in concentrated flavors and potentially powerful wines.  An admirable feature of this 2013 Grgich Hills Zin is that while you can sense the wine’s power, the wine is not excessively rich.  It shows restraint even as it expresses its strength.

Rather than the typical Zinfandel aromas of raspberries, strawberries and cherries, I find this 2013 dominated by black fruit notes such as dark plum, black cherry and dried blackberries.  A spicy, black pepper note accompanies the dark fruit.  The flavors echo the aromas, with an added suggestion of dried herbs and cloves.  These flavors are concentrated and intense but they are not over-ripe.  The wine is dry and full-bodied with quite a lot of spicy tannin that together with the concentrated flavors energizes the wine’s taste.  When you drink the wine normally rather than tasting it technically, a smooth, silky texture is the dominant impression, the tannin retreating to the wine’s finish.

Zinfandel accounts for 97 percent of the wine, and Petite Sirah for the balance; the two varieties fermented together rather than being blended after fermentation.  Because in a year like 2013, the wine’s structure and power can overshadow its fruit expression, this wine was pressed off its skins sooner than usual during the fermentation, while the fruit character was still dominant.  The wine aged 15 months in large casks of French oak, which seems to have contributed some of the tannin. 

For a wine from a warm vineyard in a warm vintage, the 15 percent alcohol content of this wine should not be surprising.  That number is surprising when you taste the wine, however, because the tannin, acid and concentrated fruit balance the alcohol so artfully.  Provided that your holiday table is not dominated by fish and delicately flavored accompaniments, this wine should be a crowd pleaser.

90 Points