Grgich Hills Estate

2006 Napa Valley Merlot

Merlot •Estate Grown

California: Napa Valley

Offer Expired:Oct 20, 2010 at 11:59 pm
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Mission Codename: Sass In Your Glass

Operative: Agent White and introducing Agent Sass

Objective: Vet Agent Sass with a deep cover mission to our friends at Grgich Hills Estate.

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Grgich Hills Estate

Wine Subject: 2006 Napa Valley Estate Grown Merlot

Winemaker: Miljenko “Mike” Grgich

Backgrounder: In 1976, Mike Grgich rocked the wine world by creating a California that beat out French Chardonnays in the now famous Judgment of Paris. The French were outraged, and Mike Grgich earned the respect of wine drinkers and critics, worldwide. Today, Mike continues to oversee production of what have been heralded as “the finest wines in the world”. We are very proud to be able to bring you today’s fantastic Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Merlot.

To true wine lovers, Merlot is one of the finest wine varietals in the world. Today, Merlot continues to sell in record numbers across the US, outpacing most other varietals. Merlot is sincere, food-fabulous wine for serious wine drinkers. If you think that Merlot is not for you, forget everything that you think you know about Merlot and embrace this stellar example.

Please continue reading to learn more about Agent Sass who assisted on the review of this delicious wine. And if you’re a lucky operative, perhaps she’ll demonstrate how to saber a bottle of Champagne for you… but be for-warned, she is vicious with her blade.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Dark garnet with ruby red highlights through its dark but clear heart. Along the edges the color shows its deep ruby color with a slight brickish hue. When swirled, fast thin legs streak down the side of the glass and are followed by slower fat legs.

Smell – Rich and redolent with bold red and black cherry and blackberry with a distinct earthy component. A touch of spice, herbal and toasted vanilla oak and hints of dark chocolate invites you in.

Feel – Smooth and dry, this rich and expansive full-bodied wine is both firm and fine tannins with a solid backbone structure that softens as it opens. Lively in its acidity and minerality adding balance that lingers into the finish.

Taste – Ripe and dense red and black cherry, blackberry, and other red and black fruits balanced with earthy notes, black licorice, hints of unsweetened chocolate, vanilla and toasted oak blend together and reveal themselves gracefully.

Finish – Long and clean with its dark cherry with earth, vanilla and wild licorice lingering long into the finish by a great texture that clings to the palate.

Conclusion – The 2006 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Merlot is a very approachable, lush and rich Merlot, from an exceptional vintage that will instantly appeal to those who prefer Cabs for their rich and ripe fruit and texture. A great earthy nose with red and black fruit that greets you and upon your first sip and lingers long into the finish. Enjoy this wine now or for the next 5 to 7 years.

Agent Sass’s Review and Food Pairing:

This smooth and gulpable wine – with just a splash of brick hue in its color – is soothing with its lingering finish. While the essence of dark, dried fruit, (in its nose), enchants one right away; there is an unexpected hint of vanilla in this wine, as the oils come to the surface and esters open up. Balance is brought beautifully, to this unusually sturdy Merlot, which drinks more like a Meritage or Cabernet. This delightful pick would hold up well to succulent lamb chops, and too, pair glowingly with a simple plate of cheese. Unmistakably easy to drink, this wine is a winner!

About Agent Sass:

Agent Sass, currently a resident of New England, is a bond girl to the Nth degree! Speaking multiple languages, feasting on exotic game meats, drinking exclusively red wines – but for the occasional bubbly or Zind Humbrecht white – and having an affinity for leather trousers and “high fashion” shoes; Agent Sass produced an edgy wine etiquette DVD: She has enjoyed wine with her dinner nightly, since age 10, and taught extemporaneous speaking to college students prior to today. While drinking copious reds, Agent Sass raises very pampered Cocker Spaniels and prepares all of their gourmet food from scratch. Despite her luscious crush on Malbecs, her favorite wine is tied between Ghost Horse Cabernet & Screaming Eagle Cabernet – still a delicious “menage a trois” for Sass, while she determines which it is, that truly hits the spot best for her!

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Mike Grgich

WINE EDUCATION: I studied winemaking and viticulture at the University of Zagreb in the former Yugoslavia (now Croatia) and then I had to leave to escape communism. In 1995, 41 years after I left Croatia, I returned to the University of Zagreb, at 77 years old, and received my degree.
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: I left Yugoslavia to make wine in California and eventually arrived in Napa Valley in August 1958, with no money, just in time for crush to begin. I worked for some of the legends of Napa Valley: Lee Stewart, of the original Souverain Cellars; Brother Timothy at Christian Brothers; for almost nine years for André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards; with for Robert Mondavi and then Chateau Montelena, where the chardonnay I crafted won the famed 1976 Paris Tasting On Independence Day 1977, Austin Hills and I broke ground in Rutherford to build Grgich Hills Cellar.

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Our goal remains the same as when I started the winery more than 30 years ago—to craft a wine that is harmonized. To me, that means not too much oak, not too much alcohol, not too much of any one attribute. In other words, we craft a whole wine that is a pleasure to drink.

WINEMAKER QUOTE: “The less you process the wine, the more people will like it. Sometimes we are led astray by figures and numbers and percentages, but it is always the taste that is important.”

WINEMAKER QUOTE: ”Wine is like a long chain, from the vine to the glass. Every link—every step—is important. If one or two links are missed or don’t hold together, the whole chain falls apart. That means paying close attention to every link, from pruning and trellising to applying compost and disking in the vineyards to smelling and tasting every barrel to monitor the progress of the wine.”

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: Our first release was the 1977 Johannesburg Riesling in November 1977.


AGENT RED: Greetings, Mister Grgich. It is an honor to meet with you. We are thrilled to be showing your 2006 Napa Valley Merlot today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

MIKE GRGICH: Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you, again.

RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?

MIKE GRGICH: I was the youngest of eleven children and during harvest my parents would put me a open barrel with some harvested grapes. So, I was safe and could wander off and I could eat the grapes if I were hungry or stomp the grapes and drink the juice. So, ever since I was two or three years, I’ve stomped grapes every harvest.

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

MIKE GRGICH: When I came to America, André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu Vineyards was the best known winemaker. He was called the maestro. I wanted to learn from the best so I applied to Beaulieu. I worked there for nine years, from 1959 until 1968. I was the first quality control person in the Napa Valley. While I was there I worked at improving the white wines, which in the early days would oxidize and become worthless. I was part of developing the use of Millipore sterile filtration, which was important to prevent bacteria from going into the bottle. Beaulieu was the first in California to induce malolactic fermentation in all of the red wines.

RED: Who do you make wine for?

MIKE GRGICH: You have to make the wine that you like.

RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.

MIKE GRGICH: This is a Cabernet lovers’ Merlot! Full-bodied and complex, this wine displays flavors of cherries, blackberries and a hint of dried herbs on the finish.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?

MIKE GRGICH: Its rich mouthfeel and food-friendly acidity make it the perfect partner with beef tenderloin, rack of lamb or roasted pork.

RED: In your opinion, what makes your vineyards so special?

MIKE GRGICH: All of our vineyards are certified organic and Biodynamic®, a holistic farming practice that uses the earth’s cycles and natural preparations to grow balanced, healthy vines without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides. We blended Merlot grapes from four of our five vineyards, with just a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon to add complexity. By blending wine from four distinctive growing regions within Napa Valley, we crafted a complex, balanced Merlot.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?

MIKE GRGICH: We are in the middle of crush, so this is our busiest time of the year. After three years of drought, we now face one of the coolest seasons on record but we are very happy with the fruit that we are harvesting. I also want to say it’s exciting to be enjoying my 52th vintage in the Napa Valley.

RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

MIKE GRGICH: My father taught me, “Every day do something a little better,” and that’s not only good advice for winemaking but for living.

RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

MIKE GRGICH: We hope you enjoy the wine and we invite you to visit us at the winery in Rutherford.

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Grgich Hills Estate can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

About This Wine:

This is a Cabernet lovers’ Merlot! Full-bodied and complex, this wine displays favors of cherries, blackberries and a hint of dried herbs on the finish. Its rich mouthfeel and food-friendly acidity make it the perfect partner with beef tenderloin, rack of lamb or roasted pork.

VINTAGE: Starting with a wet winter and spring that delayed budbreak and led into a slow, even, ripening of the grapes, 2006 was a relatively cool vintage. A heat spike in July helped the grapes catch up to a normal physiological ripeness, followed by an unusually cool August that allowed
the grapes to completely ripen without dehydrating. Thanks to our organic and Biodynamic® farming, the vines remained healthy throughout the temperature swings, providing us with fully ripe, favorful grapes.

VINEYARD: All of our vineyards are certifed organic and Biodynamic, a holistic farming practice that uses the earth’s cycles and natural preparations to grow balanced, healthy vines without artifcial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides. We blended Merlot grapes from four of our fve vineyards, with just a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon to add complexity. By blending wine from four distinctive growing regions within Napa Valley, we crafted a complex, balanced Merlot.

About The Winery:

Miljenko “Mike” Grgich first gained international recognition at the celebrated “Paris Tasting” of 1976. Then, in a now-historic blind tasting, a panel of eminent French judges swirled, sniffed, and sipped an array of the fabled white Burgundies of France and a small sampling of upstart Chardonnays from the Napa Valley. When their scores were tallied, the French judges were shocked: they had chosen Mike’s 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay as the finest white wine in the world. Mon Dieu! The results stunned the international wine establishment and immediately earned Mike a reputation as one of the greatest winemakers in the world.

The Paris Tasting served notice to the world that the California wine industry was on the move, and it laid the groundwork for the creation of Grgich Hills Cellar. After his victory in Paris, Mike sat down with Austin Hills and his sister, Mary Lee Strebl, from the Hills Bros. Coffee family, and on Independence Day 1977, they gave birth to Grgich Hills. It was an ideal partnership. Austin owned premium vineyards in Rutherford, in the heart of the Napa Valley, and with his extensive background in business, he put the winery on its financial feet. Mike, with his fierce commitment to making wines of the highest quality, began producing what immediately became our signature wine: the exquisite, richly complex Chardonnays that win awards and delight wine lovers across America and throughout the world.

Today, we remain committed to making distinctive wines with quality, consistency and longevity. We are proud that world leaders such as Presidents Reagan and Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II and French President François Mitterrand chose our wines to serve at state dinners, but we are just as proud that every single day discriminating wine drinkers count on Grgich Hills to turn their own dinners into special occasions.

As always, we treat each of our six different wines as a special child, carefully nurturing their development and character. Our main pride and joy is our Chardonnay, an elegant example of the varietal displaying rich flavors and exquisite balance. As a complement to the Chardonnay, we also produce a refreshingly crisp Fumé Blanc, a rich and spicy Zinfandel, a Cabernet Sauvignon with tremendous depth and complexity, a lush and richly fragrant Merlot, and a luscious dessert wine named “Violetta,” in honor of Mike’s daughter, Violet.

Now 85 years old, and still sporting his signature blue beret, Mike was inducted into the Vinter Hall of Fame in March 2008 in honor of his many contributions to the wine industry. While many other Napa wineries pursue strategies of expansion, Mike, along with his daughter, Violet, and his nephew, Ivo Jeramaz, prefer to stay small. Their aim, year after year, is to improve the quality of their vineyards and their wines, relying on Mike’s unique artistic and intuitive touch. This strategy continues to pay significant dividends. Many wineries buy their grapes from outside vineyards. Grgich Hills now owns all of its own vineyards, all of which are certified organic and Biodynamic. Beginning with the 2003 vintage, all Grgich Hills wines are labeled “Estate Grown.” This guarantees a consistently superior level of quality, and it guarantees that Grgich Hills will remain a shining symbol of prestige and good taste. In recognition of that important milestone, the winery changed its name in 2007 to Grgich Hills Estate.

Technical Analysis:

Alcohol: 14.5% by volume

Fermentation: indigenous yeast

Harvest date: Sept. 23 to Oct. 11, 2006

Sugar: 24.8˚ Brix (average)

Bottling date: July 21, 2008

Release date: June 2010

Total acid: 5.8 g/L

pH: 3.54

Time in oak: 18 months

Type of oak: mixture of large and small French oak barrels; 30% new

Production: 5,250 cases (12/750 ml.) 600 cases (12/375 ml.)

Blend: 98% Merlot; 2% Cabernet Sauvignon

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