On Monday, Miljenko Grgich, founder of Grigich Hills Estate and maker of the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay (of Paris Tasting fame, where it triumphed over several White Burgundies) celebrated his 90th birthday by looking back — by sharing what few remaining bottles of the first wine he made at Chateau Montelena (1972) are still stashed in his personal cellar — and forward, with the release of a special Paris Tasting tribute Chardonnay.
The 1972 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, which was the impetus for the movie Bottle Shock (it was not, as the mostly fictitious movie claims, the 1973 which, due to oxygen in the bottle turned an unsightly brown before resolving naturally), is still going strong 40 years later, tasting of broken stones, flint, minerals, popcorn and peach skin. Grgich himself seemed pleasantly surprised to taste the wine. “I didn’t know,” he said “but they found a 1972 that is still kicking.”
His nephew Ivo Jeramaz, who grew up in Croatia (where Grgich is also from) and oversees a rigorous biodynamic farming regime for all of the Grgich Vineyards, says of the current winemaking, “The only thing that has changed is we get better grapes. Better equipment doesn’t make better wine, but it helps preserve the quality you work so hard for in the vineyard.”
The 2010 Paris Tasting Chardonnay, which has a sketch of a younger Grgich on the label, is made from three clones of 23-year-old vines in Carneros. With brisk acidity and just a kiss of oak, Jeramaz describes it as falling somewhere between the Napa Chardonnay, which is their most “elegant,” and the richer, creamier (by Grgich standards, whose wines are notoriously lean) Carneros designate wine.
“If the wine is well made and if it is balanced, it will have longevity,” said Grgich, which could be his legacy statement. Then the notoriously flirtatious winemaker — wearing his signature beret and leaning heavily on his cane for support, added, “I believe that good wine, like good women, improve with maturity.”
The 2010 Grgich Hills Estate Paris Tasting Chardonnay is $90, available exclusively at the winery.