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Expensive wine 60: Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2011

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Expensive wine 60: Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2011Year in and year out, regardless of wine trends, fads, and the latest critical darlings, Grgich Hills is a model of consistency. Want quality wine at a fair (if expensive) price? Grgich rarely disappoints. My notes for previous vintages are amazingly similar: Classic. Rich. Tasteful. Balanced.

The 2011 chardonnay ($42, sample, 13.5%) is no exception. It’s everything one expects of a Napa chardonnay at this price — oak and vanilla balanced by apples and pears that play off each other; a rich mouth feel that doesn’t overwhelm, which is not easy to do; and a long finish that has you swallowing for many seconds after the wine is gone. In other words, classic and tasteful.

This is wine for celebration, whether birthday, anniversary, or even a dinner with someone you care about and want to share a great wine with. In this, it proves something that I learned a long time ago — wine isn’t about price or scores or trying to impress someone else, but about who you drink it with and where you are when you do.

Mini-reviews 33: Grgich, Leese-Fitch, Edna Valley, Colby Red

Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month:

•  Grgich Hills Fumé Blanc 2010 ($30, sample): This is about as good as California sauvignon blanc gets, with lemon grass and some sort of green apple fruit, a kind of subtle tropical middle (lychee?) and a long, clean finish. Still a little young, and would benefit from six more months in the bottle.

Leese-Fitch Pinor Noir 2010 ($13, sample): This is a very fruity (berries?), modern-style California pinot noir from The Other Guys that has more in common with Beaujolais than traditional pinot. As long as that's OK, it's more than acceptable wine and a decent value.

Edna Valley Chardonnay 2009 ($15, sample): Nice value with good fruit (apricot?) and freshness, though too oaky for me. Though, to be fair, not as oaky some old-school chardonnays.

Colby Red 2010 ($12, sample): California red blend with normal enough tannins and acid but what seems to be an almost cherry lollipop sweetness in the middle. It throws the wine off kilter, though people who like that sort of thing probably won't think anything of it.

Expensive wine 21: Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Another reminder why points are worthless.

The Grgich ($60, sample) is a gorgeous, beautiful wine with all elements in balance, and it's only going to get better as it ages. It's a lesson in winemaking — how to produce a Napa Valley cabernet that speaks to the terroir without the excesses (too much oak, too much fruit) that drive so many of us crazy.

So what scores did this wine get? How about 89 points from something called the Connoisseur's Guide? How about 92 from the Spectator? I've got $10 wines that score that well. To add insult to injury, Robert Parker wrote: ".. high acids and high tannin give the wine a monochromatic, clipped, lean character that will not age out. Rather, the wine is likely to dry out."

All of that negativity, of course, is because the Grgich is a gorgeous, beautiful wine without any of the excesses that drive so many of us crazy and that earn the wines with the excesses such high scores. Look for black cherries and a rich, long finish without any of the sweetish fruit that the excess wines display — and, at the risk of offending Mr. Parker, this wine is not going to dry out.

This is a holiday wine for prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, or nuy it as a gift for someone you really like and who will really appreciate it. And, thanks to the recession, it's available for as little as $45 at a variety of Internet retailers.

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