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Wine & Cheese Pairings at Grgich Hills in Napa Valley

This report to you is about our venture seeking Wow! pairings of another specific winery’s wines with cheeses from another specific cheese vendor. We visited the Napa Valley and paired exquisite wines from Grgich Hills Estate with three imported cheeses purchased not far from the winery. Here are the highlights of this step in our quest for pairings that give our taste buds and olfactory nerve cells that exhilarating experience of Wow! This wine and cheese combination is fantastic!

Buying cheese in St. Helena, California

We began our adventure along the St. Helena Highway portion of Highway 29 where we stopped at Dean & Deluca (607 So. St. Helena Highway) to purchase some imported cheeses: Asiago D’Allevo (Italy), Brillat Savarin (France), and Abbaye de Belloc (French Pyrenees). Dean & Deluca has an impressive selection of cheeses and Shannon Thorne and Marcus Johnson gave us excellent recommendations while considering the Grgich Hills Estate wines we were soon to enjoy.

Marcus Johnson at Dean & Deluca, St. Helena

Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, California

Heading south on Highway 29, we soon arrived at the Grgich Hills Estate winery at 1829 St. Helena Highway in Rutherford. We were greeted by  Tasting Room Manager Betsy Van Dyne who served us a wonderful array of exceptional wines. As a bonus, Wine Club Manager Bob During also stopped by to say hello.

As we swirled, sniffed and sipped the elegant 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay and the 2006 Carneros Selection Chardonnay, we recalled the magical story of the historic 1976 Paris Tasting where a blind-tasting competition revolutionized the world’s wine industry as little-known wines from California’s Napa Valley surprised the world by winning the top rating over the best world-class French wines. All of the esteemed judges, who were French wine experts, were astounded at the exceptional quality of the California wines and were shocked that they had rated the California wines as superior to their beloved French wines. This story is appropro because the winning white wine in that competition was the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that was crafted by the same Mike Grgich (then Chateau Montelena’s young winemaker — have you seen the 2008 movie Bottle Shock? — who partnered with Austin Hills and Mary Lee (of the Hills Bros. Coffee family) to found Grgich Hills Estate in 1977. Mike, enjoying acclaim as the creator of the 1976 Paris Tasting’s best Chardonnay, was obviously winemaker in that new Grgich Hills venture.

Bob During & Betsy Van Dyne

Grgich Hills Chardonnays have consistently been recognized for high quality. In 1980, “The Great Chicago Showdown” brought 221 Chadonnays together for the largest blind tasting ever held of wines of a single varietal. Guess who won the first place ribbon … Grgich Hills 1977 Chardonnay crafted by Mike Grgich, who soon would be affectionately known as the “King of Chardonnay.” And in 1982, President Reagan selected the 1979 Grgich Hills Chardonnay to serve to French President Mitterrand at the U.S. Embassy in France.

Great stories, great history!

More to appreciate about Grgich Hills Estate    

By the way, all Grgich Hills Estate vineyards are certified organic and Biodynamic® by Demeter Association. This holistic farming practice uses the earth’s natural cycles and organic preparations to grow balanced, healthy vines without artificial fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides.

Our Wow! combinations discovered in our current venture

In addition to the Chardonnays we mentioned above, Betsy Van Dyne served us tastings of the 2008 “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley appellation; 2008 Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley appellation; 2006 Petite Sirah, Miljenko’s Vineyard, Napa Valley appellation; 2007 Zinfandel, Napa Valley appellation; 2005 Merlot, Napa Valley appellation; 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley appellation; and 2006 Violetta, Napa Valley appellation.

We savored and thoroughly enjoyed each of these wines, paired them all with the three cheeses we had with us, and discovered several Wow! combinations that we want to tell you about. Here they are:

Norm and Barbara both experienced “Wow!” interaction of the rich, creamy Abbaye de Belloc sheep’s-milk cheese and the 2008 “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc’s floral, citrus, fruity aromas and flavors. The combination produced perfectly balanced taste sensations with a special long, evolving aftertaste.

Barbara found a Wow! pairing of the Brillat Savarin triple-creme, extremely buttery cow’s-milk cheese with the 2005 Merlot (aged two years in Oak barrels plus two years in bottles) with it’s mouth-coating flavors of plums and cocoa. The combination was completely harmonious and extremely pleasing.

Norm’s next Wow! pairing was the sharp, salty, granular Asiago d’Allevo cow’s-milk cheese with the full-bodied 2006 Petite Sirah with it’s blackberry and roasted coffee flavors. The combination of flavors of the wine and the cheese evolved into a dramatic cherry, which was a fun surprise and very rewarding effect.

Another surprising taste combination where Norm and Barbara both expressed “Wow!” was pairing the Abbaye de Belloc triple-creme cheese with the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. We anticipated that the elegant, bold wine would overpower the creamy, brie-style cheese, but instead, we found that the wine enlivened the cheese flavors and the combination produced a long-lasting, luxurious aftertaste.

Another Wow! recommendation

Betsy Van Dyne indicated that a Wow! combination for her is pairing a creamy Gorgonzola cheese with the Grgich Hills Estate 2006 Violetta, which is a unique late-harvest dessert wine that is made from a field blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Betsy says this incredible wine’s flavors of peaches, honey and almonds result in a Wow! experience for her when combined with the blue, sharp gorgonzola. This is an intriguing recommendation for us all.

On to future Wow! pairing discoveries

So that’s our report on this venture. It’s great fun to experiment with a variety of wines and cheeses to find combinations that give us that Wow! experience. In our book Wine & Cheese Pairing Guide: Your Exciting Search for Wow! Combinations we present details of 150 wines and 340 cheeses of the world. That’s over 50,000 potential pairings for all of us to explore. And if you want an even bigger challenge, since there are more than 1000 wines and 1000 cheeses in the world today (that’s more than a million potential pairings), go for it!

It’s also a lot of fun to visit specific wineries and specific cheesemakers/cheese vendors in their picturesque locations. Yes, we highly recommend a day trip or weekend getaway focused on finding your special Wow! wine and cheese pairings. When you do, please let us know what you have discovered by leaving a comment for us.

Here’s to your exhiliarating quest!

We will keep you posted on our future ventures to find more Wow! wine and cheese pairings.