Last week I had the pleasure of meeting two legends of American wine and food – Mike Grgich, celebrated winemaker who created the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won the Paris Tasting of 1976, and Wolfgang Puck,
who helped revolutionize our cuisine by incorporating flavors from
around the world that reflected the increasing diversity that is
America. The occasion was a wine dinner at The Source by Wolfgang Puck,
the chef’s D.C. outpost at the Newseum.
As I sat there listening to these two long-time friends regale their
dinner guests in their pronounced Eastern European accents, I couldn’t
help but thinking, “What a wonderful country!” Our economy may be going
down the toilet,
but optimism and cheer were on display. We had just elected as
president a second-generation American of mixed-race who speaks of
hope and a bright future instead of enemies lurking around every corner
hoping to destroy our way of life unless we destroy it first in
self-defense. My own forebears came to this country long enough ago that
I have no trace of Scottish or Irish brogue, but I thought of my
Taiwanese mother-in-law, who came here 38 years ago and has scrimped and
saved and worked her ass off ever since to realize the American dream
of a comfortable life for herself and her daughter. And I thought of her
8-year-old granddaughter, half-Chinese, who will now grow up thinking a
mixed-race President of the United States is nothing out of the
The food and wine were good, too.
This is as political as I will get on this blog, but I figure the
people who sent me hate mail five years ago when I made fun of “freedom
fries” and joked of putting plastic sheeting up to protect my wine
cellar from WMDs are probably no longer reading anyway.
But back to the subject at hand. In between choruses of “You Are My
Sunshine,” which is apparently Grgich’s favorite song, I was able to ask
the winemaker what he thought of “Bottle Shock,” the recent movie about
the Paris Tasting.
“It is just Hollywood, not fact,” he said. He acknowledged he hadn’t
seen it or how it portrayed his accomplishment, but he said he had
read the script.
Grgich is also a champion of biodynamic winemaking. He began
converting his estate vineyards to biodynamics in 2000, and by 2006 the
conversion was complete. He said he can taste the difference.
“We like how our wines taste without pesticides and herbicides,” he
said. He expressed some skepticism, however, at the current talk of
wineries becoming eco-conscious and obsessed with reducing their “carbon
“The world is going green, though of course like everything else, you can go too far,” he said.
And on living and working in Napa Valley, going strong at age 87:
“Why should I die and go to paradise, when I can live and work in
My thoughts on the Grgich Hills Estate wines served at the dinner:
2007 Fume Blanc – Textbook, with bracing acidity and a good balance between grass and tropical fruit.
2005 Chardonnay – Oaky, not yet fully integrated, but beautifully structured.
2003 Chardonnay – Buttery, orange peel, full and long, nicely rounded and a good testament for aging Napa Valley Chardonnay.
2004 Merlot – Gorgeous, cocoa, roasted coffee, still quite tannic but very rich.
2004 Cabernet Sauvignon – Still somewhat tight and tannic, not yet showing its full potential, though some nice herbal/lavender notes emerge with time.
1995 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon – Lively, blackberry fruit, good acidity and balance, delightful.
1997 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon – Delicious,
berry and black fruit, lively acidity, with notes of anise, clove,
5-spice (my Chinese background perhaps? Or Puck’s Asian-accented
cuisine?) and lavender.