P I A
the bustle of crush winding down, it seems that winerys thoughts change
from making wine to tasting wine, and that suits me just fine.
While I lament the apparent passing of Day in the Vineyard, there are other tastings to salve my wounds and satisfy my decided "house palate" for Mr. Ridge.
Today it would be an event to taste the "new" ATP (Advanced Tasting Program) releases.
That by itself was a reasonable incentive, but the clincher, the dealmaker, the (to coin a phrase) "sine qua non" (Latin for: without which there is nothing) was the fine print. Always read the fine print. It said "and older vintages from our library."
Now, I dont know what that means to you. Elsewhere, it might mean wines from a couple of vintages ago which means to me they might be ready to drink. But at Ridge, I know it can mean something quite different. You see, Ive been lucky enough to walk those hallowed aisles and gaze longingly at those cases of California winemaking history. Ive even tasted a few the legendary 1970 Jimsomare Zinfandel, the extraordinary 1971 York Creek Petite Sirah, the long forgotten 1971 Napa Gamay that made its way Up the Creek with the Gang of Pour.
But I digress. Even the suggestion that some of these treasures might be uncorked was reason enough for me to make the trek to Monte Bello Ridge.
So, this fine autumn morning would find me and my other brother Al leaving the wilds of Napa and heading through the City on our way to the wilds of Cupertino.
The drive up Monte Bello Road was dizzying, as usual, but those of you who visit from time to time will be pleased to know the road has been repaved up to the Montessori School.
While the face of Ridge, and its personnel are slowly changing and evolving, the warmth and hospitality remain. I was particularly pleased to see John Olney (right), the winemaker at Lytton Springs. This is an exciting time for him as the new winery nears completion.
We started off with a token white wine.
2000 Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains light bronze hue faint hints of pear with sweet toasty oak aromas this pour shows more oak than fruit with a touch of bitterness and oak tannin. Ive found, however, that previous vintages of this wine integrate nicely after a year or two of bottle age, so Ill reserve judgment on this bottling.
The 2000 Monte Bello Chardonnay is scheduled for future release.
1972 Zinfandel Mendocino 60% Zinfandel, 40% Carignane - 12.4% alcohol - from the Zeni Vineyard orange tinged rusty garnet color lovely, lovely aromas of mature Zinfandel fruit with cedar and tobacco leaf highlights and wisps of floral-like perfume absolutely elegant aromatics. In the mouth the fruit is present, but subdued a touch of sweetness some smooth tannins up front and a noticeable backbone of acidity that has kept this wine alive for 30 years.
1975 Zinfandel Shenandoah 12.3% alcohol from the Schoolhouse Road Vineyard owned by the Esola family and the oldest vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley. Light brownish ruby color not nearly as lively in the nose as the Mendocino tired old Zinfandel aromas shows signs of life in the mouth there is some sweetness from the fruit, but little else the acids and tannins predominate on the palate with some bitterness in the finish.
1973 Zinfandel Occidental 12.7% alcohol from northwest Sonoma
County. Tired, somewhat dusty dark rose color very pleasing aromatics of
aged claret, featuring cigar box notes the nose evolves, with more tobacco
notes coming forward sweet and pretty on the palate with noticeable acid
backbone (which is one reason why these wines have stayed alive) very
smooth tannins in the midpalate no reason not to drink this with dinner
1974 Zinfandel Shenandoah 14.6% alcohol the youngest appearing of these wines in the glass ruby with just a touch of orange and brown mostly old claret aromas, with hints of Zinfandel fruit peeking through here and there sweet and lovely in the mouth with a touch of caramel.
While these wines would seem over the hill to many, I find them fascinating and informative. Many thanks to Ridge for allowing us to taste some of Mr. Drapers earlier efforts.
2000 Zinfandel Buchignani 81% Zinfandel, 19% Carignane 14.6% alcohol - from a family estate in northern Sonoma County. Clear ruby color corked.
Second pour from a different bottle amazingly, corked as well. A very odd occurrence from a winery that in my experience has a very low percentage of cork tainted bottles.
1999 Zinfandel Jimsomare Late Picked 100% Zinfandel - picked at 26.3 brix residual sugar 0.06 15.6% alcohol. Dark garnet color jammy blackberry fruit upfront with lively spice in the nose, which is quite unusual for a young Jimsomare. Big and mouthfilling with the typical acids and tannins that characterize this vineyard there is a wonderful sweetness of fruit, not all of it due to the RS an unusual Jimsomare, but still three to five years away from drinkability for my palate.
2000 Grenache Lytton Estate 75% Grenache, 16% Zinfandel, 9% Petite Sirah 14.8% alcohol. Fascinating floral perfume from the strong Grenache component the Rhone-like qualities of the variety come to the forefront moments later sweet and pretty in the mouth with a pretty and pleasant palate of southern Rhone flavors across the palate there are moderate but smooth tannins that need to integrate, but this is the most impressive showing of a Ridge Grenache at this stage of its development. Very appealing.
1999 Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill from the York Creek Vineyards, of course 91% Petite Sirah, 9% Zinfandel 13.8% alcohol. Deep purple in the glass - wonderful, characteristic and unmistakable aromas of York Creek Petite Sirah as expected, the wine is absolutely huge in the mouth the formidable tannins send a jolt through the seventh cranial nerve, but not before the perfectly ripened fruit makes a brief appearance. I anticipate a decade or two of cellaring before this designation (which is rapidly approaching the quality of the legendary Devils Hill) is drinkable. A unique and fascinating example of this "ignoble" (Hah!) variety.
Our good fortune increased manyfold when Paul Draper (left) arrived, just as we were saying our good-byes. I was fortunate to spend a few minutes talking with him before he was pulled away.
There is great excitement about the 2002 vintage at Ridge. The fruit was of outstanding quality, with both great fruit and structure the best of both worlds. Indeed, Paul thinks that some lots that are ordinarily blended are distinctive enough to be bottled as ATP wines. These "one of a kind" wines will help to fill out the program, and may allow Ridge to give some of the wines (Lytton Estate Syrah, for example) additional bottle age before release.
Having just finished pressing the last of the 2002 Monte Bello, Paul believes it is exceptional as well, and the Santa Cruz Mountains bottling (made from lots selected out from the Monte Bello) will return to the style it carried several vintages ago smooth and accessible.
After nearly thirty-five years at Ridge, Paul Draper is still excited and enthusiastic.
How fortunate for us.
ฉ Allan Bree November 2002