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Left Coast Correspondent 


Tasting Notes from 
the Northern Ridge

Further Tasting Notes from the Ridge

Up the Coast
Domaine Serene, 
Domaine Drouhin
and Archery Summit

Syren Vineyards

More Tasting Notes from the Ridge

Jancis Robinson

Pax Mahle

Sean Thackrey

Robert Biale Vineyards

Havens Wine Cellars


Scott Paul Wines

Landmark Vineyards

Dashe Cellars

Tasting a Legacy
Wines of Stag's Leap

TN's From The Ridge & Beyond
Paul Draper and Monte Bello



"T" is for...
califusa ventures where the stags leap


A Day in the Dust

Premiere Napa Valley ฎ

Family Winemakers 02, 01, 98

With the bustle of crush winding down, it seems that winery’s 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 don’t 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, I’ve been lucky enough to walk those hallowed aisles and gaze longingly at those cases of California winemaking history. I’ve 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.

John OlneyWhile 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. I’ve found, however, that previous vintages of this wine integrate nicely after a year or two of bottle age, so I’ll 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.

'73 Ridge Occidental1973 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 tonight.

'74 Ridge Shenandoah1974 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. Draper’s 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 Devil’s Hill) is drinkable. A unique and fascinating example of this "ignoble" (Hah!) variety.

Paul DraperOur 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.

Left Coast Correspondent to the Gang of Pour


ฉ Allan Bree November 2002


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