Christopher Watkins, Tasting Room Manager at Ridge, invited nine of us local wine (and food) bloggers–or “blobbers,” as Robert Parker, the Big Blob himself, insists on disparaging us–for the 2nd bloggers tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello tasting room. The focus this time was on limited production Rhone and other varietals available only through Ridge’s Advance Tasting Program (ATP). Since I wasn’t able to attend the first bloggers tasting, I was glad I was available for this one. It was a great chance to taste through different vintages of these small batch wines–often only several barrels of which are made, so from 600 to a max of 1200 cases–that are only sold to the ATP mailing list, as well as to meet some of my fellow local bloggers.
My favorite flight was the Syrah/Grenaches, but I also very much enjoyed the ’06 Petite Sirah, and the novelty of tasting three single vineyard Carignanes. For more detailed comments on our wines, see below.
The Jimsomare was a “welcome wine.” The Mikulaco was the Chard that Christopher wanted us to start with for serious tasting. It’s the first time I’ve had Chardonnay from this vineyard, and it was quite tasty. Unlike most Ridge wines, which mainly see American oak, this has 15 to 20% French oak, which shows up a little on the nose and on the palate.
- 2008 Ridge Chardonnay Jimsomare Ranch – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Light butter yellow color; nice vanilla, lemon curd nose; tasty, creamy textured, a little tight, ripe lemon, vanilla, acacia palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
- 2008 Ridge Chardonnay Mikulaco – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Light canary yellow color; nice floral, lemon curd, acacia nose; tight, youthful, ripe lemon, lemon curd, vanilla palate with a touch of green herb and good acidity; medium finish 91+ pts. (15 to 20% French oak, 80 to 85% American oak) (91 pts.)
These Carignanes (the U.S. spelling–in Europe it’s Carignan) are from the northernmost vineyard that Ridge sources from. It’s a little east of Rockpile, and only grows Carignane and Zin. The average vine age is 60 years. The ’05 was my favorite of the flight, and reminiscent of a good Cotes du Rhone.
I’ve never been a big fan of Carignan bottled on its own. It tends to be high in acidity, tannin, color and bitterness, and doesn’t have any real positive qualities that come to mind. As Jancis Robinson puts it in The Oxford Companion to Wine, the grape “has the double inconvenience of being unsuitable for early consumption yet unworthy of maturation.” Ouch! It is prone to a lot of mildew, rot and grape worms too, but is high yielding (another attribute that’s not particularly desirable in fine wine). Carefully farmed, old vine Carignan is the only kind that’s really worth drinking, and that’s what these Buchignanis are. The best Carignans I’ve had to date have been from the Priorat, and from Domaine d’Aupilhac in the Languedoc, but these are easily the best I’ve had from domestic producers.
- 2002 Ridge Carignane Buchignani Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County
Slightly bricking plum red color with pale meniscus; earthy, dried berry, tart raspberry, sandalwood, smoke and green herb nose; tasty, tart berry, wild berry, mineral, baked berry palate with a touch of green herb; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
- 2005 Ridge Carignane Buchignani Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County
Medium dark plum red color; lovely, herbal, garrigue-like, smoke, red berry nose; a little tight, tart red berry, currant, tart blackberry palate with a touch of herb and good acidity and depth, reminiscent of a good Cotes du Rhone; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
- 2008 Ridge Carignane Buchignani Ranch – USA, California, Sonoma County
Dark red violet color; herbal, smoke, charcoal, dried berry, green mint, berry nose; smoke, tart berry, mineral, charcoal and green herb palate, a little chewy, with sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (needs 3 to 4 years) (91 pts.)
These are equal blends of Syrah and Grenache from Ridge’s Lytton vineyard. The ’06 is pre-release. I enjoyed both of them, but they both need a few more years of development yet. It was interesting to see how the Grenache stood out, at this stage, on the ’05. Neither really put me in mind of Chateauneuf du Pape, except for the nose on the ’06.
- 2006 Ridge Syrah/Grenache Lytton Estate – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
Pre-release – dark red violet color; ripe plum, berry, cherry nose with a hint of herb, reminiscent of Chateauneuf du Pape from a ripe year; tasty, rich, tart black fruit, tart berry, black plum palate, a little tight yet but already showing well; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (30-40% new oak; needs 3-5 years) (92 pts.)
- 2005 Ridge Syrah/Grenache Lytton Estate – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
Very dark raspberry red color; Grenachey, baked cherry, berry, VA, blackberry nose; ripe berry, black cherry, black fruit, vanilla palate with depth and balance; medium-plus finish (needs 3-4 years) (92 pts.)
Syrah Lytton West
Now on to Syrah co-fermented with Viognier (grown in the same western parcel of the Lytton Vineyard). The ’05 was very nice, and balanced, but the ’03 was like a overly fruit forward Shiraz–the least successful wine of our tasting. My favorite Lytton Estate Syrah to date has been the ’02, which I rated 93 points.
- 2003 Ridge Syrah Lytton West Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
Nearly opaque dark red violet color; oak, baked plum, black fruit, green herb nose; chunky ripe black plum, berry, oak, Welch’s grape jelly, Shiraz-like, black fruit palate; medium-plus finish (with 9% co-fermented Viognier) (88 pts.)
- 2005 Ridge Syrah Lytton West Vineyard – USA, California, Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley
Very dark purple red violet color; nice, herbal, ripe black fruit, berry nose with a touch of green peppercorn; nice tart black fruit, charcoal, tart berry, green herb palate, much better balanced than the ’03; medium-plus finish (with 6% co-fermented Viognier) (91 pts.)
Ridge makes very solid Petite Sirahs, although they demand a lot of bottle age, as do most great Petites. The best Ridge Petite I’ve had to date was a ’98 Paddock Vines York Creek, which I rated 93+ pts. The ’06 in this flight is quite good, complex and ageworthy. I’d love to try it again in several years. The ’03 wasn’t as successful (kind of like the ’03 Syrah Lytton West). I’ve previously tasted the ’04 Dynamite Hill, and it was also very good, much like the ’06.
- 2006 Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill York Creek Vineyards – USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
Very dark red violet color; focused, tart berry, charcoal, green herb nose; tight but rich, tart berry, orange blossom, tart plum, black fruit, deep black raspberry palate; long finish 92+ pts. (needs 6-7 years) (92 pts.)
- 2003 Ridge Petite Sirah Dynamite Hill York Creek Vineyards – USA, California, Napa Valley, Spring Mountain District
Dark red violet color; VA, smoke, green herb, mineral nose; oak, green herb, tart black fruit palate with firm, drying tannins and what tastes likes a touch of residual sugar; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)
The bloggers invited besides me were:
Liren Baker kitchen-confidante.com (beautiful “food porn” pictures, and passionate prose)
Wes Barton http://bartonorchard.blogspot.com/ (along with Dave Tong, a true Santa Cruz Mountains expert)
Gary Chevsky http://www.chevsky.com/ (unfortunately sporting crutches due to a recent accident; pictured below with his “chaffeur,” our buddy Dan)
Thea Dwelle http://lusciouslushes.com/ (I look forward to reading more of Thea’s posts–she’s quite the blogging networker)
Jason of “Jason’s Wine Blog” http://jasonswineblog.com/ (Jason got there a little late, but caught up with us in tasting)
Fely Krewell of “A Grape Experience” http://agrapeexperience.com/ (I don’t know if Fely made it)
Jason Mancebo of “$20 Wine Blog” http://www.20dollarwineblog.com (my neighbor for the tasting, and a very knowledgeable guy)
Dave Tong http://scmwine.blogspot.com/ (top Santa Cruz Mtn wine geek, along with Wes)
So let’s see who got our Ridge post up first! 😉