My last wine-outing of the Wine Bloggers Conference was to none other than Ridge Vineyards, one of the mainstays of Sonoma County and perhaps the best zinfandel producer in California. In any case, they are the first winery in California to take zinfandel seriously and they are one of the very few who not only make zins with 'restraint' and a deft use of oak, but also with incredible aging potential. Furthermore, Ridge often uses field blends rather than pure zinfandels, which tends to provide more balance and layering on the palate.
Made with 88% zinfandel, 10% carignane and 2% petite sirah, this was a classic big zin with a nose of stewed black fruit compote and mulling spices. The palate is, as Sean would say, slutty: plum, fig, and licorice predominate. This is raisinated and almost amarone like in taste with tons of stewed fruit notes.
Here we have one of the classic Ridge zins that is widely available - even in British Columbia. With a nose of blue fruits and strawberry, on the palate the wine was briary, with earth and savory herbs. A very different expression of zin than above, and blended from 70% zinfandel, 18% carignane, 10% petite sirah and 2% mataro.
Lytton Springs 2006
Another widely available zinfandel, this had a funky, almost gamey nose to it. The palate had sharp acidity, with crushed berries, blackberry, and was super dry and tannic on the mid-palate. This has a lot of concentration and is quite a masculine zinfandel - I think ultimately in need of age.
East Bench 2007
Dusi Ranch 2006
I am a huge fan of Paso Robles zinfandels, which tend to be quite massively endowed with fruit, but also usually have outstanding spice depth to them. This zin had sweet spice on the nose, almost like a festive cake or christmas pudding. The palate again reminded me of christmas, with baking spices, cloves, and orange. Even with all the fruit this is still nicely structured and the alcohol is very balanced. 100% zinfandel.
Not to be pigeonholed, however, Ridge also makes outstanding wines from almost any variety of grape and perhaps make some of the best balanced chardonnay in california and one of the most finessed and elegant cabernets.
The 2005 vintage of this wine is one of my all-time favourite Californian chardonnays. This vintage had hazlenut on the nose, with apricot, peach, pineapple, and vanilla undertones. The palate was rounded and fresh with a linear delineation of its structure towards a thoughtful and balanced finish. This is not an over the top opulent chard, but it still has tons of flavour and fruit. Nicely done, although not quite up to the quality of the 2005.
Very Good to Very Good+
Monte Bello 2005
For those not in the know, Monte Bello is a somewhat legendary cabernet sauvignon blend that has been one of the most polished cabernet blend's in California consistently for decades. A blend of 70% cab, 22% merlot, 6% petit verdot, and 2% cabernet franc, this is what a great Bordeaux would taste like if it were made in Napa (terroir be damned ;)!) The nose is classic: eucalyptus, cedar, licorice, violets and more depth than any flavour descriptors could possibly convey. The palate is bright and up front, but also delicate with cedar edges, violets and cool black fruits. This is not only one of the best cabs being made in California, but a truly outstanding wine comparable to some of the finest in the world.
Ridge provided the perfect final sips to an excellent weekend journey through Napa and Sonoma that showed the sheer diversity of wines being produced in the two valleys and the fact that, despite some nay-sayers, there are still good values and wines with great personality to be had.