Thursday, September 30, 2010

Santa Clara Valley Passport Weekend

The Wineries of Santa Clara Valley are holding their autumn Passport event this weekend, October 2nd and 3rd. For those more familiar with the Santa Cruz Mountains events, this is more like the SCMWA Vintners' festival than their quarterly passport program.

A passport costs $30, includes a souvenir glass and is valid for both days only. All the member wineries will be open from 11-5PM both days, and may have additional promotions, refreshments and entertainment. This is a great opportunity to visit some of the less well known local producers.

In addition Aver Family Vineyards will be pouring at D’Vine Jazz & Wine from 12-5PM and at Westside Grill from 11–5PM both days. They may also be joined by Mann Cellars - who poured at both locations in March - though this is unconfirmed.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ridge Bloggers' tasting #3

For the third edition of Ridge's quarterly bloggers' tasting we were invited up to the Lytton Springs facility in Healdsburg. This was a first time for me; though I've visited the Dry Creek area several times and think it's arguably the best AVA overall for Zinfandel, I've never been to Ridge's other tasting room.

The ultra-modern facility was built around 10 years ago and combines numerous environmentally friendly features. (You can read about it here.) It's constructed from recycled lumber and bales of rice straw, covered with adobe made from the local clay. The shining roof is covered with solar cells which produce up to 65kW. The crushpad is shaded from the sun by a large overhang - this last feature was of particular importance, since it was an unusually hot weekend for September and that was where we would be tasting.

The focus of the event was on Ridge's Lytton Springs bottling. This is a field blend of mainly Zinfandel, with some Petite Sirah and Carignane. Though the blend typically contains more than 75% Zinfandel the varietal designation was dropped after 1992.

We were to taste 10 vintages spanning 20 years. Now as a general rule I don't age Zinfandels beyond around 5-8 years, usually much less. I find that when bottled as a pure varietal the fresh raspberry notes are so pleasant in the early years that it's hard to justify keeping them. In addition the current trend - particularly in hotter regions such as Amador, Lodi or Paso Robles - seems to be for wines that are high in alcohol and low in tannin and acidity, wines that aren't intended to be kept around. But as always Ridge is an exception; many of their Zinfandels will age gracefully for a decade or more.

All the wines were opened around 2-4 hours earlier and double decanted.

First flight

We began with the older vintages, starting with the oldest first.
1987 Lytton Springs Zinfandel
Red/brown brick in colour. An interesting meaty, musty nose, with hints of mint or wintergreen.
Plenty of dark fruit and nice weight, though there's not much tannin left. I wouldn't have guessed that it was 20+ years old. Drink now. 93

1992 Lytton Springs Zinfandel
Very similar in colour to the 1987, though slightly darker. More herbal than the 1987, less musty but possessing similar fruit and mint notes. On the palate it's really intense; strong flavours of black cherry and raspberry which go on and on. One of the best old Zinfandels I've tasted. Drink now. 94.

1993 Lytton Springs
A lighter brick red than the previous two. Nose shows smoky, gamey meat, hawthorn, and that minty note again that seems to be a signature of Lytton Springs. Lighter bodied, but nicely balanced. Flavours of raspberry and pomegranate, light tannins and a nice finish. Drink now. 93

1996 Lytton Springs
A darker, deeper, more opaque reddish colour.
There's a definite consistency of those herbal, meaty flavours between vintages. The minty note is less pronounced, but still detectable. On the palate there's plenty of rich dark berry fruit and for the first time the tannins are pronounced. This one still has plenty of potential, so hold on to it. 92+

1999 Lytton Springs
Deep red in colour, very little fading in the meniscus. Got some initial heat on the nose; aromas of white pepper, black plum and raspberry. In the mouth it's very spicy/peppery. There's lots of primary raspberry fruit, and it's definitely the sweetest so far. Seems to possess less structure than the 1996, so I'd drink it sooner rather than later. 92

Second Flight

After a short break we resumed with the newer vintages. This time we tasted the younger wines first.
2007 Lytton Springs
A deep, inky purple colour. The nose shows liquorice and berry. There is some of that herbal and mint character but it's very much in the background at this stage. In the mouth the intense fruit hits you. There's loads of raspberry, with a touch of cocoa. Some ripe sweetness again, as with the 1999. Obviously it's very young. 92+

2005 Lytton Springs
The most floral nose of all the wines tasted, and possibly the highest acidity (though that's one of the few details Ridge omit from their notes.) Tart golden raspberries, with citrus and herbal notes. The dark fruit and tannin from the Petite Sirah shows well. This should be a very long lived wine; apparently it's one of Paul Draper's favourites too. 94

2003 Lytton Springs
While similar to the other young vintages the nose was noticeably lighter. Overall it seemed tighter than others; the fruit more restrained. There was an interesting brine and baking soda note particularly on the finish. 91+

2002 Lytton Springs
This had a particularly ripe fruity nose, with blackcurrant and eucalyptus. Immensely rich, layered currant fruit, with some bitter chocolate and a great finish. Reminiscent of a cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Just lovely. 95

2001 Lytton Springs
The nose on this was very different to many of the others; notes of autumn leaves and dried fruit. Flavours of dried berry, with savoury notes but there was a rather harsh note; perhaps because it seemed to be a little warmer than the rest. The tannins also appeared more harsh. Showed the least well of all the wines; probably needs more time. 90+

Third Flight

For a final flight Chris had brought three older vintages of Monte Bello in 375s. This is a flight that's going to be available in the Monte Bello tasting room in October. The wines were opened and tasted individually to check for variation, then two bottles combined in a decanter.
1991 Monte Bello
Really herbal nose. Light fruit. Some eucalyptus notes.
Lots of fruit on the palate; Blackcurrant, bramble jelly, some leather. There's a fresh earth note on the finish. Thoroughly delicious. 95

1992 Monte Bello
Amazingly rich red colour in comparison to the similarly aged Lyttons.
Similar herbal notes to the 1991;
If anything it seems more mature.
But on the palate it's another story - very fresh fruit, bright acidity. Tannins are soft but still present, less earthy. Hint of menthol on the finish. 94

1994 Monte Bello
Interesting smoky note on the nose, in addition to the herbal and cassis notes.
Lithe acidity, good fruit. Still plenty of acid and tannin; despite being from a 375 it will still stand cellaring for several more years. 93

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thomas Kruse


California has always had a tradition of home winemaking. Even during Prohibition, families were allowed to produce up to 200 gallons for personal use (that's around 3 bottles a day). Thomas Kruse began making wine at his home in Gilroy in the early 1960s. Pleased by his initial vintages he began studying oenology and viticulture, and opened a store for fellow enthusiasts, selling home winemaking supplies and sharing his new found knowledge.

In 1971 he purchased a small acreage on Hecker Pass Road where he established a vineyard and the eponymous winery. He made wine from whatever grape varieties were available, even table grapes; His maverick style and value pricing attracted a loyal local following.

After 20 years the winery moved to a larger 22 acre property on Dryden Road. Kruse planted 12 acres of vines, mostly red, with some Chardonnay. The vineyard is named Claire's Field, after the late family dog.

All wines are Estate except the non-vintage Clare's Field Red. Prices range from $10-$14, with significant discounts (50% or more) for case purchases. There is also a m├ęthode champenoise sparkling wine which was not poured.

2009 Blanc de Noir
A dry blush Zinfandel with a floral nose. Fruity, soft and simple with flavours of red apple. 81

2009 Chardonnay
This had a cidery, yeasty nose and gave the impression of a floral, oaky cider with a bitter note on the finish. 75

NV Claire's Field Red
A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Syrah.
Smoky nose with notes of red fruit
Smooth, soft redcurrant flavours, with a bitter finish. 79

2007 Merlot
Smoky nose; Simple fruit, lots of tannin, quick finish. 80
The bottle had been open some time; a second, fresher bottle was a little better - 82

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
Light nose showing blueberry and smoke. Pleasant blueberry and herb flavours with an earthy finish 84

2007 Zinfandel

Earthy raspberry nose, but on the palate it's sadly lacking fruit. There's lots of tannin and a hint of wintergreen. 82