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 flightWe began with the older vintages, starting with the oldest first.
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 FlightAfter a short break we resumed with the newer vintages. This time we tasted the younger wines first.
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 FlightFor 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.
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