Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ridge Bloggers tasting, March 2011

Has it really been 3 months since the last Bloggers' event? Once again, Chris Watkins invited a group of wine bloggers to a tasting of current, unreleased and library wines at the Monte Bello tasting rooms. A dozen of us braved torrential rains and hailstones; some of the regulars were joined by Chiara Shannon of K&L Wines, Melanie Friedman and Erin Grant.

Chris likes to have a different theme for each event, and this turned out to be a demonstration of how Ridge wines age over decades.

We began with a couple of the newly releases. Ridge has dropped the "Santa Cruz Mountains" designation in favour of "Estate" for both the Chardonnay and the red blend, which is now a fully fledged Cabernet.

2009 Estate Chardonnay
Nose shows peach, apricot, a touch of of almond and creamy vanilla. On the palate there's sweet white fruit up front, and a salty note. There's some bitterness from the oak and tannin on the finish; it needs a little cellar time. 90+

2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Earthy nose with blackcurrant, mint and herb. Tart fruit flavours of bramble and blackcurrant backed with earth and smoke. Good structure; firm tannins on the finish. Nice now, but will repay cellaring. 92

We moved on to a 10 year comparison of Geyserville - the newly released 2009 vintage and the 1999 from the library.

2009 Geyserville
The 44th vintage is a blend of 74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet and 1% Mataro.
The colour is a bright red-purple. The nose is tart, with a medicinal note. Flavours of cherry and redcurrant, with bright acidity. 91 It's a nice wine, but it was completely overshadowed by

1999 Geyserville
Blend of 68% Zinfandel, 16% Carignane and 16% Petite Sirah.
A deep brick red colour. Lovely mature nose and great flavours of dark fruit, dried cranberry, leather. There's amazing depth and a long finish. 94

This was followed by three impressive vintages of Monte Bello spanning two decades.

1985 Monte Bello
93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot
Similar deep brick red colour to the Geyserville.
Aromas of leather, dried fruit and hayloft; palate showed earth with some blackcurrant (but not a lot), and savoury, meaty notes. Still a surprising amount of tannin on the finish.
The fruit showed more clearly when tasted alongside food. After the tasting was over I went back and retasted all the Monte Bellos and was surprised by how the fruit showed - here's a 25 year wine that needs air to show its best. 95

1995 Monte Bello
The nose was musty and earthy, with notes of menthol. The palate showed lots of bright acidity and earth, hiding the fruit, and lots of tannin. It seemed shut down tight and I wasn't going to assign a rating, but revisiting after a couple of hours the fruit came out - great, rustic brambly and herbal notes. Clearly many years from its peak. 94+

2005 Monte Bello
This wine has always been a delight; the nose is big and fruity, with mint and earth notes. On the palate there's lots of intense black fruit - blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant, with graphite, smoke and pepper - the finish just goes on and on. With air it got even better and showed a liquorice note. The best young Monte Bello I've tasted. 97

We then moved to two examples from the ATP programme, which focuses mainly on Rhone varieties.

2004 Lytton Estate Syrah
Cofermented with 10% Viognier, and blended with an additional 8% Grenache.
The nose shows spicy, peppery red fruit which follows through onto the palate. Notes of redcurrant, tobacco and allspice. 91

2006 Lytton Estate Syrah
The 2006 is not yet released. The nose is altogether more assertive than the 2004 and overall there's significantly more going on; lots of red fruit and spice with a long finish. Definitely one to watch out for. 94

Alan Bree then teased us with two blind wines from his extensive personal Ridge cellar. He firmly believes that all of Ridge's wines deserve cellaring and are typically consumed too young. We had no other clues as to what was being offered.

Both wines had a similar brick red colour to the 1999 Geyserville and 1985 Monte Bello, so my guess was that the wines were 10-15 years old.

The first had a light nose that suggested cigarette smoke. Nicely mature, with notes of sweet raspberry fruit and some good tannins. The raspberry and tannin made me guess a Zinfandel blended with Petite Sirah. (Dead wrong)

The second showed a slightly redder colour, suggesting that it was the younger of the two. There was a sour note on the nose that I didn't care for, but the flavour was surprisingly sweet. Again a raspberry note made me think it was a Zinfandel, but the tannins were much softer.

The wines turned out to be 1997 and 1998 Sangiovese, from Dry Creek Valley. The 1997 was blended with 17% Merlot, while the 1998 was 100% Sangiovese. I would never have guessed this as I was unaware that Ridge had ever made a Sangiovese. (Apparently they took over the vineyard in 1997 and replanted it in 1999.) Two fascinating wines, probably slightly past their peak despite the tannins on the 1997, but still interesting and tasty. I didn't score them at the time, but in retrospect I'd probably say 89 each.