Friday, September 30, 2011

Bloggers' tasting at Ridge Lytton Springs

Recently I was invited up to Ridge's Lytton Springs facility for their quarterly bloggers' tasting. Although the post count may have slowed to the point where I barely qualify as a blogger any more I wasn't going to let that stop me from going - neither was the weather, which was starting to suggest that summer was almost over and done with.

Lytton Springs is just off the 101 in Dry Creek Valley - my favourite Zinfandel region overall. The site was originally a Victorian spa and hotel, with the first vineyards being planted from 1901 to 1910. Around 15 additional acres were planted in the 1950s. Ridge has made wine from the vineyard for 40 years and has owned it since 1991. The old vines are head pruned and are a field blend of mostly Zinfandel with small quantities of Petite Sirah, Grenache, Carignane, Alicante Boushet, Mataro (Mourvedre) and others. We tasted through a vertical of the Lytton Springs Zinfandel blend on our visit last year; this tasting would focus on the Rhone varieties. In recent years several blocks of Syrah have been planted to the West, together with some Viognier and Grenache. The latter are typically blended or cofermented with the Syrah, though occasionally they are bottled on their own. The wines are typically only available to members of the ATP list or at the tasting rooms.

Before the tasting Chris took us on a tour of the facility. The recently constructed winery and tasting room is very impressive and eco-friendly; the wooden frame is insulated with blocks made from local straw and clay; and the facility is almost entirely solar powered. The last time we visited the tasting was held on the crush pad, but with harvest in full swing we we assembled in the barrel room. We began the tasting with two Grenache blends.

2002 Grenache
78% Grenache, 13% Petite Sirah, 9% Zinfandel
This wine is a field blend, sourced from some century-old blocks that contain a high proportion of Grenache, plus some younger vines planted in 1991
The nose shows musty caramel and blueberry. There's nice black fruit up front; good rich concentration and plenty of structure. Grenache is typically drunk young since they have a tendency to age fairly rapidly, but this still seems very youthful; perhaps due to the age of the vines and the blended components, I'd say it still needs another 3 - 5 years. 92+

2003 Grenache/Syrah
50% Grenache, 50% Syrah
A softer, fruity nose than the Grenache with more floral character. Unfortunately it shows rather a lot of oak. There's nice black fruit but it's somewhat overshadowed, particularly on the finish. 89

Richard Jennings had brought a mystery wine, and Chris presented it now, blind. He asked us to guess the grape and the vintage. Light in colour, with a meaty, gamey nose suggesting bacon or sausage. On the palate there was tart cranberry, with light tannins and a medium finish. I accidentally caught a glimpse of what looked like a zero on the cork, so guessed 1990. For variety I thought it seemed like an Italian; I don't know what Italian varietals Ridge has made, but we've tasted Sangiovese in the past from that era, so that as my guess. Close, but not good enough; it was in fact a 1990 Rancho Pequeño Barbera.

We then tried several vintages of Syrah in pairs. The newer wines are designated Lytton West, the older ones Lytton Estate; the vines are the same, it's purely a branding thing.

2003 Lytton West Syrah
91% Syrah, 9% Viognier
The nose shows ripe black fruit and some white flowers from the viognier. On the palate there's good rich fruit balanced by some nice tannins. A lot of oak shows on the finish. 90+

2005 Lytton West Syrah
91% Syrah, 6% Viognier
Bright floral nose with notes of pepper. Again there's ripe fruit - lots of blueberry and bramble with some liquorice and a floral note, leading to a long finish. 93+

2002 Lytton Estate Syrah II
76% Syrah 22% Grenache 2% Viognier
In 2002 there were two lots of Syrah; both were blended with Grenache but neither lot really worked. As an experiment one lot got a small amount of  Carignane added,the other got a similar amount of Viognier. Those small additions made all the difference, and both wines were released.
Nose is smoky and meaty, with floral notes. There's plenty of black fruit backed by fine tannins and soft acidity. A medium length finish with a note of white flowers. Very tasty. 92

2001 Lytton Estate Syrah
99% Syrah cofermented with 1% Viognier.
A really gamey, salami, smoky note. The black fruit really pops; plum, currant and berry notes, some liquorice and black pepper. There's a good smooth finish; the tannins are mostly resolved. It's drinking great right now. 93

2000 Lytton Estate Syrah
99% Syrah cofermented with 1% Viognier.
Nose is very faint in comparison with the 2001. This was the first wine that is starting to show some nice secondary characteristics; black fruits with leather and a touch of old-world rusticity. Good finish. 94
1999 Lytton Estate Syrah
Smoky, musty nose Assertive fruit and bright acid; seems to have more acidity than previous vintages. Good fine grained tannins. A hint of leather, not as much as in the 2000. 94

1997 Lytton Estate Syrah
Talk about saving the best until last. The nose was smoky, with some chinese 5 spice, The nose is constantly evolving; come back 5 minutes later and notice something new. Rich, unctuous fruit, endlessly layered. Soft and velvety; a delight. 95
A second bottle showed slight variation; a slightly rustic, barnyard note. 94

A great tasting; as you can see, the wines just seemed to get better and better. Huge thanks to Chris and everyone at Ridge for thsi opportunity, and to Richard for the Barbera. Everyone knows that Ridge make great Zinfandels, but the Syrahs and other wines from the ATP series can be just as good, if not better. As I noted at the start these wines are usually only available at the tasting rooms, but are well worth seeking out.