Saturday, December 22, 2012

Alesia Sonoma Coast vertical

They say the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large one. Kevin Harvey certainly began that way; after successful careers first as a software entrepreneur and then as a venture capitalist he founded Rhys Vineyards to explore his love of Pinot Noir. However his amazing, vibrant wines quickly gained a near-cult following and the winery has steadily grown in both size and reputation.

The Rhys label is reserved solely for the wines from the estate vineyards, mostly located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A sister label, Alesia, is used for wines made from purchased fruit, which mostly comes from vineyards in Sonoma.

Last November I attended a blind tasting of Alesia and Rhys wines. The event, organised by local wine aficionado Ross Bott, featured a vertical of Alesia Sonoma Coast Pinots alongside an assortment of other Alesia and Rhys wines. Each taster ranked the wines in order of preference and an overall ranking was calculated.

2004 Alesia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
This had a lovely savoury nose, with smoke and cherry notes. On the palate it was deliciously complex; lots of fruit, earth and herbal notes, continuing to develop in the glass. The finish was long, with just a hint of bitterness. 93
This was the group's overall #1 wine, and my #2

2006 Alesia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
The nose on this was odd, with ash, campfire and earth. The acidity showed on the palate, with earthines and some dried cherry/cranberry notes, and bitter tannins on the finish. Although some of the tasters clearly enjoyed it there was some debate as to whether it was corked; I took the remains of my pour home and found that after an hour or so it had become undrinkable. I rated it 7th, which tallied with the rest of the group. No rating, since it was corked.

2007 Alesia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
This had a dusty green pepper/jalapeño note to the nose which I didn't care for. The green note showed up on the palate, along with some cherry and Dr Pepper flavours. The finish also had a bitter, green note to it. 85. My 8th place, as well as the group's.

2008 Alesia Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
There was an odd, slightly artificial note to the nose which reminded me of some kind of air freshener. On the palate there was some rustic brambly fruit, earthy cherry and herbal  notes, with a nice finish. 90.
This was the group's overall #3, but I had it 6th, mainly due to the odd note on the nose.

2006 Alesia Falstaff Road Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
Bright nose of maraschino, oregano and orange. More fruit than most of the others, with cherry, cranberry and cola notes. Lots of vanilla oak on the finish. 91 
Both the group's and my 4th place

2004 Alesia Kanzler Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
A savoury, plummy nose led to a much sweeter and richer wine than the others, with lots of fruit and an oaky, almost saccharine finish. I really liked it at first and initially had it ranked #1 but after retasting it slipped to third place. The group's overall #5; I suspect this was because some of the tasters in this particular group really don't care for the fruitier style of Pinot. 92

2008 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Noticeably darker in colour than the others. The nose had black fruit and smoke, flavours of black cherry, dry leaves and, forest floor; lots of complexity and a nice, long finish.
Initially I ranked it 3rd, but as it got more air it continued to develop and evolve; in the end I scored it 95 and rated it #1 - the group had it as their second place.

2006 Rhys Family Farm Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains

Nose showed dried cranberry and herbal notes. Lots of earthy, rustic fruit; more developing with time. Chewy, oaky tannins on the finish. I gave it 90 points and rated it 5th; overall the group ranked it 6th.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

My response to an anonymous comment

I don't get many comments on the blog, but recently this one was posted on my report from Pinot Paradise. Someone posting anonymously said...
    Really? you are using a 100 pt. system? I bet you can't replicate those scores twice in a blind tasting within 3 points. And all those smokey note you were picking up on the 2009 wines from the Corrilotos area: smoke taint dude! but you must be too sophisiticated as a wine expert to pick up on that.
Now I could just ignore it or delete it, but I think maybe it's worth responding to.

As regards the 100 point scale, I hate it for a number of reasons which I've probably posted here before. For one thing it's not a 100 point scale at all. At best it's a 50 point scale; however the range from 50 - 80 is meaningless. Anything from 50-70 is flawed, so what's the difference in the scale? Anything from 70-80 is un-flawed, but 'average' - bottom shelf, sub-$5 supermarket plonk. So we are left with a 20 point scale. In my view a score of 80-85 means a wine is drinkable but not worth buying, 85-90 means I'll buy it if the price is right and 90+ are the ones to look out for. I so rarely find wines that I'd rate above 95 so now I'm down to a 15 point scale.

For a while I resisted using it. In the early days of the blog I'd just list wines as recommended, highly recommended, good value etc. But eventually I gave in to the pressure of a scoring system and adopted the 100 point scale simply because it's the most recognised one. Maybe I should go back to the old system; it's certainly worth considering.

Could I replicate those scores twice in a blind tasting within 3 points? Probably not. I probably couldn't replicate them non-blind. I've found that wines show differently on different days. Bottle variation, palate variation, context - to me wines show differently on different days; that's part of their charm.

As for the issue of smoke taint from the Lockheed Fire in the 2009 vintage - I haven't seen that much of it to be honest. Sure, I picked up smoke in the 2009 Alfaro Estate and 2009 Pleasant Valley Estate. But I didn't pick it up in the 2009 Alfaro Lindsay Paige or the 2009 Pleasant Valley gold label, nor the 2009 Big Basin Woodruffe or Alfaro. In fact of the 5 tasting notes mentioning smoke only 2 were from the 2009 vintage. I find that interesting in itself.

As for my being a sophisticated wine expert- not really, just an enthusiastic amateur trying to cover the local wine region. I don't claim to be anything more. If you don't like my blog then fair enough; there are plenty more; you can even start your own.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Antonio Galloni praises the Santa Cruz Mountains

"There is no doubt in my mind the Santa Cruz Mountains is the greatest and most overlooked terroir in the United States. Period. Actually, it is probably more accurate to distinguish between the eastern and western part of a mountain range divided by the San Andreas Fault. While quite different in terms of the characteristics, both parts of the mountains are capable of world-class wines. From the famed Bordeaux influenced reds produced at Ridge and other nearby estates to the extraordinary, age worthy Chardonnays and Pinots of Mount Eden, to the younger wineries like Rhys, Varner and Big Basin, there is no doubt in my mind the Santa Cruz Mountains is the single most exciting place to visit in California. No other region offers the same mix of history, innovation and what appears to be virtually unlimited potential. To be sure, these hillside sites are capricious and hard to work with. But they are also capable of producing riveting, emotional, world-class wines." -- Antonio Galloni in Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

Thursday, May 24, 2012

All That Jazz

Ridge has been hosting quarterly tastings for wine bloggers for 3 years now. Tasting room manger Christopher Watkins always tries something new each time and for the most recent event he wanted to combine his love of music with his love of wine. So he came up with the novel idea of pairing wine with Jazz classics.

Now I'm no real Jazz aficionado; my dad was into big band stuff and he'd listen to the likes of Satchmo and Bird, but my tastes were more Santana and Budgie. Nevertheless I gave it a try while - more importantly - attempting to identify the four wines poured blind. If you're interested in the jazz aspect of the tasting then check out the Ridge wine blog.

Wine 1 showed lots of ripe red fruit; redcurrant, raspberry and liquorice. Incredibly rich and complex with herbal, minty notes and bags of smooth tannins. From the ripeness, complexity and the abundance of red fruits I assumed that it had to be a Zinfandel blend, but whatever it was I loved it. Eventually I guessed Geyserville; perhaps 2005.

Not even close; 2001 Monte Bello. Possibly the ripest vintage of Monte Bello ever made and recently upgraded to 99 points by Robert Parker. The clues were there in the herbal, minty and liquorice notes however I missed them because of the ripeness. Easily 96+ and insanely drinkable even at this early stage.

Wine 2 was smoky and earthy, with a hint of brett. Much lighter than the first (though not in colour), and dry with brambly black fruit and lots of tannin. Surely a Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet; doesn't seem rich enough to be Monte Bello, so probably the Estate.

Pretty near the mark; the 2000 Monte Bello. A particularly cool vintage, hence the leaner fruit. Overshadowed somewhat by the riper wines on this tasting, but still a 92 point wine that'll give many old-world wines a run for their Euro.

Wine 3 had lots of dark fruit and earth; redcurrant and wild strawberry. I thought possibly Zinfandel but for some reason I convinced myself that it was the Lytton West Syrah.

Right vineyard, wrong grape. 1999 Lytton Springs - 70% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah, 10% Carignane, 3% Mataro and absolutely 0% Syrah. Very, very tasty; 95 points.

Wine 4 had a bright raspberry nose with a floral note; lots of sweet fruit and a distinctly port-like note to it. At first I was sure it was a Zinfandel, but the port note started to nag at me and I wondered if it was Grenache; it has a tendency to oxidise and is often used for port style wines such as Banyuls or Australian 'stickies'.

Should have gone with my first instinct - 1997 Geyserville, and again not a drop of Grenache. That port note is down to a particularly hot year. 74% Zinfandel, 15% Carignan, 10% Petite Sirah, 1% Mourvedre. My least favourite of the four because of that port note, but still a 92.
While Christopher digested our song pairings we moved on to three wines from Ridge's new "classic vineyards" series. These were previewed at the previous bloggers' tasting, which I missed due to being in Europe. However I tried the Cabernet at the Monte Bello components tasting (and purchased all three).

The wines fit into a pretty large market gap between Monte Bello and the rest of the Ridge range. They were created to tie in with Monte Bello's recognition by the Historic Vineyard Society, and are named after some of the early viticultural pioneers who settled the mountain prior to prohibition. They deserve a detailed article of their own, so for now here are some brief notes.

2009 Perrone Cabernet Franc
Herbal, floral nose. Young, sweet red fruit - redcurrant in particular. The most structured of the three; this needs plenty of time. Could be superb in 10+ years. 93+
2009 Klein Cabernet Sauvignon
Sweet bramble, straw nose. Beautiful rich layered black fruit Less tannic than the Perrone, and the most drinkable of the three at present. 94
2009 Torre Ranch Merlot Floral nose, with plum and bramble. Dry cocoa, black fruit, liquorice, anise. Needs time to come together. 92+

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Skov to close


In 2003 David and Annette Hunt purchased the Roudon Smith winery in Scotts Valley. They were joined in 2006 by Al and Diane Drewke; the partnership continued until 2011when the Hunts launched their own label, Skov. The launch appeared reasonably successful; the wines were well received and the wine club quickly grew to over 100 members

However barely a year later the family announced their intention to cease commercial wine production so as to spend more time with their teenage children. It appears that the label will be mothballed and the equipment sold.

Here's wishing the family all the best for the future.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Welcome To Paradise

All smiles at the check-in desk

On the last weekend in March the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association hosts Pinot Paradise, an annual celebration of Pinot Noir, at the Villa Ragusa in Campbell.

Around 40 wineries from all over the AVA attend, pouring their latest releases, and are joined by several local restaurants offering examples of their culinary skill designed to pair with Pinot Noir. In other words there was a lot of duck confit on offer.

One thing I particularly like about Pinot Paradise is that while it's a large and busy event the attendees generally seem to respect the wines more than at many other public tastings I've attended. However not everyone sees it that way and a few of the attendees had doused themselves with rather too much perfume or aftershave.

As usual I only managed to get round about half the tables - here are my impressions.

2009 Alfaro Family, Estate 
Nose of black cherry and smoke. Smooth, round black cherry fruit and a mineral finish, with lots of tannin. I generally find that Alfaro wines need time on release, but this is rather good now and will only get better. 90+

2009 Alfaro Family, Lindsay Paige Vineyard
Tight savory nose; rustic cherry fruit, quicker finish. This one certainly needs more time. 88+

2010 Bargetto, Santa Cruz Mountains
Blended with 2% Tempranillo from the Silvaspoons Vineyard in Lodi. I'm not entirely sure why.
Black cherry and oak on the nose. Sweet cherry and currant flavours, decent tannins. 86

2010 Bargetto Estate Reserve
Nose is bright with cranberry backed by some oak. On the palate there's redcurrant, tart cherry, and coffee. It's young and a little unpolished but give it 3-5 years. 89+

2010 Beauregard, Beauregard Ranch Vineyard, Ben Lomond Mountain AVA
This has a pretty floral and citrus nose; rose, rosehip glacé cherry. Flavours of peach, cherry and a hint of banana  89

2010 Beauregard, Byington Vineyard
Nose shows pear and redcurrant. Palate is smooth and creamy, with wild strawberry and black cherry flavours. 87

2009 Big Basin, Woodruffe Vineyard
Big, earthy nose with black cherry and some rose petals. Good flavours of black cherry, supported by savoury notes and smoky oak. 91+
2009 Big Basin, Alfaro Family Vineyard
More subtle nose than the Woodruffe; on the palate it's similar but with less concentration - not surprisingly, as both vineyards are a couple of miles apart in Corralitos. 90+

2008 Black Ridge Vineyard, Estate
There seemed to be something wrong here. I got too much VA on the nose; on the palate it was rustic and tannic, with a little black fruit.  82

2008 Clos La Chance, Biagini Vineyard
Nice black cherry aromas, hints of smoke, matchbox and caramel. Sweet cherry and redcurrant flavours, touch of spice. Nice balance, though there's a hint of bitter tannin on finish that hopefully will resolve with time. 89

2008 Clos La Chance, Erwin Vineyard
Initially I didn't care for the nose; I was picking up sulphur and cheese, but after a while it blew off revealing some nice savory fruit. Palate showed redcurrant jelly, meat (poultry?) and herbal notes. 88

2009 Dancing Creek, Regan Vineyard
I kept getting whiffs of perfume, which I assume was coming from one of the nearby attendees. Flavours of rosehip syrup and tangy cherry. 86

2008 Dancing Creek, Regan Vineyard
Blended with 15% Nebbiolo. Earthy, floral nose; sweet fruit, sausage and pepper. 86

2009 Heart o' the Mountain, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Smoky, meaty nose. Smooth, rich redcurrant with some coffee and fine tannins. 89+

2009 Heart o' the Mountain Estate Reserve
Rose petals and oak on the nose. Good, complex fruit; redcurrant, cherry and plum, with a medium finish  90
House Family Winery

2010 House Family
The wines are made by Jeffrey Patterson of Mount Eden and the vineyards are close to the old Mountain Winery. This is their first commercial Pinot Noir release. 
Nose of smoke, cinnamon and cherry; taut and tannic with sweet cherry flavours. This should be good in 5 years. 90+

2002 Kings Mountain
Earthy, bretty, iodine on the nose.Sweet, earthy cherry fruit; some leather and cedar. 87

2008 Kings Mountain
Aromas of cranberry and clove. Lots of bright, spicy fruit, some earthiness particularly on the longish finish 89

Kings Mountain has been producing Chardonnay, Pinot and a Bordeaux blend since 1996. However recently the winery has decided to focus on Pinot Noir exclusively, and the old vines have all been grafted over.

2009 Mount Eden Estate
I tasted the Mount Eden wines recently so didn't bother to make detailed notes, but I wasn't going to pass on a chance to taste arguably the two best wines here. The Estate seemed less tight than last time; lots of allspice and cherry. 93+ 

2010 Domaine Eden
The wine is more fruit forward than the Estate, but it still has some of the Estate spice. Excellent value. 93

I spoke briefly to Jeffrey Patterson who confirmed that in future Domaine Eden will be the second wine of Mount Eden. The old "Saratoga Cuvee" label has been retired. All the Domaine Eden wines will contain fruit from the old Cinnabar vineyard as well as some other vineyards that the winery maintains in the Saratoga area and any barrels that are declassified from the Estate. Around half the land purchased from Cinnabar is fallow, so expect to see a significant expansion in the next few years.

Rhonda and Leslie of Mountain Winery
2009 Mountain Winery Estate Reserve
Smoky, cinnamon on the nose; Rich, smooth cherry and spice flavours. While tasting this I kept picking up someone's perfume which was most distracting. I have high hopes for this label as the vines mature. 89+

2009 Mountain Winery Reserve
A soft, easy drinking wine with nice redcurrant and cherry aromas and flavours. Made from local, not estate grapes. 87

2007 Mountain Winery Estate Reserve
Nose showed raspberry syrup, with a hint of VA. Flavours of cherry and raspberry, with a touch of spice. 88

2006 Muns
Nose of cranberry and roses. Nicely integrated oak and good cherry fruit with plenty of acidity. 89

2008 Muns
Nose showed cherry with an odd - possibly aldehyde - note. There's good cherry and redcurrant fruit, with lots of tannin and liquorice on the finish.  87+

2009 Nicholson Peter Martin Ray Vineyard
Nose is spicy and oaky, with dark cherry and brambles. Sweet cherry flavours backed by spicy cinnamon and clove notes. The Peter Martin Ray vineyard is just down the hill from Mount Eden and has the old head-pruned, sprawling vines planted half a century ago. This is particularly well priced at $34. 91+

2009 Nicholson Santa Cruz Mountains
Blend of Estate, Remde and Wark Vineyards.
Nose showed candied orange peel and pepper. I also got pepper on the palate, along with sweet cherry. Quickish finish. 87

2009 Odonata Domani Vineyard
Fragrant, floral nose. Good, solid cherry fruit, rustic finish. 90
Silent Auction for double magnums

2009 Pelican Ranch Amaya Ridge
The winery has done an interesting experiment in bottling the same wine from two different oak treatments. If you were ever curious as to how American and French oaks differ then here is a perfect comparison.

The first, from French oak, showed mostly oak on the nose, with flavours of sour cherry and spice, with lots of tannin. 87
The second, from Oregon oak, had a lighter nose, with a hint of dill. The flavour profile was similar, but with black pepper rather than spice. 87

2009 Pelican Ranch Meadowridge Vineyard
Nose of black cherry, with an aldehyde note. Smooth, black cherry liqueur and nutmeg flavours. 87.

2009 Pleasant Valley Vineyard Dylan David, Lester Family Vineyard
PVV make several wines from the Lester Family (formerly Deer Park) Vineyard. Each is named Dylan David and carries an almost identical red label, and I neglected to note exactly which one this was.
Earthy nose, initially with with a note of Parmesan cheese, but that blew off. Flavours of redcurrant, cherry, black pepper and spice. Nicely balanced. 88

2009 Pleasant Valley Vineyard Dylan David, gold label
The gold label contains a blend of Lester Family and Estate fruit.
Redcurrant and cranberry nose. Similar to the red label, but with more tannin and earth. 88

2009 Pleasant Valley Vineyard Dylan David, Estate
The 2 acre estate vineyard is planted to a mix of 113, 114 and 115 clones. This is a serious wine that merits ageing.
Spicy nose shows cloves and smoke. Rich, complex flavours of black cherry, plum, cocoa and spice. Taut tannins on the finish. 91+

2008 Regale Estate
Most of Regale's wines come from fruit purchased outside the appellation, but they do have a small estate vineyard planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Despite their youth these vines are already producing some very attractive fruit.
The light yet spicy nose belies the intense cherry, spice and pepper flavours, and the long finish. 92+

2010 Sarah's Vineyard
Blend of Veranda and Rebhahn vineyards. Nose of black cherry and plum. Rich cola and sweet black cherry. Just a hint of residual sugar. 87

2007 Sarahs Vineyard
Veranda Vineyard. Spicy oak and cherry nose; Sweet but light cherry fruit and a short finish. 86

2008 Silvertip Vineyards
First release - made from 828 clone only.
Muted earthy, oaky nose with some bright cherry. That bright cherry also shows on the palate, along with tart cranberry and cinnamon, with a papery finish.  88+

2009 Silvertip Vineyards
Made primarily from 828 and 115 clones. Significantly darker than most of the other wines on the day. The nose is savoury, with notes of oak and soy sauce. On the palate there's bright red fruit and a savoury note that reminds me of marmite. 89+

Silvertip is a new label from Nelson Family Vineyards, in partnership with winemaker Paul Stroth of Stroth-Hall Cellars. The first vintages were made at Stroth-Hall's Campbell location, but the family has built a new winery adjacent to the vineyard. One to watch out for.

2009 Villa Del Monte Quenneville Vineyard
Nose shows roses and smoky oak. Soft raspberry and currant flavours with some cinnamon and tannin on the finish. 87

2010 Villa Del Monte Regan Vineyard
Nose of cherry jam; flavours of sweet, jammy cherry and raspberry. 87

2009 Thomas Fogarty, Santa Cruz Mountains
Bright cherry and tea aromas. Nice flavours of bramble, black cherry, pepper and liquorice. 89

2010 Thomas Fogarty, Rapley Trail Vineyard
Bright cherry nose; Light oak, cardomom and black cherry. 88

2008 Woodside
Complex, savoury nose - plenty of spice and smoke. In the mouth there's sweet liquorice and boysenberry with lots of oak - clearly needs time. 91+

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ridge Monte Bello 2011 Component Tasting

The annual Monte Bello futures tastings are the first glimpse that many of us get at the quality of the most recent vintage. 2011 was a tough year in California; a late, wet spring delayed budbreak; rain during flowering impacted the fruit set resulting in low yields; a cool summer increased the pressure of mildew and botrytis, and also meant that many regions struggled to get fruit to ripen.

The more experienced producers are used to difficult years, and this year they needed to tap that experience. There are lots of techniques that can be used to help the vines such as green harvesting (dropping fruit to allow the rest to ripen) and leaf pulling (removing leaves that aren't wanted). Then there are high-tech solutions such as reflective sheeting to direct sunlight back up at the plants. But even if you do all the work you're still reliant on the weather to do its share, and in 2011 it wasn't exactly cooperating.

On a sunny weekend in March Ridge opened the doors to their Monte Bello Collectors and gave us a taste of 2011. Barrel samples of the four varieties that make up Monte Bello as well as a taste of the first assemblage.

2011 Petit Verdot, Olivos Block. 12.2% Alcohol
I love the nose on Petit Verdot, and I'm always disappointed when it doesn't make the final blend. It opens with bright violet and blueberry notes, but the palate is disappointingly simple; light tannic fruit. This won't be in the blend, but should add some nice aromas to the Estate blend.

2011 Cabernet Franc, North Gate Block. 12.0% Alcohol
The nose shows lots of espresso coffee beans; that comes through on the palate too. It's got a green, leafy note to it and some tart brambly fruit. These young vines won't make it into the final blend, but another parcel will.

2011 Merlot, La Vasseur Block. 12.5% Alcohol
Merlot was hit particularly hard by rain during flowering, and the yieldsa are much lower than usual. There's not much going on on the nose. In the mouth it's rustic and tannic; plenty of acidity but very little fruit. Yet another block that won't be in the Monte Bello.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, La Vasseur Block. 12.8% Alcohol
Monte Bello has always been a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine, and this year looks like having the highest proportion of Cabernet in a good few years. But as with all the other varietal samples, this one hasn't made the cut, though is still under consideration. The nose is light, with wafer, berry and meat. On the palate it's lightweight, with flavours of blueberry, bramble, tobacco and smoke.

2011 Monte Bello, First Assemblage.
87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc.
The nose is rather shy at this stage, with smoke, tobacco and berry emerging with some coaxing. There seems to be a lot less fruit than in a typical Monte Bello at this stage; instead there's lots of coffee, graphite, tannin and cocoa. It's probably going to be a long wait for this to reach its peak. 90-92

The winery was also pouring some new and current releases

2009 Monte Bello
New release. There's an odd, volatile note in the nose and it seems lighter than usual. There's plenty of red fruit and loads of tannin. Sometimes Monte Bello can be approachable on release with some air, but this one seems to need a good rest. 92+

2009 Klein Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
One of three "Classic Vineyard" wines released earlier this year - they were presented at the December bloggers' tasting, which I missed. The other two are a Perrone Vineyard Cabernet Franc and a Torre Ranch Merlot.
Nose is smoky, with plenty of berry fruit. On the palate it explodes with cassis, bramble and blueberry, with a long finish. 93+

2006 Monte Bello
I've had this a few times and it continues to delight. Stuck between two vintages that generally have been more highly regarded, the 2006 stands well. Lots of graphite, smoke and rich, smooth blackberry and blackcurrant fruit it tastes great now and will only get better. 94

2009 Estate Merlot
Ridge don't usually bottle a Merlot on its own; any that doesn't make the Monte Bello tends to end up as a significant proportion of what used to be called the Santa Cruz Mountains blend. In 2009 they had enough fruit to make two Estate wines. The Merlot has a soft, floral nose and soft yet rich fruits - black plum and blueberry. Something to drink now while you're waiting for the others to mature. 91

2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Smoky, berry nose; lovely rustic blackcurrant and bramble fruit. 92

So in conclusion, the 2011 Monte Bello will probably turn out to be a very nice wine in time. However Ridge is such a reliable producer that you can say that about almost everything they make. I may be proven wrong, but I don't see this being one of the greatest vintages; at the moment it's my least favourite since 2004 and possibly since 2000. Right now they have some excellent wines from the 2009 vintage; in addition to the ones above there are also the superb 2009 Geyserville and Lytton Springs to consider. Because of this I passed on the 2011 Monte Bello and instead bought a mixed case of 2009s.

2011 was a tough vintage for growers. It will be an even tougher vintage for sellers. I certainly don't plan on buying anything without tasting it first.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Eighteen 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons

Last weekend a few of us got together to taste through as many of the local 2007 Cabernets as we could lay our hands on. The event was organised by Paul and Stef Romero of Stefania Wine, who were curious how their wines would stand up against similar wines from the region. The answer? Very well.

The wines were served in groups of three. Most of the people were not trying to take notes, so Wes Barton and myself soon found ourselves behind the rest of the group. As such the notes are somewhat brief, and are in the order the wines were poured. As far as I'm aware none of the wines were decanted or aired prior to pouring.

Our overall impression was that 2007 resulted in some very nice wines indeed. The group favourite was the
the Martin Ranch Dos Rios Vineyard, which was showing particularly well right now. Ridge Monte Bello and Mount Eden Estate did well as you might expect, despite being very young, and the Stefania Santa Cruz Mountains was just outside the top three.

2007 Mount Eden Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nice complex nose - initially cassis, mint and smoke with some mushroom emerging. That mushroom and cassis showed up again on the palate, with drying tannins on the finish. Good depth, and lots of structure.

2007 Cooper Garrod George's Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose was sweeter than #1, with sherbert and bramble.Fruity with bramble and boysenberry, plenty of tannin
eucalyptus coming out time.

2007 Chaine d'Or, Santa Cruz Mountains
Aromas of raw meat and dust.Tight, dry. grippy tannins - clearly needed air. Noticeable green pepper note, with some nice brambly fruit.

2007 Kathryn Kennedy 'Small Lot', Santa Cruz Mountains
Soft nose with nice black and red fruits. Smooth fruit - redcurrant and blackcurrant. I was thinking Saratoga or Santa Clara Valley.

2007 Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Bright berry nose - blackberry and blackcurrant. Lots of blackcurrant cordial, tannin and - particularly - oak. Way too young.

2007 Martin Ranch Thérèse Vineyards Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Very perfumed nose, sweet smooth fruit, drying tannins. (By this point I was way behind, so my notes started getting terser.)

2007 PM Staiger, Santa Cruz Mountains
Smoky, brambly nose. Smooth, sweet fruit. While enjoyable, this seemed the least complex of all the wines poured.

2007 La Honda Lonehawk Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Hint of volatile actidity on the nose? Lots of bramble and blackcurrant fruit, and lots of chewy tannin. I was guessing the Kennedy Small Lot.

2007 Stefania, Santa Cruz Mountains
Interesting nose; for some reason it made me think of a toilet puck. Structured berry fruit and lots of mouth-coating tannin. Needs time, but should be great.

2007 Ahlgren Bates Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose of barnyard and herbs, with the alcohol showing, but on the palate there was sweet redcurrant, turning oaky on the finish.

2007 Stefania Uvas Creek Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Earthy and ripe plum. Lots of sweet peppery blackcurrant fruit, tannin and earth.

2007 Woodside Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose dominated by smoky oak. Rather intense with hints of graphite and spice backed by smooth tannins.

2007 Thomas Fogarty, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose showed smoked sausage. Smooth, sweet cassis; I wouldn't age this, it's good now. I think this was the least expensive wine in the lineup, having been found at Sunnyvale Costco for under $20.

2007 Domaine Eden, Santa Cruz Mountains
Elegant, feminine, light. There's smooth red fruit and bright acidity. I guessed Cooper Garrod, so was only a couple of miles out.

2007 House Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose is earthy and smoky. Seemed very tannic; there's some good black fruit there but it needs time.

2007 Ridge Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Rich nose showing caramel and eucalyptus. Light with some bright black fruits but decent structure.

2007 Martin Ranch Thérèse Vineyards Dos Rios Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Nose made me think of breakfast cereal. Lots of sweet caramel and black fruit, with nice chewy tannins. Quite the crowd pleaser.

2007 Creekview Vineyards, Santa Clara Valley
Nose of black fruit and eucalyptus; good intensity but very tannic at the moment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 San Francisco SCMWA Trade Tasting

The SCMWA holds a couple of annual trade tastings, open to wine buyers, restauranteurs and media. It's a good opportunity to taste the new releases. The most recent event was held last month at the Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco. I deliberately skipped Ridge as I knew I'd get the chance to taste them at the Monte Bello event, and by the time I got to Kathryn Kennedy they had stopped pouring. In all I think I hit most of the tables. Here are some rather brief notes, alphabetically by winery, in the order poured.

2009 Chardonnay, Central Coast
A fairly typical example of Monterey county Chardonnay. Not over oaked; creamy apple and vanilla with just enough acidity. 86
2009 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Regan Vineyard
Bright cherry nose; flavours of cherry, cranberry and cinnamon, with a hint of sweetness. 90
2009 Lodi Zinfandel
Ripe nose of raisin and prune are matched on the palate by raspberry and date, with some woody tannins. 85
2007 La Vita
A blend of three Italian varieties - Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Refosco.
The nose is smoky and rustic. The first thing that you notice are the chewy tannins, but there's good dark fruit and plenty of acidity behind that; it just needs time. 91+
2010 Gewürztraminer, Viento Vineyard, Monterey County 
No surprises here; a typical floral, spicy nose and flavours of lychee and honeysuckle. Some sweetness and quite a long finish. 88

Clos LaChance 
2010 Sauvignon Blanc 
Nice tart grapefruit nose. Crisp, light citrus flavours - refreshing, but the finish is a little quick. 87
2008 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose showed butterscotch and toffee apple. Flavours of butter, vanilla and apple, perhaps some slight oxidation. 86
2008 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Great nose - allspice, clove and cherry. Lovely clean, sweet fruit, nice dash of oak. 91
2009 Estate Zinfandel
Aromas of raspberry syrup and star anise. Concentrated raspberry flavours, earthy and spicy. Good value. 89
2007 JoLi Meritage 
Dusty currant and earth on the nose. Quite intense fruit - bramble, cassis, some tobacco. Good structure. 91

Clos Tita
2009 Estate Pinot 
Unusual nose; glacé cherry, dried herb, asphalt. Flavours of cherry liqueur, blueberry, herbs and something else that I just couldn't quite identify. Yeah I know, some use that is in a tasting note. 87

2009 Viognier 
Lively floral honeysuckle nose. Flavours of peach, pear and apricot. 89
2007 Cabernet Franc, Francville Vineyard
Brambly, leafy nose. Blackcurrant with notes of cigar and earth. 89
2007 Syrah, Finley Vineyard
Nose showed smoked meat and earth. Black fruit, salty bacon, plenty of tannin. 89+

La Rusticana d'Orsa 
Marilyn and Frank Dorsa have around 4 acres of up to 10 year old vines, with all five Bordeaux varieties represented. The wines are made at Mount Eden, but with only a couple of hundred cases made they are very hard to find at retail
2007 Cinque
Enticing nose of black fruit with a hint of eucalyptus and licorice. Plenty of rich fruit and cocoa, with soft tannins. Very drinkable. 91
2008 Cinque
The nose is a lot less forthcoming than the 2007. Good black currant and bramble fruit, with a touch of bell pepper and a good finish. 90
2009 Cinque
Not yet released. Light, smoky fruit on the nose. Lighter weight than the other vintages, but with lithe fruit and nice fine tannins on the finish. 90+

2008 Hammer Syrah
Gamey nose, with bacon and plum. On the palate there's bright, sweet fruit - pomegranate? 89
2008 Petite Sirah, Mendocino
White flowers and black currant on the nose. Surprisingly balanced and elegant for a Petite, with good depth of fruit and a hint of earthiness. 90

Mount Eden 
2009 Chardonnay, Wolff Vineyard, Edna Valley
The Wolff Vineyard chardonnay always represents pretty good value at around $15, and this is no exception. Light, crisp apple nose; flavours of sweet green apple and citrus. 88
2008 Chardonnay, Saratoga Cuvee
Lots of toasty oak on the nose. Apple and vanilla flavours, with a prickle of tannin on the finish. 89
2009 Estate Chardonnay
Shows some interesting tropical fruit on the nose; pineapple and guava. Rich and creamy yet complex with lots of fruit and a long finish. 92
2009 Estate Pinot Noir
Black cherry and smoke on the nose. I don't think this was aerated much if at all; it seemed very tightly wound. Taut cherry fruit, orange peel and spice. 92++
2010 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir
The Domaine Eden wines come from the old Cinnabar vineyard in Saratoga. Personally I found the early vintages disappointing, but it looks like Jeffrey has finally got things the way he wants them. This is a real winner. Although the nose seems lighter than the estate it still shows some nice spice, which follows through to the palate where it's matched by lovely cherry and berry, and supported but not dominated by some oak. At around $35 this is a terrific value; I plan to load up on it. 94
2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose shows eucalyptus and great black fruit. Rich flavours of blackcurrant and bramble; there's good tannin on the finish, but it's approachable now - if you must. 94
2008 Domaine Eden Cabernet Sauvignon
Like I said above, I've found the early Domaine Eden vintages disappointing, though maybe that's largely a case of having too high an initial expectation. This isn't a bad wine, it's just such a long way away from the Estate. The nose is softer, with berry and iodine notes. The fruit is lean and the finish is quick. 89
My understanding is that most if not all of the Cabernet vines are gradually being grafted over to Pinot Noir.

2009 Chardonnay
From a vineyard in Saratoga. Nose showed Asian pear and wet stone.
Sweet apple and pear with a saline, mineral note. Light acidity. 88
2007 Merlot 
Good nose of damson, bramble and oak. Rich, chewy fruit and a longish finish. The oak needs some time to integrate, but a decent value. 90
2009 Tre Rosso Cali
Blend of estate Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Dusty nose, with some blackcurrant. Powerful bramble and currant fruit, with good structure. The best wine Naumann has produced to date, and good value at under $30. 93
2007 Late Harvest Merlot
Lots of sweet, ripe fruit on the nose, also oak and a hint of VA. Lots of black fruit, raisin, date and oak. Some residual sugar, but not overpoweringly sweet. 90

Denis was also introducing his second label, Damselfly

2011 Rose of Petite Sirah
Barrel sample; Floral and fruity nose, Crisp and fruity with flavours of boysenberry. 88
2009 Pinot Noir, Domani Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Complex nose - rose petal, earth and cherry. Good rustic cherry fruit backed with nice acidity. 91
2009 Malbec, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Alta Mesa
Aromas of blueberry pie. Fruity - blueberry and bramble - with firm tannins on the finish 91
2009 Syrah, Zayante Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Smoky, meaty nose. Interesting gamey flavours, with black fruits. 92
2009 Petite Sirah Machado Creek Vineyard Santa Clara Valley
Black fruit, liquorice Great rich fruit. Nice controlled tannins. Caramel herb prickle if tannin 92
2009 Damselfly Sangiovese Santa Clara Valley
Earthy, herbal nose. Rather tannic with a hint of tar and some floral notes. 88
2009 Damselfly Petite Sirah, Monterey County
Mineral (sulphite?) note on the nose, Good fruit, smooth and easy drinking. 88

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard/Quinta Cruz
Jeff had a wide selection of wines from both his brands.

2010 Verdelho
An aromatic, acidic grape native to Madeira and perhaps best known as the primary component of one of the island's classic wines. It's also grown extensively in Portugal where it's used in white port and to make dry wines. Internationally it is increasing in popularity, particularly in Australia. It's slowly growing in popularity in the US with around 100 acres planted, mostly in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties.
Crisp, floral nose. Dry, floral and lemony, with light acidity and a good finish. 89
2009 Tempranillo
100% Tempranillo. Redcurrant and caramel nose. Chewy and concentrated with red and black fruits, and ganache. Medium finish. 91
2008 Tempranillo Reserve
The reserve spends longer in barrel and is blended with some Touriga and Graciano.
Nose of fireplace and earthy fruit. Lots of smoky, earthy black fruit. 91
2009 Touriga
A blend of Touriga Nacional & Touriga Francesa - two of the main port varieties.
The nose is a little faint, with some black fruit, but on the palate it's rich and plush. While dry, it clearly shows the characteristic fruitiness of port. 90
2009 Graciano
A Spanish grape which is a component of Rioja, Graciano is rarely bottled alone which is a shame.
Bright, floral nose with a hint of smoke. Rich red fruits on the palate - raspberry, currant and strawberry - intense yet lithe, with a tannic finish. 93
2008 Baileys Branciforte Ridge Pinot Noir
Nose of woodland and cherry. Good cherry fruit, with some herbal notes and a rich, earthy finish. 92
2009 Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir
Shows cherry and cranberry on the nose. Bright flavours of cherry and raspberry, also with a rich, long finish. 92
2009 Grenache McDowell Valley Vineyard, Mendocino 
Light berry nose, Rich raspberry and pepper. 89
2009 Petite Sirah, Pierce Ranch, San Antonio
Light, smoky nose. Rich black fruits, well managed tannins and a chewy finish. 89
2008 Bobcat Red
Aimed at the restaurant by-the-glass market, this seems to be a blend of leftovers that weren't good enough for the regular bottlings. There's a light pot-pourri nose and smoky fruit cocktail flavours with a hint of band-aid and a quick finish. 81

2009 Muns Vineyard
Nice smoky, floral nose. Lithe cherry and berry flavours, with some earthy notes. 89
2009 Tondre's Grapefield
Nose reminds me of cherry liqueur. Rich fruit flavours - raspberry and cherry - with a long finish. 90

2009 Viento Vineyard Gewürztraminer
Floral, lychee nose. Good spicy flavours with lots of lychee and a hint of residual sugar. 88
2010 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Creamy vanilla, lemon and lime, with soft acidity. 87
2008 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Smoky, slightly medicinal nose. Spicy cherry - clove and cinnamon - and a long finish. 91
2008 Petite Sirah, Santa Cruz Mountains
Cider and oak on the nose. Rich, concentrated black fruit and good structure, only slightly marred by some heat. 90
2006 Rusty Ridge Zinfandel Santa Clara County
I'm normally a big fan of the Rusty Ridge Zinfandel, but this didn't quite measure up to previous vintages.
Earthy, raspberry nose, concentrated yet rustic raspberry flavours with chewy tannins. 89

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Almost complete Ridge Geyserville vertical - part 3

The third part of the Geyserville retrospective featured the vintages from 1988 through 1995. The group was joined by a special guest - Eric Baugher, assistant winemaker at Monte Bello. He joined Ridge in 1994 and so had worked on three of the vintages that we tasted.

It quickly became evident that the eight wines poured were all remarkably consistent. There were no Late Harvest outliers, no tired vintages, no flawed wines. What we got were eight superb examples of rich, well crafted wines which evolved and blossomed in the glass. Trying to choose between them was futile; each had its charm and every one was a delight. In the end the tasters submitted their rankings, but the final results were so close that the differences were statistically insignificant.

1988 Ridge Geyserville (82% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah, 13% Carignan) 
The nose was dusty and oaky; at first I thought I got a whiff of cork taint, but it didn't persist. The palate showed tart raspberry and ham; I ranked it towards the end but it finished 2nd overall.

1989 Ridge Geyserville (75% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignan)
Complex nose showing soy sauce, meat, smoke and dried herbs. Nice raspberry flavours, with smoky oak and a rich, long finish, becoming more earthy with time. I really liked it; it finished 3rd overall. 

1990 Ridge Geyserville (64% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 18% Carignan)
Compared to some of the others the nose on this was faint; notes of bramble and camp fire. Flavours of waffles, liquorice and bramble, with tannins that had softened with time but were still very evident. A youthful wine perhaps not yet at its peak. Finished 4th.

1991 Ridge Geyserville (50% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, 30% Carignan)
Initially the nose seemed musty, with ripe fruit and wood emerging with time. Plenty of sweet loganberry, perhaps a touch more residual sugar than the rest. It finished 8th, despite being Eric's first choice.

1992 Ridge Geyserville (65% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 20% Carignan)
Opening with fresh earth and dark raspberry, an unusual camphor note developed with air. On the palate it showed opulent raspberry fruit; the Petite Sirah seemed particularly evident in the blend. Nicely balanced with light tannins it was the overall first choice.

1993 Ridge Geyserville (60% Zinfandel, 12% Petite Sirah, 22% Carignan, 2% Mataro, 4% Alicante Bouschet)
Deep nose of berry, cigar and orange peel; lots of black fruit - boysenberry, bramble and currant. Some tannin evident on the finish. 5th place.
1994 Ridge Geyserville (68% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah, 20% Carignan, 4% Mataro)
Nose showed tart cranberry; flavours of raspberry and oak. Seemed a lighter, simpler example of the style. Overall 6th.
1995 Ridge Geyserville (62% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 15% Carignan, 5% Mataro) 
At first the nose showed berry and smoke, but a savoury shiitake mushroom note soon developed. In the mouth there was lots of black fruit, particularly black cherry, and more of that savoury mushroom. One of my top three, it finished 7th.

As I said at the outset, there wasn't much to separate these wines. The results reflected that; for every person that had a wine as their first choice another had put it as their last. This is testament to the overall quality; averaging 20 years old not one was fading or flawed. from the previous tastings only the 1980 and 1987 could have held their own; the 1968, 1977 and 1978 from the first tasting would clearly have been outliers.
At some stage there will be two further flights, covering the vintages from 1996 to the present; I hope to attend those too and will report back.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Almost complete Ridge Geyserville vertical - part 2

Ross Bott's epic 5 part Geyserville retrospective continued on Monday evening with a look at the vintages 1980 to 1987. Starting in 1978 Ridge had begun blending a small amount of Petite Sirah. This trend continues in most years, with 1985 seeing the first addition of Carignan.

I found this round much easier to rank than the first. There were two clearly outstanding examples, two that were either dead or flawed, or possibly both, and the rest fitted reasonably well between them, with no outliers like the 'late picked' wines from the 1970s. The wines all stated their acohol content within a 2% range. The overall results were far more consistent, with most of the group in rough agreement on the preferred order.

1980 Ridge Geyserville (100% Zinfandel, 14.6%)
The nose at first seemed woody and simple, but gradually developed to reveal some nice dried fruit. On the palate there was a mass of mature, dark raspberry fruit and a long finish. This was my favourite and was the evening's clear winner, with almost everyone ranking it in their top three.

1981 Ridge Geyserville (85% Geyserville, 15% Angeli, 100% Zinfandel, 14.4%)
The nose showed notes of brett and leather; brett showed on the palate too; perhaps a little too much but not overpowering. There was enough dried fruit to back it up. 5th overall.
1982 Ridge Geyserville (95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah, 12.6%)
There was an odd note to the nose reminiscent of a Gueuze, the Belgian lambic beer; almost medicinal. Some tart cranberry fruit, quick finish. I was surprised that it finished 4th overall. 

1983 Ridge Geyserville (95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah, 13.4%)
It was clear from the start that this one was dead. There was some discussion as to whether it was corked or oxidised or both. Beyond the obvious flaws there was some menthol on the nose and a hint of fruit still discernable, but it was no big surprise to learn that this was the 1983 and it finished last.

1984 Ridge Geyserville (90% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 13.4%)
Nose of black raspberry; tart red fruit flavours and a brine note to the finish. I liked it rather more than the group did; it finished 6th overall.
1985 Ridge Geyserville (85% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignan, 13.3%)
The nose had candy notes, with 'red vines' and caramel and some dried herbs. Nice flavours of tart raspberry but a quick, drying finish and it seemed to be fading. Overall 3rd.

1986 Ridge Geyserville (84% Zinfandel, 10% Petite Sirah, 6% Carignan, 13.2%)
There was a very odd note to the nose that reminded me of some kind of air freshener or lavatory puck. It was dry, leafy and tart, improving slightly with time. There was some discussion as to whether the bottle was corked but I didn't think so. A disappointing showing from what should have been a good vintage. 7th

1987 Ridge Geyserville (88% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignan, 13.7%)
Like the 1980, the nose was at first not very expressive; faint notes of leather and fruit. But then mature blackberry fruit exploded on the palate followed by a nice herbal finish. A wine that seemed way younger than its 25 years. Both mine and the group's 2nd.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Almost complete Ridge Geyserville vertical - part 1


Leo and Evelyn Trentadue owned a fruit orchard in Sunnyvale, producing apples and cherries. In 1952 they purchased the abandoned Perrone winery and vineyards on Monte Bello Road as a peaceful retreat.
In 1959 the Trentadues sold their orchards and bought a 208 acre property in Alexander Valley with 68 acres of old vines, some dating back to about 1880. That same year the neighbouring Torre Ranch was purchased by a group of friends who established Ridge Winery.

As Ridge became well established they looked to expand, and saw the neighbouring Trentadue property, together with its old Perrone winery buildings as the obvious next step. Negotiation culminated in an agreement to purchase not just the Monte Bello property but also fruit from the Trentadue Ranch vineyard in Geyserville, and in 1966 the first Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel was produced. This wine soon established a solid track record for quality and ageability.

As was typical for vineyards of that era the vines are a "field blend", including Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane (Ridge's preferred spelling) and Mourvèdre, which Ridge call Mataro.

Note the red foil on the 1968.
I recently joined Ross Bott's bi-weekly tasting group for the first in a series of tastings covering an almost complete vertical of Ridge Geyserville bottlings. As is usual in these tastings the wines are served single-blind. Participants rank the wines in order, and Ross computes the overall ranking, whereupon the actual wines are revealed.

Note the design of the 1970 cork
The wines were not decanted; they are left to stand for a few days and then opened and "Bott poured" into a small beaker with the minimum of agitation; the measure is then poured into each taster's labelled glasses. In this way the sediment gets disturbed as little as possible, and everyone gets an equal taste. All the wines are on the table at once, so it's up to each taster to decide what order to taste them. The tasting usually goes on for around an hour before the scores are tallied.

Despite the significant age of the wines and the fairly shocking state that most of the corks were in, it's impressive that not one of the wines poured appeared corked, oxidised or flawed in any way. Several tasters, myself included, commented on how difficult it was to rank the wines.

1968 Ridge California Zinfandel
Poured first; this wine had the lightest colour of the wines poured. That plus a lovely terracotta hue was the clue that it was the oldest; this was the only one in the line-up made by Dave Bennion prior to Paul Draper's arrival at Ridge the following year.
The nose was amazing; at first showing smoke and perfume before developing an Indian spice note (asafoetida?). On the palate there was initially sweet raspberry fruit backed by an earthiness. As time went on the fruit faded and became more herbal, with the earth and acidity showing more. By the end it began to tire, but at its peak it was stunning; truly sublime. Because of that peak I rated it my #1, but overall it ranked 4th.

1970 Ridge Geyserville
Nose showed prune and dried berry. Poured last, this seemed simpler than the rest with some nice raspberry fruit and some residual sweetness; I had it pegged as one of the 'Late' wines - presumably if Ridge had used that designation back then it would have applied. Seemed higher in alcohol; this turned out to be the case, coming in at 15.6%. Overall ranked 7th

1972 Ridge Geyserville At first this appeared darker than the rest, but that turned out to be mostly due to sediment. The nose was dusty, like cardboard or old books. On the palate there were tart cranberry flavours and it seemed somewhat acidic and unbalanced whan judged against the rest of the flight. My least favourite; it was placed 9th overall, despite receiving one 1st place and two 2nd place votes.

1974 Ridge Geyserville
The nose on this also had a musty cardboard note which initially made me suspicious that it was corked, but in the mouth there was plenty of fruit - bramble jelly with earthy notes and a long finish. Overall 3rd

1975 Ridge Geyserville Late Picked
The nose on this showed some funk; smoky and earthy. Perhaps a hint of brett; not enough to be unpleasant, just enough to spice it up. Initially I got lots of rich leather; as time went on the black fruit came out. I really liked it and rated it in my top 3, but some of the other tasters didn't and ultimately it came in 8th.

1976 Ridge Geyservill, Old Hillside Vineyards
The nose was light, showing some dried fruit. Nice fruity flavours of black raspberry and boysenberry, though it began to fade fairly soon. Very much in the middle of the pack - it was the only wine to receive no first place votes and one of three to receive no last place votes - overall it was ranked 6th.

1968 is on the left. The darkest G is mostly due to sediment
1977 Ridge Geyserville Late Harvest
We knew that one of the wines carried the designation 'Late Harvest' and this was the prime suspect. The nose was sweet and portlike; this followed through in the mouth with nice flavours of dried cherry and wild strawberry. Just a hint of residual sugar; certainly no more than some others, and it didn't show the heat as you might have expected. Clearly an outlier in this group, but very popular; it finished 2nd.
This was the first of the wines to indicate varietal composition - 100% Zinfandel.

1978 Ridge Geyserville Late Picked
The 1978 and 1979 labels both indicate that the blend included 5% Petite Sirah. Nose showed lots of toasted bread and earth, in the mouth there was lots of rich brambly fruit and leather notes. Surprisingly youthful, it continued to evolve with time and it wasn't much of a surprise to discover that this was from the excellent 1978 vintage. Finished 1st

1979 Ridge Geyserville
The nose was toasty and meaty, with gamey notes. The palate showed nice blackcurrant fruit and a longish rich, savoury finish. Overall it finished 5th.

I want to thank Ross for organising the tasting and sourcing the wines, Tom for hosting and Michael for generously providing the 1968. I'm very much looking forward to the next event covering the 1980s.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Big Basin new releases

Here are some notes from a visit to the Big Basin tasting room late last year - the notes were misplaced and recently found. The winery was pouring some new releases

2009 Rousanne, Estate
The first harvest for this grape at Big Basin, possibly the first ever in the Santa Cruz Mountains, as previous plantings of this grape turned out to be Viognier. Less than half a barrel was made, so the wine was only available for club memers. Nose shows apricot with floral notes. Creamy, with flavours of Asian pear, peach and apricot, with a long, rich finish. I look forward to more plentiful vintages in the future. 92

2009 Pinot Noir, Coastview Vineyard, Monterey County
The first vintage from what were originally underperforming Syrah vines, now grafted over to a number of Dijon Pinot Noir clones. Notes of cherry, cola, rose petal. Light and fresh, with flavours of black cherry and cranberry, nice acidity. Liquorice and tannins show on the longish finish. 92+

2009 Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Black cherry and strawberry aromas are echoed on the palate, adding wet stone and raspberry. Good finish. 92

2008 Odeon
A blend of 57% Syrah, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon from Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
Tasted twice; the first bottle had been open 3 days and showed plenty of black fruit - bramble, cassis and plum, but a little too much oak. 91+. A newly opened bottle was much brighter with vibrant acidity and lots of blackcurrant. 92+

2007 Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, Estate
Massive nose of black fruit and game. Mouth-coating richness; flavours of black plum, berry, meat and liquorice. Long, long finish. 95

2008 Syrah, Coastview Vineyard, Monterey County
Spicy with black fruit, white pepper and dark chocolate. Lots of oaky tannin on the finish; needs time. 93

2009 Homestead
A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Grenache dominates the nose - bright floral (lily?) with smoky notes.
Bright red fruit - redcurrant, raspberry, 'red vines' with spice - cinnamon and clove, and a medium finish 92