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.


Frank said...

Great post! Very interesting to read about old Geyservilles and how they stand the test of time. Thanks!