It’s only October, I know, but in order to make certain we assemble the finest selection of wines possible to escort you through your holiday season, we begin the tasting process early, and I am now happy to report that the final collections have been confirmed. We are extremely excited by this year’s offerings, particularly as we’ve included a rather stunning array of library wines in the various packs, and we’re all extremely eager to share with you the results.
In order to kick things off properly, we scheduled an internal library tasting of wines included in the holiday packs, with members of the Ridge team participating from three different locations: our Warehouse in Milpitas (where both the warehouse and customer service groups are based), our Lytton Springs Estate, and here at Monte Bello. Using a web feed, winemakers Paul Draper and Eric Baugher led all three locations through the wines on offer, while yours truly manned the camera, and peppered our hosts with questions.
(photo by Sonja Seaberg)
I think all concerned came away from the tasting feeling extremely excited by, and energized about, this year’s holiday selections; the wines are in tremendous form, and armed with all the additional insights we gleaned from the opportunity to taste with Paul and Eric, I think everyone is beside themselves with anticipation as regards talking these wines with you. And you, and you, and you …
2005 Ridge Vineyards Stone Ranch Zinfandel
While planted on Geyserville soil, these vines traditionally produce a lighter, more fruit-forward, more easy-drinking style, and accordingly, the fruit is often held out of the Geyserville assemblage, in favor of a separate bottling, under the Stone Ranch designation. Such was certainly the case in 2005; a notably ripe year.
A kindred spirit of sorts to the Carmichael — another approachably fruit-driven ATP offering — the Stone Ranch nonetheless shows a slightly higher-tone profile, evidencing a more bramble-driven red-fruit character than the comparatively moodier Carmichael.
To my palate, the carignane continues to lend great acidity to the overall mouthfeel, while allowing the chalkiness of the minerality pride of place simultaneously. Hints of oak-derived sweet vanillin speckle the early aromatics, while traces of coriander and citrus peel enliven the finish. With half a decade’s worth of bottle age, this wine has settled into a surprisingly (and rewardingly!) complex offering that nonetheless retains its youthful lightness and approachability.
Should prove to be a great Autumnal offering, perfect with appetizers and first courses at the holiday table.
2004 Ridge Vineyards Oltranti Zinfandel
One of only two vintages crafted from the younger zinfandel planting on the legendary Mazzoni Home Ranch, this offering is as unique a wine as any released under the ATP banner. Buoyed by the small introductions of older vine carignane and petite sirah, this has historically been a notably tannin-forward, intensely structured offering. With approximately 5 years of bottle age woven into its fabric, it’s still a big wine; a strutting, cocksure wine with its money where its mouth is; meaning, the aromatics offer the promise, and the body delivers the goods.
Autumnality is front-and-center as regards its “at table” personality; loads of dried fruits on the nose, with shades of mincemeat, figs, and toasted nuts calling up all sorts of holiday reflections. The mouthfeel at point-of-entry is almost impossibly round; a mouthful of a mouthfeel, as it were. Not content to wow you with physical prowess, however, the Oltranti serves up some great tobacco, bramble, and forestation as well; the second and third-tier supporting characteristics give a unique lift to this fleshily omnipresent Atlas. A great offering to meet the middle of your holiday meal; the entrée!
2003 Ridge Vineyards Independence School
A true collector’s item in every sense of the term, this is the first release of what would become our Old School designation, and the only one to actually carry the “Independence School” name. This, as with the Stone Ranch, is ostensibly Geyserville fruit, but as with the Stone Ranch (though for very different reasons!), the blocks that make up this wine are held out of the Geyserville assemblage due to their singular personalities. In this wine’s case, the fruit is held out for a separate small-batch, winery-only offering in acknowledgement of its traditionally riper, sweeter, more fruit-forward character. Accordingly, expect unctuousness in spades, voluptuousness in decadently seasoned excess, and luxuriant fruit at all points across the palate.
While there is little that one could claim as tame about this wine, I am consistently and pleasantly surprised by its balance; this is an athlete of an offering; you experience the grace, and are hard-pressed to remember that it comes via endless hours in the weight room. A great wine with which to close a hearty holiday meal; cheeses, fruits, and chocolates should abound, as friendships are re-solidified, and family bonds affirmed.
Ridge Vineyards Dusi Ranch Zinfandel, 2006 & 2005
Quite a treat to taste these side-by-side! Benito Dusi’s ranch is such a legendary fixture of the Ridge portfolio, and while our Paso Robles zinfandel is one of our most consistently shaped offerings, it is often via the comparatively more mercurial Dusi Ranch designation that one comes to truly know and love these vines, and this vineyard. Traditionally comprised of blocks held out of the larger Paso Robles assemblage by virtue of their comparatively riper, sweeter profile, the Dusi is actually capable of not only showing unexpectedly complex characteristics, but evidencing authentically enticing seasonal variables as well.
These two vintages are, in many ways, a perfect study in contrast. Conventional wisdom (if anything about Ridge can be said to be conventional!) would certainly propose the Dusi offering as a ripe, warm-climate zinfandel, and the 2006 vintage does not disappoint in this regard. It wears its natural fruit on its shoulder, but also shows itself to have been (as it was) the product of a submerged cap fermentation; there are tannins, there is earth, and there is some darkness under all that concentratedly rich fruit. But fruit is the word, is the word, is the word …
That said, if you expect more of the same when heading into the ’05, be prepared for an adjustment of sorts. Sure, it’s still warm-climate, old-vine zin, and sure there is a lot of fruit on offer, but there is also acidity! Not something one normally expects from this combination of region and varietal. And in fact, there is a whole host of structural components on offer; in addition to acidity, there are some nicely coated and resolving tannins, there is some herbality and woodsiness, and there are some fine layers of fruit as well.
In October of ‘06, Eric Baugher gave a 5 to 6-year projection of longevity for this wine. Were that accurate, we’d be calling this wine to task right now, branding it as being at its peak. But when tasting this wine with Eric and Paul Draper today (October of ’11), I found I was not the only one who thought this wine had years of life still ahead; both Eric and Paul said it was going to “go out”; and go out it will. Certainly drinkable now, but if you want a rarefied library offering to sit on just a bit longer, this might just be your perfect catch.
Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Estate (now Estate Cabernet), 2005, 2004, and 2003
I admit it. I am spoiled. This should have been one of the greatest tasting opportunities of my life. But I have to confess, I just tasted these wines rather recently, as part of the worldwide #CabernetDay celebration. That said, guess what this was? One of the greatest tasting opportunities of my life! Three truly tremendous vintages, of a truly tremendous wine, tasted in the company of Paul Draper, Eric Baugher, and a whole host of my most excellent colleagues; priceless.
It would take pages upon pages to truly navigate the unique history of this designation, and its singular relationship to the Monte Bello, so suffice it to say that one might not be far off the mark in suggesting that, with the 2003 vintage, this designation truly came into its own, emerging out of the shadow of the Monte Bello as its own wine; grown, harvested, and vinted in similar fashion, beneficiary of an equally intense attention to detail, but selected and assembled with an altogether different overarching aesthetic in mind.
Put another way, it’s a hell of a wine, and particularly for the price; meaning, from a price break to quality standpoint, you rarely get this much wine for this little of an investment. And the 2003 is where this really and truly becomes the indisputable case.
All that said, the tasting begins with the 2005. The only vintage of the trio without Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot in the assemblage, this wine perfectly enacts the growing season that year; preposterously low yields (less than 1 ton an acre) resulting in a deep, dark, concentrated, structure-forward profile. The nose is all chocolate and campfire and s’mores, and the mid-palate is all gluttony and indulgence. That said, it’s still a frighteningly balanced wine; frightening in that it manages to pack all that baroque romanticism and architectural decadence into an almost sexually-charged come-on; you want this wine, because it moves so well, but at the same time, you can’t help but sense the primality lurking just below the surface. One to watch, one to wish for, one to covet.
The 2004 is an altogether different animal, the product of a perversely unusual growing season; one in which the harvesting of Monte Bello (the estate) was essentially bisected; early picking on one side of the October rains, late picking the other. The resulting wine, I will confess, is one of my personal favorites. To borrow a colloquialism, it’s just my kind of funky. It’s a bit rustic, a bit earthy, a bit dirty, a bit bluesy. In short, delicious! The big “B” gets thrown around a lot in wine circles (Bordeaux), much the same way that “Genius” is oft-misused by certain rather purple-y writers in the various arts fields; meaning, if I had a dollar for every tired, derivative, re-hashed, substance-less wine, poem, play, novel, song, album painting, etc. … Anyhow, the point is, that still, to this day, “Bordeaux” is prized as the ultimate comparative; “In a blind tasting, I would have sworn this was a first growth!” And while that’s instructive in certain realms, and nonsensical in others, it serves a purpose here, because this is truly cause for a pause; if your wish is to embrace an American producer who can very successfully and authentically produce wines that are fully in line with all that we hold dear about the legitimately still-great Bordeaux producers, all while doing so in uniquely American fashion, and on top of that, at disarmingly populist price breaks, then please, do yourself a favor, and find a way to drink this wine. It’s just that kind of excellent.
And finally, we return to the 2003, which, as Paul himself noted, is really and truly coming into its own. If you want to seriously wow your holiday table guests, without digging too deep into your cellar, or into your wallet, just serve this out of decanter, and watch the mouths drop. This is a serious, serious wine, and it lacks nothing, and I mean nothing, when compared to bottles of twice the price break, if not more.