An Early Tasting Of The New Fall Releases: Lytton Springs, Ponzo, Pagani Ranch & Monte Bello …

This time of year is both exciting and bemusing; ripe with anticipation, and fraught with perplexation. The new Fall Releases are on their way, and we’re beginning to taste them with some degree of regularity. But we don’t really know them yet, whereas their precursors are near-woven into the veritable chains of our collective palate DNAs. Meaning, give me a 2009 Lytton Springs, and I’m like a mood ring wrapped around its finger; I know if it’s happy, or if it’s sad; if it’s excited, tired, or bored; if it’s loving or detached. But the 2010 is still a stranger to me. I watch it’s face; was that a smirk or a smile? Is it teasing me, or did it mean that? Am I boring it? Is it listening to me? What is it trying to tell me? I left a message, why won’t it call me back? Wow, it held my hand!? Should I try and kiss it? And so on …

So, yesterday, I had a chance to taste them again; the new Fall Releases. The 2010 Lytton Springs, the 2010 Ponzo, the 2010 Pagani Ranch, and the 2009 Monte Bello. And I wrote tasting notes, for no other reason than to give me something to compare against when, six months down the line, I’ve established some rapport. Then I can look back, and review my initial impressions. It’s like reading the letters you wrote your soon-to-be-fiancee back when you were still courting. Sure, some of the initial giddy euphoria will have worn off, but in its place will be a maturing love that rests on a far sturdier rock.

And with that in mind, I present my giddy love notes. And giddy they are, and in love I am. Full disclaimer, I am really loving these releases. I know, I know, puppy love and mash notes. But still, I’m in love!

2010 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs

I’m looking at the varietal spread, and I’m smiling already: 67 zin, 23 petite sirah, 7 carignane, 3 mataro. That’s a mix after my own heart. Let the tasting begin!

Beautiful dark hues in the bowl; rich purple, dense magenta, penetrating garnet, with a gorgeous ruby limn lifted by dark fuchsia highlights … Interesting structure to the legs; they’re fairly thick and viscous, but they run down fairly quickly …

Very strong boysenberry and blackberry notes to the nose, with a hint of cranberry, toast, brioche, and caramel balanced against some higher-toned strawberry and raspberry aromas, which are somewhat uniquely wrapped up in an interlacing of crème de menthe tones …

Mouthfeel is big and plush and full and instantly Dry Creek in character; brambly and spicy and racy and rich and flavorful and strong and eminently delicious. The low-tone black-fruit presence of the petite sirah comes on pretty strong, and those grippy tannins hang on well into the finish …

The finish is still a tad taut at this young age, and the carignane and mataro don’t seem to be making much of a play for sensorial attention yet, but the wine’s already complex opulence should mean that things will only continue to get more interesting …

Even without the singular challenges of the 2010 vintage, this would be an astonishingly self-possessed, ebullient, focused, and powerful wine. That it emerged from such demanding conditions makes this offering all the more impressive.

2010 Ridge Vineyards Ponzo Zinfandel

I am always excited about any Ponzo that emerges from a cooler growing season, as the 2010 does; the Russian River location of this wonderful old-vine property seems naturally to play into the cooler-climate model, and when Ponzo really sings, it does so when it can display in full flower its freshness, its brightness, its enervative and evocative playfulness and sophistication …

Running all points along the plum-tone spectrum, the wine is just plain pretty in the bowl, and the quickly-slip-sliding legs bespeak all the elegance I’m hoping for upon tasting …

The nose is exotic to the point of surprise at first sniff; hard to place the almost unsettlingly beguiling mix of spices on offer; what are these aromas? It’s almost a curry profile, full of multi-shaded peppers, herbs, and ground spices. I’m completely entranced, and utterly confused … Digging deeper into the bouquet, I can definitely find the red and black cherries I would expect to be present, as well as some sweet vanilla and oak, and even a touch of chocolatey herbaceousness …

A light but still decadent mouthfeel that manages to be both refined and tarty; a sort of quiet sentimentality is on offer here; hints of a deep well of emotion corseted in elegantly teasing outer layers …

The acidity and high-tone fruit are the selling points here; this is a light and lifted offering that still manages to deliver the joyful decadence of proper zinfandel; cool-climate perfect, Russian River delicious.

2010 Ridge Vineyards Pagani Ranch Zinfandel

Ah, the Alicante Bouschet. 16% with this vintage. I am happy.

Notably dark in the bowl, it is almost impenetrably purple-black at the core, working its way outward concentrically through hoops of barely lightening hues, finally finishing at a limn of glistening magenta …

The aromatics are every bit as distinctive as one would expect with a Pagani offering; good lord, what all am I smelling in here? On one side: bark, chicory, pipe tobacco, and mint chocolate ice cream; on the other side: potpourri, sesame cucumber salad, sesame seed and seaweed, pomegranate, and cardamom. Good lord …

Right down the pipe with this one; not a great deal of in-the-cheek activity, but a great dose of both fruit and acidity instantly going slip-sliding down center palate; mostly red-fruit in character, with a hint of tartness, some utterly quenching tannin architecture, and a nice dose of blood-orange/ruby grapefruit citricity near the back end of the palate trip …

The finish is actually slightly sweet, and the mouthfeel rounds out considerably at the close. A very interesting reconciliation of an overall smaller feel with a firmer architectural touch, this 2010 Pagani enacts a bit of an inversion of sorts, in that it speaks loudly, but wields a smaller stick …

Put another way, it packs a lot of complexity, finesse, and incomparability into a streamlined and eminently potable package, with an absoutely archetypical mix of entrancing spices in the bouquet topping off the profile.

2009 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello

A varietal trio shapes this vintage — Cab/Merlot/PetitVerdot. To date, the 2009 edition of Monte Bello has (in internal tastings) already shown itself to be one of those true “crowd pleaser” versions of itself; if the spectrum that Monte Bello can run goes from the very rustic, earthy, spicy, acidity-driven and herbaceous, to the very rich, lush, succulent, concentrated and fruit-driven, then this definitely skews to the latter; meaning, it is beyond generous with its bounty, and accordingly, it’s a wine you want to spend a great deal of time with. Literally, it pleases the crowd; any crowd, every crowd, with pleasure …

Purpley, plush, and blackly dense in the bowl, with a lovely magenta halo and thin but purposeful legs …

Aromatics rich with cherries sweet and sour, loads of cocoa, coffee, and cedar, and a healthy dose of minty eucalyptality …

Expansive, eruptive, and seductive on the palate, there is literally almost too much information here for one mouth to handle; there is everything from the highest-tone fruit and the brightest acidity, to the lowest-tone earth and the blackest of herbs. This is, quite literally, a mouthful. A mouthful of mouthfeel.



Categories: Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Lytton Springs, Mataro, Merlot, Monte Bello, Petite Sirah, Tasting Notes, Varietals & Blends, Zinfandel

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3 replies

  1. Great notes, Christopher. I’m looking very much forward to the Fall releases. And also your tasting notes after you’ve made friends with these guys.

  2. Very much enjoy your initial notes Christopher.

    A few of the HRV crew opened a bottle of your 2010 Carignane Sunday night and loved it. It’s tragic we lacked a smartphone to capture the reaction one of our compatriots had at first sip. ‘Wracked with ecstatic convulsions’ is the closest I can come to describing what we witnessed in mere words.

    Great post. Great wines.

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