RIDGE In The Round: The RIDGE Round Table Reviews The 2004 California Zinfandel Oltranti!

So, this edition of RIDGE-In-The-Round owes a debt of strategic gratitude to the good folks over at the wine blog “Two Days Per Bottle,” where the tasting MO is predicated on the notion that wines should be tasted and analyzed over the course of two days, as opposed to just one sitting. This is at least sort of exactly what we did for our new review subject, the ’04 Ridge Oltranti. We tasted different bottles on Saturday and Sunday, and I also tasted a “carry-over” bottle.


My compatriots in the RIDGE Round Table differed slightly across the two days; unavoidable given weekend scheduling. I personally remained constant across both days, as did Zani Nesvacil. On Saturday, we were joined by Barry Campbell, Tara Einis, and Karen Cai, and on Sunday by Kyle Kurani, Amy Monroe, and Darren Gardner.

So, let’s begin!

First, appearance, specifically the belly, or middle (Engagingly referred to by one of our tasters as “The Meniscus!). Oddly enough, perhaps, cranberry came up more than once; in fact, it came up 5 times! Raspberry was also noted a couple times, as was amber. The limn (or “halo”) got “salmon” “pink,” and “strawberry,” and two tasters noted its seemingly expanded width. As to my notes, I have it “husky burgundy hues with a pale raspberry limn — fairly rapid legs and a medium-weight glaze” on Saturday, and on Sunday gave it “striated shades of raspberry-to-salmon meet dark cranberry, with a fairly wide limn and a clear edge beyond — thin but confident legs.”

Aromatics was where conversation really took off! It was amazing the array of references and descriptors that poured forth. Here is just a sampling: pipe tobacco, cigar box, cedar, humidor spice, light tar, dried dark fruits, dried strawberry, and from my notes: pipe tobacco, cedar, toffee, blackberry seeds, cigar box wood, pomegranate, blood orange rind, salted dried prune candy (Saturday) and tobacco, cedar, cigar box, English plum pudding, and Orange Pekoe tea (Sunday). There was a fair amount of debate about the citrus character in the nose, and although no one could totally agree, we all conceded it had something to do with oranges and tea!

Everyone was in total agreement on acid placement at the Front of the wine; there was no acid to speak of showing on our tongue tips, rather, it was firmly located along the sides of the tongue. Tannins were equally and equitably analyzed, in that we all pretty much agreed that they were most present across the back of the tongue along the taste buds, with a slow-developing but strong residual presence between inner lips and teeth.

Cherry, plum, and fig were the three most common descriptors to emerge as regards the mid-palate fruit, but all seemed to concur that acids and tannins were still holding the majority court as far as flavor profile, which seemed to suggest to most participants that either the fruit is a) not yet to emerge, or b) not going to emerge. Given that this wine has only just been released, I think it’s pretty safe to say that A should be the case. That said (and this was noted during our tasting) we’re also somewhat judging against the last Oltranti release (which was actually the ’05), which comparatively was probably a slightly more fleshy, plump, mouth-filling offering. The ’04 is certainly leaner, and accordingly, probably far more of a food wine than a sipper, which was definitely the case with the ’05. Personally, I wasn’t seeing a whole lot of fruit during my Saturday session, but on Sunday I noted everything from orange peel and dried cranberry to fried green tomatoes and fruit tea! (One participant also noted Fig Newton, which I agreed with as far as the fig part, but less so the sweet bread … And another taster noted açaí berry, which I thought was absolutely spot on!)

The finish was collectively noted for being highly spice-driven, as well as the strong vibrancy of the acidity. I think it’s safe to say everyone agreed that both the Petite Sirah and the Carignane really make their presence felt on the finish in particular. And although I didn’t note it until the Sunday tasting, I definitely agreed when it was pointed out that there was some Umami presence emerging as well.

To summarize, I think we all felt some version of the same thing, which is that this wine evidences a somewhat singular dichotomy, in that it smells older, and drinks younger, than it actually is. Does this make it deceptive? Discordant? I don’t think so at all. To borrow a great phrase from one of our Saturday tasters, the ’04 Oltranti is rather a “wolf in sheep’s clothing!” To be sure, it’s fascinating, and personally, I think some bottle age is going to settle this wine into a highly quaffable offering; one that evidences great and exotic complexity, making it perfect for the table. I was about to write “if not for the picnic” but even as I thought that, I remembered that it was the #1 seller last weekend, with a great number of the bottles going out to the picnic area! Anyhow, per winemaker Eric Baugher’s projections from 2005, this wine is still 1-3 years from being “fully developed”; so be on the lookout; delicious wine on the horizon!

And that’s the latest from the RIDGE Round Table!

Have you tasted this wine? If so, comment! Send us your thoughts, observations, tasting notes, etc., we’d love to hear from you!

Categories: Carignane, Petite Sirah, Rhone varietals, Tasting Notes, Varietals & Blends, Zinfandel

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2 replies

  1. I, too, have already consumed two of my four bottles of the 2004 Oltranti. Not having tasted any other vintage, I am, of course, unable to make that comparison. I am a very new ATP member joining only in Jan of this year.

    What prompted me to drink half my stash of what seemed a relatively well-ageable wine in two weeks? It was just so damn delicious on the first occasion. And as equally enjoyable as the long-finishing dark fruit flavors, was the mouthfeel – very round and soft with lots of mass.

    We drank the first bottle with some excellent old-fashioned southern style smoked BBQ at a BYOB place in Chicago called Smoque. The BBQ was fantastic, and the wine was really a near perfect match – even though we drank it from disposable plastic cups.

    We killed the second bottle with Chicago’s lengendary thin-crust Aurelios sausage pizza next week. Here, the wine seemed a little sharper and not quite so “massy” than previously. Perhaps because of the acids in the tomato sauce, or maybe the petite sirah we’d had before eating.

    The remaining two bottles have been tagged for consumption in 2012 & 2013. We’ll see how they hold up.

    • Thank you for your wonderful comments Mr. Seaney! And for what it’s worth, I’ve been to Smoque before, and believe you me, despite the seeming sacrilege, BBQ and the Oltranti from a plastic cup sounds heavenly! Riedels be damned … And wow, Aurelios! Haven’t thought about them in a while; they do make wonderful pizza, though for thin crust, I may still be a NY guy … How’s about that Lou Malnotti’s? Seems to me the Oltranti wouldn’t be out of place alongside that cornmeal crust!

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