This past weeskend, I had the great pleasure of hosting a very interesting group, and presenting them with a very interesting tasting flight. The group in question was Friends of the Winemakers. Per their website, they are “a non-profit corporation whose purpose is to preserve the history of winemaking and the enjoyment of wine in the Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains; to share the knowledge with others; and to stimulate interests about vineyards, varieties of wine, and the process of wine production.” The flight in question was a horizontal multi-designation zinfandel tasting. By “horizontal” I mean that all 6 wines were of the same vintage; in this case, 2006. And by “multi-designation” I mean that each zinfandel we tasted was comprised of fruit from one vineyard only, and each wine was from a different vineyard designation.
RIDGE Vineyards practices what we refer to as single-site winemaking. Save for one exception, all the wines in our portfolio are comprised, as noted above, of grapes grown on one single vineyard; accordingly, most of our wines are named for the vineyard property, as opposed to, say, the varietal. Given that we deploy a notably non-interventionist methodology in the vineyard (hand-harvesting, head-training, dry-farming, etc.), each vineyard that we work with has very different characteristics on offer as far as micro-climate, topography, soil type, vine history, etc. Meaning that the differences in taste between each wine ideally have to do with differences in the vineyards. Put another way, we practice single-site winemaking as a way to try and capture, as best as possible, the singular qualities of any particular vineyard property. To say this is to capture “terroir” is to invite critical debate to be sure, as the term has become rather loaded; suffice it to say that our wines taste the way they do primarily because of where they come from. If thats’ terroir, so be it.
Anyhow, the idea behind this special tasting was to try and showcase some key ways in which single-site winemaking can affect the character of a wine. For this 6-wine flight, I set up three sets of two wines to taste side-by-side, with each duo being selected to effect a compare-and-contrast between two sides of a spectrum.
For the first pair, I selected the 2006 Ponzo as an example of a Cool-Climate zinfandel, and I selected the 2006 Paso Robles as an example of a Warm-Climate zinfandel; for the second duo, I selected the 2006 Pagani Ranch as an example of an Old-Vine Interplanted zinfandel blend, and the 2006 East Bench as a Younger Vine Solo Varietal zinfandel; for the final duo, I selected our “Flagship” zinfandels, the 2006 Lytton Springs, and the 2006 Geyserville.
I am happy to report that in each case the collective response to the pairings was that all involved agreed there were marked differences between the two wines being compared. To my palate, the distinctions were very clear; in the first duo, the Ponzo, being a cool-climate offering, is leaner, more elegant, with a heightened focus on acidity and spice as opposed to opulent fruit. The Paso Robles, conversely, being a warmer-climate offering, is all about fruit; ripe fruit, sweet fruit, big fruit. In the second duo, the Pagani is multi-tiered and multi-dimensional, showcasing a veritable potpourri of aromatics and spices, yet its bodyweight and mouthful are comparatively subtle; the East Bench, on the other hand, is all adolescent muscularity. It’s big, and firm, and structured, and it showcases great depth. In the final duo, we see, I think, the clearest proof-of-concept of just how important site-specificity is; on paper, these wines are very similar. They’re both zin blends backed by complimentary Rhone varietals. They’re both RIDGE wines. The vineyards are located within just a few miles of one another. And so on and so on. But yet they’re very different wines! Soil type is the primary answer here; the two properties share very little in the way of common soil type, and accordingly, they show very different characters. Again to my palate, the Lytton Springs is a quintessential expression of California fruit; fruit in all its opulent, fleshy, sweet beauty. Not too ripe, not too plush, just plain delicious. And the Geyserville is all about complexity; tertiary flavors, multi-dimensions, the spice, the earth, the rusticity. Together, these two “flagships” form the twin pillars of our zinfandel program.
And that was our Horizontal Multi-Designation Zinfandel Tasting! It was a lovely tasting, and I thank the Friends of the Winemakers for the support and their participation.