Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ridge Vineyards

During my recent trip to Healdsburg, I stopped by Ridge Vineyards, one of the premier wineries in the U.S. Ridge is most known for its Monte Bello Bordeaux blend, which retails for about $150 and regularly receives laurels for its beautifully complex taste and ability to age decades in the bottle. The 1971 Monte Bello took fifth place in the seminal "Judgment of Paris" in 1976 that put California on the map as a quality producer of wine. It's also the bottle I'm thinking about buying for my daughter now to save for her 30th birthday.

Ridge makes numerous other wines, including estate-and region-specific zinfandels, syrahs, cabernet sauvignons, petite sirahs, and a chardonnay.

The tasting room itself was gorgeous, and very sustainable, constructed with bales of straw sandwiched between wooden walls. We arrived on a chilly, dreary Saturday morning around 11am, and only one other couple was there. The staff was super friendly and we chatted for about an hour while tasting wines. There's a complimentary tasting, a $5 fee for four additional wines, and you can taste the current Monte Bello bottling for $15.

Here are my tasting notes - I visited two other wineries before arriving at Ridge, and also had a glass of the Monte Bello before tasting the rest (I spit everything else though), so my palate was somewhat fatigued

The complimentary tasting was of their 2006 Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard ($28). Earthy, stinky nose, with pomegranate and ripe red berries in the mouth.

For the $5 fee I tried:

2006 Zinfandel Carmichael ($28) - baked apple pie on the nose, cranberries in the mouth.

2006 Geyserville ($35). Blend of 70% zin, 18% carignane, 10% petite sirah and 2% mataro. Ripe plums, weighty fruit flavors and peppercorn.

2006 Lytton Springs ($35). Blend of 80% zin, 16% petite sirah and 4% carignane. On the nose, cedar, vanilla. nice, complete fruit in the mouth.

2002 Syrah ($36). Herbal, almost "green" nose, with green bell peppers and floral mouth.

As for the Monte Bello, $15 gets you a decent-size pour, about half a glass full. On the nose I found red currants, eucalyptus and a citrusy note. In the mouth this wine displays huge tannins, supported by an expression of pure fruit flavors and an herbal note of dill. The finish had sweet delicious berries. Overall the wine is integrated well, and while it would to taste better with some age, it drinks well now.

International Wine Cellar's Stephen Tanzer, a tough and noted critic, gave it 95 points, describing it as "Deep ruby. Explosively perfumed nose offers a profound bouquet of ripe cherry, blackcurrant, yellow rose, Asian spices and vanilla bean; you could use this for incense. Deep and sweet but remarkably precise, offering powerful dark berry and kirsch flavors supported by substantial, velvety tannins. The fruit plows through the finish with superb energy, depth and clarity, fully absorbing the tannins. A big but wonderfully balanced example of Monte Bello, and sure to reward extended cellaring."

It's hard for me to personally say the bottle is worth $150, as I haven't had many other wines in that price range to compare it to, and it wasn't something so amazing that knocked me completely off my feet. It certainly was an enjoyable, beautiful wine, though I'd like to taste it again sometime to see if I really do want to buy and save one for my daughter (I have time as the 2007 vintage won't be released until spring 2010).

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