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Wine Reviews

Highlights from the 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans Tasting

slh-artisansThe 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans Tasting for trade and media  featured wines made from Santa Lucia Highlands grapes by 27 wineries throughout Northern California. In most cases, the proprietors or winemakers themselves were on hand. Among them were Gary Franscioni (Roar), Emmanuel Kemiji (Miura & Antiqv2s), Ed Kurtzman (August West and Roar), Dianna Lee (Siduri & Novy), James MacPhail (Sequana), Jeff Pisoni (Lucia and Pisoni), Charlie Wagner (Mer Soleil) and Chris Weidemann (Pelerin).

Overall Impressions from the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans Tasting

I tasted most, but not all, of the wines being poured. California’s difficult 2010 weather had no obvious impact on their quality. The vintage showed very well at this event, especially the Pinot Noir. The top producers excelled once again. Overall quality among the less celebrated wineries continues to improve. If you’re scanning an unfamiliar wine list looking for a safe buy with the potential to delight, the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA is a good bet.

Top Wines from the 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans Tasting

I rate the following wines as Highly Recommended or better. They are listed in alphabetical order by winery within each varietal category.


2009 Bernardus Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard, $40 — True to the AVA with generous yellow apple and stone fruit aromas followed by a rich palate of spiced and gently bruised yellow apple.

2010 Lucia Chardonnay Soberanes Vineyard, $45 — Replanting a good, healthy vineyard to make it incrementally better doesn’t make sense financially. It’s much wiser to apply what you’ve learned over the past 15 years to a brand new vineyard. The Garys’ operation did that in the Soberanes Vineyard. It's a vineyard to watch. This is the first released Chardonnay from that site. It is excellent with a personality very different from any Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay I can recall. It is elegant and quietly powerful with complexity that draws you in by whispering. The fruit is very well balanced by acidity, flavors developed sur lie and even hints of minerality.

2009 Mer Soleil Chardonnay, $32 — Still the reference point for it’s style. Full-bodied and full of flavor as well with ripe nectarine and yellow apple enhanced by cinnamon, nutmeg, oak and a subtle caramel note. Creamy texture with a long finish. This is a hedonist’s Chardonnay, but not at all buttery.

2010 Mer Soleil Chardonnay “Silver,” $24 — Lean but not mean, Silver is an unoaked Chardonnay with pear, bruised apple and lemon flavors and nearly medium-plus acidity. A good wine for salads, chicken, and light seafood.

2010 Roar Chardonnay Sierra Mar Vineyard, $45 — Meaty, smokey and intriguing.

Pinot Noir

2010 August West Pinot Noir SLH, $30 — Pure black cherry leaps from the glass. The texture is like satin and the flavors cherry, raspberry and dark flowers.

2010 August West Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, $45 — The cherry and floral aromas in this wine let you come to them. There are black cherry and black tea flavors with tannins nearing medium-plus that suggest the wine will reward aging if you have the discipline.

2010 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard, $44 — An excellent wine with a creamy mouthfeel and flavors of baked cherries with spice and vanilla.

2009 Bernardus Pinot Noir SLH, $35 — A blend from six vineyards, this wine has a lot of by-the-glass appeal with a smooth palate and engaging red fruit accented by cocoa.

2009 Bernardus Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, $75 — Delicious cherry, cocoa and spice with texture that adds interest and ageability.

2010 Bernardus Pinot Noir Pisoni Vineyard, $80 — Aromas of blackberry, raspberry and peach. Medium-plus body, balancing acidity and very fine, powdery tannins. Good fruit on the palate, but will be more expressive with two or more years of bottle age.

2009 Boekenoogen Pinot Noir Estate, $45 — A nose of black cherry, fig and warm, woody spice. The palate has a touch of sweetness and very fine, powdery tannins.

2009 Hahn Pinot Noir SLH, $35 — Straightforward and enjoyable with wild cherry and cocoa flavors.

2009 Lucienne Pinot Noir Doctor’s, $50 — Interesting notes of mint and clove complement the cherry.

2010 Kori Pinot Noir KW Ranch, $38 — 20% whole cluster fermentation gives this wine pine forest notes on top of its integrated red fruit. Best after two years in the bottle.

2009 Kosta Brown Pisoni, $52 — An excellent wine of concentration and focus, dominated by rich black cherry flavors. Very Highly Recommended.

2010 Mansfield-Dunne Pinot Noir Peterson Vineyard, $48 — A soft, textured palate with gamey black cherry and spice.

2009 McIntyre Pinot Noir Estate, $36 — McIntyre has the appellation’s oldest Pinot Noir vines and it’s wines have leathery notes that were rare in this tasting. This wine taken from throughout the estate couples the leather with plenty of red cherry fruit.

2009 McIntyre Pinot Noir Block 3, $48 — This “best block” wine from McIntyre is both leathery and earthy with chalky tannins.

2009 Miura Pion Noir Pisoni Vineyard, $62 — A bit closed on the nose but excellent flavors of dark plum, spice, leather and earth with medium-plus tannins. Very good now but will improve with two or more years of bottle age.

2009 Miura Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard, $62 — A cherry-vanilla nose but darker fruit on the palate. Ready now.

2009 Mooney Pinot Noir Boekenoogen Vineyard, $52 — An unreleased wine with promise.

2010 Morgan Pinot Noir Twelve Clones, $32 — A savory glass with grilled meat, coffee and mixed berries.

2010 Morgan Pinot Noir Double L Vineyard, $50 — Red fruit, cedar and woody spice.

2010 Paraiso Pinot Noir West Terrace, $39 — An excellent value with the requisite red cherry but interesting, savory notes of leather, game and roast meat.

2009 Pelerin Pinot Noir SLH, $48 — Dark red fruit with a slightly stemmy note and light, grainy tannins that suggest some whole cluster fermenation.

2010 Lucia Pinot Noir Gary’s Vineyard, $50 — A lovely wine with cherry, gentle spice and orchestral complexity. Ripe tannins approaching medium-plus density. Very Highly Recommended.

2010 Roar Pinot Noir SLH, $40 — A lightly creamy palate with mixed red fruit flavors.

2010 Roar Pinot Noir Sierra Mar Vineyard, $52 — Brambly red fruit from vineyard at 1,000 feet.

20098 Sequana Pinot Noir, $32 — One of the most distinctive wines offered and the best Pinot Noir value. The only wine I sampled that showed cranberry on the nose or bay leaf on the palate, it also offers the expected red cherry and raspberry flavors. Rich mouthfeel with powder tannins approaching medium--plus.

2010 Siduri Pinot Noir SLH, $30 — A lightly creamy palate and flavors of caramel, cherry and coffee.

2010 Siduri Pinot Noir Rosella’s Vineyard, $49 — Deli spices and earthy raspberry.

2010 Siduri Pinot Noir Garys’ Vineyard, $52 — Deep, earthy red fruit and medium-plus tannins.

2009 Talbott Pinot Noir Logan - Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, $25 — Dark cherry bitters

2009 Tondre Pinot Noir Tondre Grapefield, $40 — Dignified and smooth. Concentrated black cherry flavors follow scents of red cherry and a touch of herb. Very Highly Recommended.

2009 Wrath Pinot Noir Tondre Grapefield, $55 — Black cherry and herbal notes suggestive of whole cluster inclusion.

2009 Wrath Pinot Noir McIntyre Vineyard, $49 — Black cherries, dry grass and a creamy palate.


2007 Antiqv2s Syrah Pisoni Vineyard, $52 — Roasted game and herb in a full-bodied wine with substantial, ripe tannins.

2007 Antiqv2s Syrah Garys’ Vineyard, $52 — Leather, black raspberry, game and garrigue. Northern Rhone flavors with a California body. Very Highly Recommended.

2010 Lucia Syrah Garys’ Vineyard, $40 — This wine is built to last and wants decanting for early drinking. Flavors of roast beef, herb, dark fruit and espresso with tannins that are beyond medium-plus.

2009 Novy Syrah SLH, $27 — Beef jerky, black pepper, smoke and black fruit. Medium-plus tannins.

2009 Novy Syrah Rosella’s Vineyard, $32 — Dark red fruit, black fruit and dark chocolate. Substantial tannins that are soft enough for early drinking.

2009 Wrath Syrah Doctor’s Vineyard, $39 — A creamy palate with aromas and flavors of Chambord and suede.

2009 Wrath Syrah Fairview Vineyard, $39 — Licorice and leathery black fruit.

Also Worth Noting

2010 Manzoni Pinot Gris “North Highlands Cuvée, $18 - Attractive Pinot Gris in a dryish Alsatian style with flavors of peach pit and baked pear. Recommended.

For more information about this wine region, see Spotlight on the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. The Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans logo belongs to that organization. All rights reserved.

More Quick Sips: 12 Wines Reviewed

The following are among the best wines I’ve tasted in the past week or so. Many are sold out at their respective wineries. However, you may still be able to find them in shops or restaurants. You may even have some in your cellar. So, I think it’s worth relaying my recent experience with them.

When it comes to the very aged wines, bear in mind that different bottles of the same aged wine can vary dramatically due to storage conditions, quality of the seal, etc. So, your mileage may vary.

Northern California Wines

2010 Mapson “Two Voices” Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley
Just one barrel was made of this lithe and subtle Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend. There are pear, vanilla and mineral on the nose along with the aroma of drying grass I often get from Semillon. A hint of peach. Acidity is moderate as is the body. Lightly grainy texture adds interest and flavors are consistent with nose: pear, peach, vanilla and mineral. Highly Recommended.

2011 Massican “Annia” Napa Valley
Massican’s Annia is Cal-Ital white featuring Tocai Friuliano (57%), Ribolla Gialla (31%) and Chardonnay (12%). It was fermented in both neutral French oak and stainless steel barrels. This wine weighs in at just 12.4% alcohol and, despite the softening effect of the oak, its acidity is racy and begs for food. It’s a floral wine but not so effusively as Viognier and Gewurtztraminer can be. There is a punch of citrus and crisp apple moderated by minerality and stone fruit. Highly Recommended.

2007 Saintsbury Pinot Noir Brown Ranch Carneros
A very masculine Pinot Noir, dark hued with flavors of black cherry, charred wood and earth. It’s medium+ in body with somewhat drying tannins. This is a Pinot Noir for red meat, not fish. The tannins in combination with the salmon I tried it with created unpleasant metallic flavors whereas they would have resolved beautifully with filet mignon or braised lamb shank. Recommended.

2010 Siduri Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast
left_header_logoThis wine is not from the ultra-lean, stem-influenced school of cool-climate Pinot making. Instead, its body is on the generous side of medium as are its smooth tannins. Cheerful aromas and flavors of maraschino cherry, raspberry, sweet spice and sandalwood greet you without hesitation. The wine’s north Sonoma Coast heritage does show through with acidity which easily balances the richness. The Siduri’s Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir is focused and consistent from the attack through the long finish. Drink it now through 2017 with or without food. Highly Recommended+.

2007 Sojourn Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain
If you were teaching a class on Napa Valley terroir and wanted one wine to represent Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, this would be an excellent choice. Lush, beautifully ripe black currant is the focal point. Cocoa and pretty spice notes add interest. Decanted briefly, the palate is silky with medium body, ripe tannins and a satisfying finish. Drink now through 2018. Highly Recommended.

2009 Sojourn Pinot Noir Rodgers Creek Sonoma Coast
Very pretty with aromas of red cherry and delicate spice. The palate is cherry-flavored satin with medium to medium+ body and a lengthy finish. A lovely wine. Highly Recommended.


From Outside of California

1964 Maison Leroy Meursault Genevrieres
Medium+ gold in the glass. There’s a lot going on aromatically: loads of spice plus ginger, baked pineapple, dry grass, vanilla, herb and poached apple and peach. On the palate the body is a generous medium and juicy with medium+ acidity and flavors of baked apple and spice. Recommended+.

1960 Louis Latour Corton Charlemagne
This wine is bright and medium+ gold in color. The nose is delightfully fascinating with dried apricot, fresh herb (dill and more), cedar and alluringly exotic spice. It’s a medium-bodied wine and very finely textured with medium+ length and acidity that borders on high. Flavors match the nose note for note but there is baked apple as well. Though 52 years old, this wine won’t improve with further age but should hold at least another decade. Highly Recommended.

1955 Faiveley Corton Hospices du Beaune Cuvée Doctor Peste
This wine is medium-minus to pale garnet in color, yet bright. The nose offers aromas of medium+ intensity with a solid core of lightly poached red fruit and cedar. In the mouth, it’s medium-bodied or better with medium+ acidity. It’s flavors of rich red fruit, leathery spices and tobacco are simultaneously vivacious and elegant. The finish is long. This is a very good wine and very well preserved. Highly Recommended.

1995 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Paulliac Bordeaux
Ruby colored, med+ intensity nose of black currant, dark flowers, cedar, pencil lead and earth. Medium+ body and tannins (light-grained), medium to medium+ acidity. Flavors as the nose. Very good, years ahead of it. Highly Recommended+

1998 Peter Lehmann “The Seven Surveys” GSM Barossa Valley, Australia
This wine will surprise people who expect all Australian Shiraz blends to be pumped up, jammy and heavily oaked. Even though 1998 was a famously ripe year, this Grenache-centric blend from Peter Lehmann is decidedly savory. Black pepper, game and white pepper are foremost on the nose. Blackberry and cherry lurk behind. In the mouth medium+, chalky tannins lead to medium+ body. Layers of flavor reveal themselves coyly. First, it’s white pepper and seared game, then black cherry and blackberry followed by iron and dark chocolate. The finish is very long. Highly Recommended+.

2001 Pierro Chardonnay Margaret River, Australia
Medium gold in color. Totally lovely and lively. Tree fruit and spice on the nose. Fresh and juicy in the mouth with concentrated apple and spice. It’s a long wine that still holds up all night in a glass. Very Highly Recommended.

2001 Cape Mentelle Chardonnay Margaret River, Australia
Not every Chardonnay ages gracefully. Most don’t. This one didn’t. The acidity is still there, but the fruit is mostly gone and that which remains is neither appealing nor long lasting. I suspect there might have been an oxidation issue with this particular bottle. However, if you have any of this wine I’d get to it quickly. Past its prime.

All wines above were from my cellar except:
The Massican was purchased and consumed at Press Restaurant in St. Helena.
The French wines were tasted at a Zachy’s wine auction in Beverly Hills.
The Mapson was tasted at Acme Fine Wines in St. Helena.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

My Tweets from the Live Blogging, Speed Tasting at the Bloggers Conference

Friday and Saturday at the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, "live blogging, speed tasting" was included in the agenda. There was one session each day. The bloggers sat at 36 round tables, five or six per table. During the session, each table was visited by 12 different wineries. They had five minutes to pour a wine while telling us about that wine and their winery in general. The bloggers were to post notes to their blog live if possible, or tweet notes, or just take notes for later publication. I tweeted in real time.

To be honest, this is far from my favorite format for tasting. I don't think it does justice to either wine or prose. However, it does force one to quickly sort out what is important and to record first impressions. There is value in that. And it's not at all unusual to have to make evaluations of wines inmuch less than five minutes. The complicating factor with these tastings is doing so while people are talking to you about something else and having to write and publish a comprehensible note, not just my own shorthand records.

Below is the text of my tweets, uneditied. Each paragraph is a different tweet. I have put the winery and varietal in bold to make the reading easier for you. Note that not all of the wines were from Virginia and that there was a great variety of quality and presentation. Some were in tetrapak, most in bottles, some poured from decanters.

From July 22, 2011:

About to taste wines from Chateau Morrisette. This is a speed tasting session, no deep analysis. Quick impressions. #WBC11 #wine

Ch Morrisette dry rosé .25 rs from Chambourcin grape 12.5% alc pink, very nice soft red fruit. tasty, I'd prefer more crispness #WBC11 #wine

now Boxwood Estate rosé, Middleburg VA cab Sauv & Merlot saignée $14 pale pin.k red berry & floral nose. Pretty, refreshing #WBC11 #wine

Barboursville Vnyd Viognier Pale lemon color delicate peach & honeysuckle nose & palate texture from lees aging clean very good #WBC11 #wine

08 Tabbarini Italian 70 yr old vines, Adarmando grape. No oak, mineral, smoke, nuts, patchouli. Creamy palate, excellent #WBC11 #wine

Michael Shaps Viognier 08 picks early bone dry soak on skin overnight natural yeast quiet nose barely ripe nectarine. good #WBC11 #wine

Jefferson Vnyd 2010 Pinot Gris $18.95 incl Viognier, Petit Manseng floral, peach skin, touch of tropical fruit good #WBC11 #wine

Sivas-Sonoma Sauv Blanc from Don & Sons $14 gooseberry, grass, raw asparagus peach New Zealandy #WBC11 #wine

Maycas del Limari Chard 08 fm Chile FR oak, slight malo, apple pear spice vanilla full body creamy $10 really good value #WBC11 #wine

Keswick Vnyds VA '10 Verdejo no oak pale green fruit cocktail peach, lime pith broad but textured palate good $18 #WBC11 #wine

Tarara leesburg VA 70 Viog 30 chard 10 mos FR oak, 20% new peach vanilla spice cardamom marmalade full body, some rs friendly #WBC11 #wine

Williamsburg Winery 09 Acte 12 Chard going for burgundian style steel + oak ferm pear green apple skin $14 great value

Stepping Stone Corallina rosé of Syrah salmon pink grapes picked for rosé, not mad saignée 2 hr press 3 mo cold ferm #WBC11 #wine

Stepping Stone cont. Neut FR oak 6 mos bubble gum cherry peach blossom silky palate time on lees shows #WBC11 #wine

From July 23, 2011:

 Speed tasting now: 08 King Estate Domaine Pinot Noir OR organically grown savory, red fruit good #WBC11 #wine

07 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mt #Cabernet really nice black currant toasted brown spice dusty tannins savory herb #WBC11 #wine

2008 CalNaturale Cab Sauv Paso Robles out of TetraPak (half carbon footprint of glass bottle). Fruit forward dark berries. Quaffer #wbc11

Climber pouch, Clif Wine Cab Sauv wine in a Mylar baggy with a tap shelf life 1 year camping quaffer #WBC11 #wine

08 Centine Toscana IGT blend, primarily Sangiovese + Cab Merl $12 meatballs or a thin grilled rib eye a dinner wine #WBC11 #wine

08 @WillaKenzie Pinot Noir Pierre Leon cert sustainable blend of clones $41 Quite good Makes me want my OR Pinot glass! #WBC11 #wine

09 Mountfair Engagement Monticello 60 Merl 20 cab franc then cs & pv okay fruit forward a little ripe for me yet tart 12.5% #WBC11 #wine

08 @tararawinery casanova 60 merl + cab cab fr s-cap good nice dry chalk texture good blend of fruit & oak spicy black cherry #WBC11 #wine

06 Barboursville Octagon bdx blend 60M 20CF cab pv balanced old worldy chalky really good 12 mos new FR 10 mos stainless 12 mos bottle

07 Chateau Mukhrani Saperavi from central Georgia (republic) $19 all about powdery tannin texture dark earth mild black pepper #WBC11 #wine

09 @boxwoodwinery bdx blend powdery tannins sage drying leaves chewy blk fruit dk chocolate espresso powder #WBC11 #wine

09 @oldworldwinery Abourious RRV red wine from Abouriou variety planted 1950 by Martinellis below Jack Ass Hill: Concordish #WBC11 #wine


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Wine Ratings vs Wine Value

In a comment on one of my articles, Steve McIntosh from Winethropology asks an excellent question:

“... A distributor hands you a glass of something red. You taste it, you shrug, you like it. You give it a "Recommended" rating. That night you head out for dinner. You spot something different on the list and you go for it. $50. You taste it, you shrug, you like it, but Jesus H. Christ, you're not too thrilled that you just paid $50 for it. Does it still get the same rating it [would have if a] distributor handed it to you?”

This is something I've often debated with friends who rate wines that they try. They have their own rating systems and some include value within their rating. The rating is expressed as a single number, a quantity of stars or checkmarks, etc. In contrast, I believe that price should be totally divorced from ratings, though the price should be noted along with key factors such as alcohol percentage.

Here's why I believe this:
First, the quality of a wine is not affected by price, even though one's perception of the quality may be. The wine is the wine. I rate wine's based upon what is in the glass and nothing else. My ratings, "recommended, highly recommended, very highly recommended, highest recommendation" indicate only levels of quality.

Second, value is not a constant. It varies from person to person due to differing levels of disposable income, frugality, etc. It even changes over time for an individual. Did you lose your job? Did you just find out the kids need braces? Perhaps the Yankees just signed you to a very lucrative multi-year contract. Or perhaps you need a wine for a very special dinner — a wine that needs to be of the finest quality but also packaged in a great bottle with a famous name. My readers come from all walks of life and every day presents us with new situations.

Finally, price is not constant either. I might think that a wine is very good, but not worth it's $75 retail price point. If I downgrade that wine accordingly, it is only the rating that will be remembered. You may then choose not to buy it in some half-off sale though you should actually be grabbing a full case. On the other hand, if I bump up the rating for a $12 wine from recommended to highly recommended simply because it's so inexpensive relative to its level of quality, then someone who pays $36 for it in a restaurant may be very disappointed.

In reality, many of the finest wines in the world are lousy values to most of us. But they are worth the price to some. The same is true for the “best” cars, clothing, fountain pens, etc. Differences in price between the excellent and the truly astounding, or even between good and very good, are often substantially greater than the actual qualitative difference. Price tends to increase logarithmically rather than in equal increments. These huge price jumps may be because of the extremes to which producers must go to get create the nth degree of quality, it may be because of very limited production, or simply because the market will bear astronomic prices for the very best of anything. There are people for whom price truly is no object.

One of the most obvious disconnects between wine price and quality is the gap between wines that have been rated 89 by Robert Parker or Wine Spectator vs. those rated 90. For whatever reason, 90 has become a magic number and prices for those wines tend to be much higher than that one extra point for quality justifies. As a result, there are some tremendous values to be had in 88 and 89 point wines.

In short, it is very difficult to dictate what is or is not a good value for someone else. To load my wine ratings with assumptions of value will make the ratings less, rather than more, useful. I rate wines based on their quality. I list the retail price and the alcohol percentage. Occasionally I find a wine that is much, much better qualitatively than other wines of its type and price. If so, I make a separate note indicating exactly that (as I did yesterday in my review of the 2006 Alpen Cellars Pinot Noir). It is then up to the readers to consider the text and ratings in my reviews, assess the prices for the wines in their locale and make their own decisions with respect to value.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

A Range of Rhones at Ridge

Ridge Vineyards is known worldwide for their Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon blend, a wine featured in the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976. Domestically, Ridge is considered among the best providers of Zinfandel. Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay is also highly sought after. But relatively few people know about Ridge Vineyards’ Rhone-varietal blends.

ridge-juiceThese wines typically include Carignane, Syrah and Grenache varietals plus a Grenache/Syrah blend. Others, a Mataro for example, have been offered in the past. All are small-production wines made for release to members of the Ridge ATP (Advance Tasting Program). Wine that is left after fulfilling ATP allocations is sold in the two Ridge tasting rooms, but not in stores.

As a former ATP member and a frequent visitor to the tasting rooms, I’m very familiar with these wines and have many in my cellar. However, it's rare to taste several of them in one session. I was very pleased Ridge Vineyards’ latest quarterly tasting for wine bloggers featured exactly these wines.

The tasting was held at the Ridge Lytton Springs winery, northwest of downtown Healdsburg. Initially, we thought we’d be gathering out on the crush pad. However, some Zinfandel grapes decided they were ready for harvest. So, we moved our tasting into the intimate but attractive and much quieter barrel room. We did spend some time admiring the incoming Zinfandel and tasted bright purple, deliciously fresh Carignane juice though.

Once in the barrel room, we readied ourselves for an in-depth tasting with three excellent cheeses, crusty bread along and a “warm-up” glass of 2008 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay (just released). My notes on that wine from an earlier tasting can be found in Blind Tasting 11 Vintages of Ridge Monte Bello.

Notes on 9 Ridge Vineyards Wine from Syrah and Grenache

We tasted the Rhone wines in reverse order of vintage. My notes are below. They are somewhat brief having been posted in real time on Twitter. I’ve edited them to spare you the hashtags, pseudo-contractions, etc. and added some detail.

2005 Ridge Syrah Lytton West
Ruby color with a black pepper, leather, bacon fat & blackberry nose. Medium-plus body. Cocoa & black fruit on the palate. Very good.

2003 Ridge Syrah Lytton West
Ruby with dark flowers, plum, cherry and milk chocolate on the nose. Medium-plus body and fine powdery tannins. Drinking very well.

03 Ridge California Syrah Grenache
A fifty-fifty blend with medium-plus ruby color and aromas of new pigskin football & black fruit. [I apologize if the “new football” aroma seems odd, but it's spot on. The next time you’re at a sporting goods store...] The wine is nearly full-bodied with medium-plus lightly grainy tannins. Flavors of sweet blackberry, cocoa and oak. Good now, but can age.


2002 Ridge Lytton Estate Grenache
Ruby with lightly pigmented legs. An intense nose of black cherry, blackberry & leaves. Medium-plus body and powdery tannins with flavors of black cherry, blackberry and chocolate. Very good. [This was among my personal favorites of the tasting from a pure enjoyability standpoint. It’s at peak right now — it may hold for a while but won’t improve. I’m happy to have some in my cellar and will be drinking them over the next 6 - 12 months.]

2002 Ridge Syrah II Lytton Estate
[In most years, Ridge winemakers put together prospective blends for the Syrah and a clear favorite gets the go-ahead. For the 2002 vintage, two of the blends were so good that Ridge bottled both. The Syrah II was the most typically Ridge of the two as it included a trace of Viognier (2% with 22% Grenache). The Syrah I (just called Syrah Lytton Estate on the bottle) had 21% Grenache, 3% Carignane and no Viognier.]

Medium-plus ruby with pigmented legs. Black pepper, leather, black cherry and licorice on the nose. Medium-plus body & tannins. Flavors of woody spice, dense & chewy black fruit. Very good now, but can age.

A Surprise! 1990 Ridge Barbera Rancho Pequeño
Before moving on with the official tasting, we took a brief timeout to taste a wine blind, courtesy of Richard Jennings and his cellar. The wine was medium-minus garnet with aromas of cigar box, ham and coffee. The body was medium. The wine tasted of sweet strawberry. Pretty! It turned out to be a 1990 Ridge Barbera Rancho Pequeño. It was really good. Run out and buy some ;-) [Ridge’s ATP program isn’t always limited to Rhone wines and small lot Zinfandel. A wide variety of other... varieties have been included, such as this Barbera.]


2001 Ridge Syrah Lytton Estate
Medium-plus ruby, leggy. Black plum, ripe red apple, and very slightly leafy on the nose. Black cherry and chocolate flavors with chalky tannins.

2000 Ridge Syrah Lytton Estate
Medium-plus ruby going garnet with cigar box, moist wood, black plum, and cherry scents. Medium-plus body, tastes like leather, chocolate, and black cherry.

1999 Ridge Syrah Lytton Estate
Dark ruby. The nose is earth, graphite, fall leaves and black cherry. Medium-plus body, black plum, sweet cocoa and kalamata olive.

1997 Ridge Syrah Lytton Estate
Dry leaves and black olive on the nose. Medium-plus body, chalky, black olive, thick black fruit and licorice flavors. Super good. Or better. This was the favorite wine of most attendees.

Summing Up

For the most part, Ridge Vineyards flies under the radar with their Rhone varietal wines. Ridge has less than 7 acres of Syrah planted and not a lot of Grenache either. That doesn't allow for high volumes. And Ridge doesn’t make unctuous, heavily-oaked, high-alcohol Rhones as some cult wineries have. Nor does the location of the Lytton Estate vineyards lend itself to the super-cool climate wines which get so much press these days. However, much like Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, the Ridge Vineyards’ Rhone varietal wines are flavorful, interesting, balanced, varietally-correct and long-lived. That’s why I have them in my cellar. If you have a chance to try some yourself, or have already done so, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Further Reading

Here is coverage by the host and organizer, Christopher Watkins of Ridge: Scenes from a Wine Blogger Tasting

Also check out the articles posted thus far by my fellow writers:
Amy B. Cleary, Lytton Springs Tasting
Marcy Gordon, The Ridge Master Class: Wine Blogger Tasting Series 2011
Martin D. Redmond, Fall 2011 Ridge Wine Blogger Tasting – Lytton Estate Rhones And A Surprise!

Here are the other bloggers that attended:
Alison Smith
Chiara Shannon
Dave Tong
Deb Kravitz
Joe Manekin
Richard Jennings
Thea Dwelle

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