High on a Ridge (again)

It’s another day on top of the mountain here, and the sun is shining at last.  It’s clear, and we can see San Jose and even a bit of San Francisco in the distance.  It’s time for a visit to Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino!

We start our tasting with the  2009 Estate Chardonnay, which is aged in a mish mash of barrels from new to 4 year old American and French oak.  I found creamy vanilla custard, spicy oak, and lemon flavors with a healthy dose of tropical fruit.  This blend is harvested and vinified separately, and then finalized after a blind tasting of each component is done to determine the possible blends that could be made.  Most of the contents of this blend come from the Jimson Ranch vineyard which is at about 1500 feet elevation, giving the wine a lot of minerality and acidity.

Next up, the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  I loved this cab because it was racy and had some nice acidity.  The wild yeast fermentation shows a ton of mineral flavors with dusty sandlewood finish.  There were big black and blue fruit flavors, with plum and rich figs with juicy cherries on the palate.  It was rich without being overblown, a total winner in my book.

The 2009 Geyserville Zinfandel is the 44th vintage of this wine, which makes it the longest continuously produced Zinfandel in the state, which, quite frankly with the ever changing wine industry – is quite a feat. Given that our state is known for it’s Italian immigrants and the traditions of Italian field belnds (mostly zin) that they brought over, the Ridge style of zin is a dying art.  The grapes come from properties that are interplanted and dry farmed with wild yeast fermentation and I tasted tradiitonally big blackberry jam, with some black pepper and cherries on top.  I also found some hibiscus zing which gives this 74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouchet, 1% Mataro (Mouvedre, or if you prefer Monastrell) mutt some life and body.

Compared to the 1999 Geyserville, the 09 was tapdancing on American Idol.  The 99 was chewy, dark and earthy witha healthy dose of cigar box to round out the rusticity (this is my new favorite word, and since Christopher loves $20 words….) The 99 is 68% zin, 16% Carignane, 16% Petite Sirah and was chewy and dense.  The fruit is still there after 12 years, but it’s brooding and not bright and zingy – which, is amazing and delicious in an entirely differently way.

The 1985 Monte Belle Cab was a rare treat.  The color is an astounding browning bronze and the nose is rich and caramelized touch of white pepper.  It had quite meaty characteristics, with some floral notes on the palate and a bit of wood on the back end.  THe companion 1995 Monte Bello, a blend of 69% Cab, 18% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot and 3% Cab Franc was a darkly chewy and big wine with black fruit, murky ink, notes of slightly rotten fruit and blueberries.  Lots of twigs and sticks in this one!  The 2005 Monte Bello was big rich fruit on the nose, with chewy leather and tobacco, dusty plum, and cherries jubilee.  It had a nice subtle acidity and I really enjoyed this blend of 70% Cab Sav, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot and 2% Cab Franc.  It was very restrained and well balanced and worked quite well with the cheese we were nibbling on.

And now, for something completely different!  Ridges Rhones require a resounding sense of preposterousicity, or so said our host with the most (wine that is) Christopher Watkins.

The 2004 Lytton Estate Syrah is totally sold out, and totally delicious.  It’s 82% Syrah and is a very small batch wine that is cofermented with 10% Viognier and 8% Grenache blended in for good measure.  It has a flavor or a rich baked fruit pie, and is teeth coatingly purple.  Lots of acid on this one.  The 2006 Lytton Estate was funky cigar box with its 92% syrah and 8% Viognier.  The viognier balanced out the syrah nicely and lit up the dark and brooding beast.  The additional aromatics of the viognier gave some juicy white floral notes to the syrah as well.

As you can see, it was another marathon Ridge tasting, which we all enjoyed very much.

Thanks Chris for the great table settings and words of ponderment!

I look forward to our next quarterly tasting soon.

On top of the world, looking down on…

Silicon Valley?  Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge.  Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge.  At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are.  Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill.

On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property.  Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded.  It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance.  Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager.  Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive.

Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay.   Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but  this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years.  I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel.  It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd.  this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard.

Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay.  this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity.  It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences.

Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge.  First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.  The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food.  We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco.  This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine.  It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines.  This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering and jam packed with berries.

The 2008 Geyserville is a blend of 72% zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, and 2% Mataro (Mouvedre).  it had a sweeter edge of big blackberries with a smoky backbone that I attribute to the Mataro, with flavors of raspberries and figs blended in a brambly pie with a faint hint of cedear.  The 2007 vintage, which is the current release, is 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah and 2% Mataro, which made for a chocolate blackberry pie with brandied blackberries and coffee, followed by molasses and bittersweet cocoa over stewed fruit.  Each one of these blends is hand selected from a field blend, parcel by parcel, and depending on the best of the crop for a given vintage, the blend can change significantly.  Wine after all is half science, half dream, and half magic.

Lytton Springs, which is next door to Geyserville, showed less fruit and more structure in the 2008 blend of 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane.  It was quite spicy with raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.  The 2007 was much jammier, with black fruit, dried figs, and earth.  I found it a touch hot, but that soon blew off.  The 2007 blend was 71% Zin, 22% Petite Sirah, and 7% Carignane.

After meandering through the zinfandel country, it was time to get to the big boys of cab, which started it all for Monte Bello.  First, the 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cab, which is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot.  It is not yet released, and was quite chewy and dense with scents of lavender and leather.  The 2006 is 56% Cabernet, 42% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot, and had coffee notes adn an herbaceousness that the 2007 did not.

Finally we worked through several of the Monte Bello Cabs.  Two of my favorites were the 2006, wtih 68% Cabernet Sauvigon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  I found chocolate coverted cherreis, bright fruit, and dusty cocoa and really enjoyed it.  The 2005 was also a favorite, with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  It had a dusty earth cover, with blueberreis and blackberries, covered with instant coffee.  It was a very low yield in 2005, and this wine was muscular and lean.

As you can see, we did some serious damage to the Monte Bello libarry and I would like to thank Christopher for his hospitality and humor as we tasted some of these amazing wines!  Next up…who knows?

A great Chance!

Shhh!  A little Hummingbird told me that Clos La Chance is having a secret sale.

That’s right, these lovely wines are having a holiday HALF OFF sale!  That means that if you haven’t had the Chance to try the Clos, now is a great opportunity.  I have had several of the Hummingbird series of wines, which are a great value for some lovely wine.  I’ll probably buy a mixed case to have on hand, because $16 for Santa Cruz Mtn pinot is an offer you just can’t pass up.

Here is a full list of what is on sale with the full price first, and the sale price after.  These are the winery notes, since I haven’t tasted most of these before but with added commentary for your reading pleasure.

The sales starts FRIDAY the 13th – appropriately enough, and you can buy online or at thier San Martin tasting room until Sunday 11/15.

2006 Violet Crowded Merlot
Aromas of black plum and black cherry fruit with elements of smoke and vanilla along with violets and red licorice. Balanced flavors of raspberry and plum fruit combined with dried sage and sweet herb. Finishes with notes of wild cherry and tobacco. $18/9

2006 Late Harvest Semillon – Nectar 375mL (half bottle)
This would be an amazing wine to have at your Thanksgiving table with dessert. A beautiful yellow gold color that will darken with bottle age. Made in the Sauternesstyle with botrytized grapes. Rich aromas of orange peels, honey, almonds and apricots. The flavors of dried peach, apricot, honey and toasty almonds are perfectly balanced with a natural sweetness and acidity. $19/8

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Aromas of sweet, scented pear and ripe Granny Smith apples. hints of tropical fruit with a touch of baking spices, hazelnut, and graham crackers. A faint floral aroma along with a touch of wet stones. The rich flavors of ripe white peaches dominates the mouth, along with a hint of juicy pear and tropical fruits that linger mid-palate. The finish is smooth, with traces of nutmeg and vanilla. $22/11

2005 Honduran-Emerald Meritage
Aromas of warm blackberry cobbler with currant, black plum, resh earth, herb, cedar and a hint of anise. Flavors of black cherry, blackberry, plum, mocha, spice and mineral with rips, firm tannin on the finish.  I have had the sister of this wine, the 2007 Crimson Topaz Meritage, and if this wine is any where near as good, it will be excellent with a killer QPR.  $25/12.50

2006 Late Harvest Zinfandel
Dark ruby-purple color with a rich viscosity when swirled around in my glass. Aromas of dried cranberries, powdered cocoa, strawberry syrup, vanilla and a hint of mint. A slight floral component−lavender. Flavors of vanilla and caramel open up to dark fruits. Plums and blackberries. Nuts and Zinfandel pepper on the finish.  $25/12.50

NV Zinfandel Port
Dark and rich. Aromas of dark chocolate, cherries, figs, brown sugar and baking spices. A slight floral note. Stewed cherries and milky chocolate, vanilla and jammy plum flavors. The higher alcohol balances well with the residual sugars. Long, velvety finish with a hint of white pepper.  Need I say more? Zin port? NOM! Pair this with some s’mores or sip in front of the fire.  $25/12.50

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Ripe strawberry, raspberry and cherry-cola aromas lead to hints of vanilla, brown sugar, nutmeg and cream. Flavors of boysenberry, cherry and cranberry fruit with spice, minerals and earth.  I would love to try this wine, and at $16 I surely will.  $32/16

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Bright garnet color with aromas of fresh strawberries, cinnamon, spice and a touch of vanilla. An earthy tone, with a hint of mushroom. The flavors of strawberries carry through, with crème frâiche and notes of coffee and cola. Bright acid and with soft, yet firm tannins. This is a wine that will lay down and age beautifully for 10 years minimum.  An intense minerality that is so classic Santa Cruz Mountains rounds out this very balanced, cool climate Pinot Noir. Will pair nicely with lamb, salmon with balsamic sauce and deep fried turkey.  Ripe strawberry, raspberry and cherry-cola aromas lead to hints of vanilla, brown sugar, nutmeg and cream. Flavors of boysenberry, cherry and cranberry fruit with spice, minerals and earth.  This would be a winning Thanksgiving wine as well. $32/16

2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
A big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon. Incredible complexity due to extensive barrel and bottle aging. Dark blackberry aromas with vanilla and classic Cabernet eucalyptus. Flavors of cassis, plum and blackberries dominate throughout the palate and into the long, smooth finish. $35/17.50

2005 Estate Syrah
Smoky aromas of plums, cocoa and an underlying “meaty” flavor. Plums and dried cherry fruits dominate the palate, with hints of bittersweet chocolate and molé. A smooth velvety, long finish. $35/17.50

2006 Estate Petite Sirah
Inky, dark opaque purple with a ruby rim. Rich chocolate, plums and blackberries on the nose, with raspberries, vanilla and spice. This is a wine not for the faint of heart. Big fruit is balanced by chewy tannins and a healthy dose of acid. The fruit stands out−baked blackberries and a little blueberry. A spicy finish. This wine begs for rich, hearty meals. Try it with a lasagna or steak au poivre. $35/17.50

2006 Estate Zinfandel
Ripe, full-bodied and powerful, this is a big Zinfandel. The alcohol level is 16%; however, due to excellent weather conditions throughout the picking period of the 2006 vintage, we were able to extend hang-time and balance the fruit flavors with the higher alcohol level, and the heat is balanced with the bright fruit. Sweet raspberries on the nose, ripe plums and figs, along with a cinnamon spice. Dried cherries and raspberries on the palate, hints of cocoa and a rosemary. The finish is long and smooth, and I get a touch of the vanilla at the very end, from the oak ageing.  $35/17.50

2005 Lila’s Cuvee, Rhône Style Blend
Elegant and balanced. Aromas of cherries and stewed strawberries. A slight smoky vanilla component. Flavors of dried cherries and rich berry jam. The finish is velvety and viscous. $50/25

2005 Special Select Series Meritage
A beautiful, deep ruby red. Aromas of ripe black cherries, anise, tobacco and clove/cinnamon spice. A hint of sweet vanilla and rosemary. Dried cherries and licorice on the entry with a lush blackberry dominating the mid-palate. Tannins and acid are both very prevalent, yet balanced, which makes this a beautiful wine with food. The finish is long, with hints of currants and again the rosemary. $50/25

2005 Whitestone Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
A big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon. Incredible complexity due to extensive barrel and bottle aging. Dark blackberry aromas with vanilla and classic Cabernet eucalyptus. Flavors of cassis, plum and blackberries dominate throughout the palate and into the long, smooth finish. $50/25

Case Special 2006 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay
Aromas of sweet, scented pear and ripe Granny Smith apples. hints of tropical fruit with a touch of baking spices, hazelnut, and graham crackers. A faint floral aroma along with a touch of wet stones. The rich flavors of ripe white peaches dominates the mouth, along with a hint of juicy pear and tropical fruits that linger mid-palate. The finish is smooth, with traces of nutmeg and vanilla. $198/99

No one asked me to write this post and I am not getting wine in return.  No Hummingbirds, real or imagined, were intoxicated during this event either.  I just like good values and good wine.

Happy drinking!