New Ridge Releases
New releases from Ridge are always a treat as this is one winery that only produces gorgeous balanced food friendly wines that can be consumed young and also can age effortlessly for many years. Here is the introduction from my last Ridge article on the fall 2016 releases and ingredient labeling (to read the entire article click here ).
When it comes to Ridge Vineyards it is easy to get carried away. For as long as I have been involved in wine, Ridge has been very special. For nearly 50 years I have been buying, drinking, and cellaring Ridge wines. I drink them often and have more Ridge wines in my cellar than any other wine. That pretty well sums it up.
The new Ridge releases include 2015 Chardonnay Estate, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, 2014 Merlot Estate, 2015 Zinfandel Paso Robles, 2015 Zinfandel East Bench, and 2015 Geyserville 50th Vintage. And, yes they are all wonderful. My notes follow:
The Ridge Estate wines are made from grapes grown on estate parcels of the Monte Bello vineyard and are consistently outstanding and very good relative values. The current releases are no exception.
2015 Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay Estate
The production of this wine is 1700 cases. With a light yellow color showing a faint golden hue this Chardonnay has a great complex perfume with hints of melon and citrus intermingled with a faint exotic quality. Beautifully balanced the fruit is very pure with a nice underlying crispness and a citrus tinge on the finish. A delicious fruit driven Chardonnay with tinges of citrus and lots of youthful appeal, a few years bottle age will yield a roundness and balanced richness – Outstanding Plus. $55
2014 Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate
The production of this wine is 6000 cases. It is made with 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 4% Cabernet Franc. Dark in color with a deep cassis tinged perfume accented by spice tinges this Cabernet is quite rich and full with well integrated soft tannins. The berry fruit is very pure with faint cedar and spice undertones. Beautifully balanced, this Cabernet drinks very well now but will improve with 5 or more years bottle age – Outstanding/Outstanding Plus Potential. $60
2014 Ridge Vineyards Merlot Estate
The production of this wine is 1700 cases. It is 100% Merlot and has a dark color and a lovely perfume with hints of plums and blackberries accented by floral spice undertones. Rounded, soft and supple with lots of fruit, this Merlot is beautifully balanced with a lot of early charm. The balance of the fruit makes the wine very attractive to drink now, but additional bottle age will reveal further complexity – Outstanding/ Outstanding Plus Potential. $55
2015 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles
This wine is made from the historic Dusi Ranch Zinfandel vineyard in Paso Robles. Ridge’s first wine from Dusi Ranch was in 1967. The vines here are all Zinfandel and over 85 years old. Today the vineyard is farmed by the second generation of the Dusi family. This is yet another great example of the long term benefits of a coordinated effort between the farmers and the wine makers. The old Zinfandels from Paso Robles are legendary. But a lot of the old vineyards disappeared during prohibition. Dusi is one of the survivors. The wines are characteristically very rich and intense.
The production of this wine is 2000 cases. The color is dark and the wine has a deep plum like perfume with faint chocolate and spice nuances. Lush and rounded with well integrated soft underlying tannins this Zinfandel is loaded with fruit. Plums and blackberries are intermingled with tinges of spice and a faint cedary tinge. This is a very refined, complex, flavorful, and balanced wine that should rank with the very best of the Dusi Ranch Zinfandels – Outstanding Plus. $35
2015 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel East Bench
This is the 10th vintage for this wine which has been made as a single-site Zinfandel since 2006. The estate owned vineyards are situated on the high bench land that overlooks the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma from the east.
The production of the wine is 5000 cases. It has a dark color and a lovely berry tinged perfume with floral, briary, spice nuances. With lots of very pure berry fruit there are faintly floral, spicy, briary flavors that are beautifully expressed in a claret style. All in all, this is a really lovely expressive and charming Zinfandel – Outstanding. $32
2015 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville “Geyserville 50th Vintage”
Just recently Ridge was able to buy this vineyard from the owners who have been selling the fruit to Ridge for all these years. The average age of vines here is about 50 years with the oldest vines more than 125 years old. The vineyard is mostly Zinfandel with some Carignane and lesser amounts of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouchet, and Mataro. Geyserville is consistently a gorgeous wine that will keep for decades. This 50th vintage bottling is no exception. And, if I were to choose one great red California wine that year in and year out delivers the best bang for the buck Geyserville would be at the top of my list.
The production of this wine is 9000 cases. It is made with 70% Zinfandel, 15% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah, and 3% Alicante Bouchet. This is what Eric Braugher had to say about this wine on the back label: …Thirty- seven lots fermented separately, producing superb quality. A rigorous selection narrowed the assemblage to thirty- one for our fiftieth anniversary vintage . This sensuous wine came together beautifully during barrel aging. It will develop fully within the next 20 years. Dark in color this Geyserville has a deep complex perfume with a myriad of black fruits showing faint spice and cedar tinges. On the palate there is great intense fruit that is harmonious and balanced with great underlying structure and soft tannins. Over time more complexities will evolve and the fruit will persist. This is a great Geyserville in the making. All it needs is more bottle age. Although delicious now for the fruit, patience here will be well rewarded – Outstanding Plus. $40
A Special Charity Event Featuring Ridge Wines
Recently I was honored to have Eric Braugher, Montebello Winemaker and COO, and his wife Mary at our house. The occasion was Eric’s presentation of Ridge wines to the annual Hillside House fundraising event. Founded in 1945, Hillside House is a non profit residential facility for people with developmental disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, autism and epilepsy. The annual fundraising event is a Sunset Soiree dinner held at the fabulous historic El Mirador estate in Montecito, CA.
For the last few years I have been presenting different wines at this event. This year it was very special to have Eric. This year’s event was entitled “California Dreaming” and it was a roaring success. The Ridge wines and Eric’s commentary were great and the food by Jamie West and Omni Catering & Events was also great.
The wine and food complemented each other perfectly in an absolutely stunning setting with perfect weather. The program for the event is shown below:
Great Old Ridge Wines From My Cellar
Prior to the arrival of Eric and Mary I lined up ten old Ridge wines from my cellar. All the wines I purchased on release. Later, after the event, I asked Eric to pick three for us to try. Here is the line-up I selected: 1967 Ridge California Cabernet Sauvignon, 1970 Ridge California Cabernet Sauvignon, 1974 Ridge California Merlot Monte Bello, 1974 Ridge Monte Bello Ruby Cabernet, 1977 Ridge California Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello, 1992 Ridge California Zinfandel Jimsomare ATP, 1995 Ridge California Geyserville, 1997 Ridge California Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare ATP, 1997 Ridge California Zinfandel Jimsomare ATP, and 1998 Ridge California Geyserville. Below are the wines Eric selected along with my tasting notes:
It is interesting to note that from the very beginning Ridge was very outspoken about how they made their wines. In addition to information about the wine on the back label the early bottlings also featured this statement on the back label: Ridge wine is made with an emphasis on quality and naturalness that is rarely attempted. Our grapes are grown in select vineyards (usually identified on the label), where they are left to ripen to peak maturity, often at some loss in quantity. We let the wine settle and age in small barrels, with only rare cellar treatment other than racking. Varieties are not blended unless so indicated on the label. Near Black Mountain on Monte Bello Ridge, is 10 miles south of Palo Alto, 15 miles inland from the ocean, and over 2000 feet in elevation. For requesting information on ordering wines or visiting the winery for tasting, please send us a note or call (408) 867-3233.
1970 Ridge California Cabernet Sauvignon
Made just after Paul Draper arrived at Ridge, here is what Paul had to say about this wine on the back label: The grapes grown on Monte Bello Ridge in 1970 were in the tradition of the big years (e.g. ‘64, ’68) of the last decade. By completing malolactic fermentation immediately following the harvest and by effecting a racking schedule along Bordeaux lines, we produced a wine that has Monte Bello’s richness and depth yet is softer in style. It could be ready to try in two years, though it will continue to develop and show its vigor some twenty years hence.
At nearly 50 years if age this is simply an amazing wine. Dark in color with a very slight amber tinge the wine has a stunning perfume with hints of cassis intermingled with cedar and spice nuances. Very supple and expressive with lovely cedar tinged cassis fruit combined with a faint spiciness, the wine is rich, full, and rounded with lots of intensity and depth. It is also beautifully balanced with impressive length on the palate and retains a great sense of harmony and elegance. The first night we drank about half the bottle. Over the next three nights I revisited the wine pouring a glass each night. Amazing! My notes were very consistent and the wine did not fade! No question, this is an absolutely stunning wine. It is a classic California Cabernet Sauvignon that is at a peak now, but I would not be surprised if well stored bottles like this one would not stay on this plateau for a decade or more into the future – Extraordinary Plus.
1974 Ridge California Merlot Monte Bello
Made with 51% Merlot and 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, here is what Paul Draper said about this wine on the back label: The young Merlot vines at our 2600 foot vineyard on Monte Bello Ridge gave us their first crop in 1974. This tiny yield was blended at crush with a near equal amount of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in order to fill our smallest fermenter. Although held on the skins longer than our regular Cabernet, the roundness and varietal character of the Merlot are evident. This lovely wine will be enjoyable next fall but should really be laid down for five years.
This is another remarkable wine. Made mostly with fruit from the first crop of Merlot on Monte Bello from vines planted in 1968, this plot today produces three barrels of wine which is blended into the Monte Bello. Paul’s assessment to lay the wine down for five years was comfortably exceeded. Dark in color with and amber tinge the wine has a deep cassis perfume with floral notes and a distinct cedary quality. On the palate it is silky and lush with tremendous fruit showing a faint exotic tinge. Cedar and spice nuances add to the complexity and the wine is very expressive with a lot of charm and a long finish. Once again, I tasted the remaining wine in the bottle over the next three nights. And, like the Cabernet, the wine did not fade. Again, this is amazing and I would hazard a guess that this wine will remain on this plateau for many years into the future – Extraordinary.
1992 Ridge California Zinfandel Jimsomare ATP
In later years Ridge would change the message on the back label to talk more about how the wine is made. Here is that message on the back label of this wine: Since 1962 Ridge has championed single-vineyard winemaking, exploring California in search of great vineyards where climate, soil, and varietal are perfectly matched. Unlike other alcoholic beverages, fine wine when made traditionally, is the result of a natural process. Using traditional methods and minimal handling, we strive to produce the highest quality wines from superior and distinctive fruit. We are proud that our three decades are an integral part of California’s winemaking history. For information on the wines, or visiting us at our Monte Bello (Santa Cruz Mountains) or Lytton Springs (Sonoma County) wineries, call (408) 867 3233.
And here is what Paul Draper had to say about this 1992 Jimsomare Zinfandel on the back label:
In the mid-1960’s Elmano Homem, Jimsomare’s manager, began reclamation of the ranch’s long abandoned 19th-century Zinfandel vines. By harvest 1967, they set a small crop which Dave Bennion bought for Ridge. We continue to make these few barrels each year. With bottle age, Jimsomare Zinfandel’s change more than most, shedding youthful fruit while developing definition and austerity. This wine is ripe, spicy, and quite accessible – showing the firm acid of its cool-climate fruit. It will be at its best over the next five to seven years. PD (3/94)
There were 625 cases of this wine produced which were sold direct to consumers through the Advance Tasting Program – ATP. (The ATP features selected bottlings of smaller production wines such as this Jimsomare Zinfandel). Today this vineyard only produces an average of 50 cases a year. At 25 years of age this 1992 Jimsomare is amazing. The acidity in Jimsomare Zinfandel preserves the wine and yields a marvelous balance and purity with age. Dark in color with a faint amber edge this wine has a gorgeous perfume with great blackberry and plum fruit with a jam-like tinge and a faint underlying exotic quality. On the palate the fruit is very harmonious, expressive, and pure. The wine is beautifully balanced and there is a distinct freshness to the fruit which is accented by a faint exotic undertone and a faint briary nuance. Like the Cabernet and Merlot I tasted this wine over three nights as well. It also did not fade. My guess is that another decade or two of aging is certainly possible. This is a truly remarkable Zinfandel – Extraordinary.
These are absolutely amazing old wines. And the history of Ridge from the 1960s includes a very large number of great wines that have stood the test of time and are great today. There is no question in my mind that, along with grapes harvested from great vineyards, the traditional methods used at Ridge are the secret to making wines that will stand the test of time. Originally founded in the late 1880s, the modern Ridge history from the 1960s was started by new owners Dave Bennion and his three partners, all Stanford Research Institute engineers, who made wines with minimal intervention. The first commercial vintage was 1962. Then in 1969, Paul Draper joined the partnership. A Stanford graduate in philosophy, recently returned from setting up a winery in Chile’s coast range, Paul was a practical winemaker, not an enologist. His knowledge of fine wines and traditional methods complemented the straightforward “hands off” approach pioneered at Ridge. It was Paul who established Ridge as a name synonymous with quality and traditional wine making. Under his direction Ridge produced some of the greatest wines ever made in California (to read Paul’s history click here ).
In 2016 Paul officially retired. But, for the last 10 years or so of Paul’s tenure the winemaking was largely the responsibility of Eric Braugher at Monte Bello and John Olney at Lytton Springs. And, a few years before his retirement, Paul would leave another legacy by listing ingredients on the back label of all Ridge wines (to read about ingredient labeling and why it is important click here ). This listing of each ingredient used in making each wine continues the long trend of transparency in labeling that Ridge has used from the very beginning. This is something that is totally unique to Ridge (a photo of the back label from the 2015 Estate Chardonnay is shown below).
Here’s to Ridge! Without question Ridge wines should be included in the cellar of everyone who enjoys drinking great old wines. And, yes, Ridge wines are delicious at a young age as well!