I was the guest at a very special lunch with Ridge winemaker Paul Draper. Paul had forgone his traditional Thanksgiving turkey to spend time with a dozen or so independent wine retailers to walk us through the production of this most famous of American producers. As someone who had been at Ridge since 1969, Paul Draper is an encyclopaedic authority on the property itself and on the evolution of Californian wine making techniques over four decades.
Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay 2006 was a great way to kick off. This is one of the estate’s flagship wines, produced since 1962 from vines planted in the 1940s. Paul felt that the wine was still a little closed but I thought it presented quite beautifully. The nose is fairly tight, but through the slate and chalky aromas I detected little hints of lemon zest, honey and white flowers. The palate is dense and full-bodied, with wonderfully pure fruit through the mid palate. The finish is pleasantly steely and firm. A great start (93 points).
The Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay 1999 was a bit more of an enigma. Darkish yellow in colour, the nose was distinctly un-fruity – more nutty in fact, with suggestions of honeycomb and creosote. I found the wine a little sulky at this time. It was quite austere with the fruit much less evident than in the younger vintage. I had hoped for a little more. Maybe just my palate (87 points).
Then it was quickly on to a flight of three Santa Cruz red blends. Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet 2006 has a plumy and quite primary nose of very juicy smelling red fruits. Little hints of liquorice too. The palate was similarly crunchy and quite exuberant. At this stage the tannins offer plenty of spicy backbone to the wine. It is quite fiery really. Decent length to the finish (89 points). Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet 2005 had a little more liqueur-like character and was more softer and more gentle. The oak seems better integrated and better woven into the fabric of the wine. This was a really successful blend, with a finish which exceeded the 2006 (91.5 points). Stepping back a little further, we sampled the Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet 2002. The nose here was spicier with enticing sweet bracken aromas. It was less liqueur-like than the 2005. It had decent density and concentration on the mid palate, but seemed to lack a little of the punch of both the 2005 and 2006 (88 points).
We then moved on to sample Ridge Geyserville 2007 and Ridge Lytton Springs 2007 vintages side by side. These two benchmark Ridge vineyards are similar sized (although Lytton Springs is a little bigger and higher). Paul explained some of the interesting nuances which underpin the quality of these two world renowned vineyards: new oak can easily dominate the Zinfandel grape and hence is restricted to no more than 25%. And the 130 year old Carignan vines which are planted at Geyserville add natural acidity and complexity to the blend. Paul also believes that Zinfandel vines must be at least 60 years old to produce properly ripe fruit at under 14% ABV. Ridge Geyserville 2007 has a fluffy, plumy/blueberry nose. This is a lovely fresh wine, characterised by fully ripe blueberry fruit and quite delicately perfumed. Certainly fully ripe and delicately perfumed. The finish is quite spicy and perhaps just a touch ragged at this moment in its evolution. Not yet the finesse which will probably develop later, but a fruity and very moreish slurp nonetheless (89 points).
Ridge Lytton Springs 2007 offers smokier and blacker fruit than the Geyserville 2007. The palate is more harmonious and rounded. At this stage it comes across as more successful. The palate has more complexity and it is more together around the finish. Overall the wine presents super smoky black fruity backed by a pleasing spiciness (90 points).
We then had the privilege of sampling the Ridge Monte Bello 2006. The nose had something distinctively noble about it. It is quite restrained and tightly woven, not expressing a lot at this stage, and certainly not preparing you for the palate experience. In the mouth the wine is pure, concentrated and just beautiful. A stunning success and illustrating very clearly what this terroir is capable of.