At my house, we love both zin and BBQ, and enjoy both often, so the only question around here was which zinfandel and what shall we BBQ?
Both questions were answered simply. For grilling, I found a beautiful, thick porterhouse steak on sale at Vons which we enjoyed with fire roasted CSA corn and new potatoes cooked with lots of garlic and rosemary. We also had a lively tomato/basil/garlic bruschetta with toasted sourdough.
When I think zin, I think Ridge.
Afterall, that’s where I cut my wine teeth when I worked the tasting room up on Monetbello Ridge back in my early 20s. I did consider opening something else–in the cellar up at my mom’s house I have a few zins to choose from including a Glaymond from Australia which I bought on Dan Phillips recommendation at a Grateful Palate warehouse sale that I’ve been looking forward to trying on the right occasion.
But I didn’t get a chance to peruse the wine cellar and so happily I went for the classic 2006 Ridge Lytton Spring Dry Creek Valley because I had a bottle here. I’m also thrilled that it’s organic even though they don’t brag about it.
I believe you should always have a bottle of Ridge zinfandel at home. No home should be without one!
Now before I get to talking about that bottle of Ridge wine and the grilling, I want to say something about zinfandel. And about Ridge:
Though born in the early sixties to the post-Prohibition world of modern California winemaking, Ridge relies on nature and tradition rather than technology. Our approach is straightforward: find intense, flavorful grapes; intrude upon the process only when necessary; draw the fruit’s distinctive character and richness into the wine.
Most people by now know the story of how some California wines showed strongly against the French thanks to the recent movie Bottleshock (and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should! It’s a really good which you can enjoy whether you’re into wine or not. If you are into wine, you might just want to buy a copy–it’s only $15. It’s cast really well with strong acting and the vineyard shots are gorgeous, too).
And that’s an impressive story–how Ridge’s Montebello Cab Sauv raised eyebrows and changed the wine world that day.
But the story about Ridge that moves me most is how a bunch of wine enthusiasts banded together to make wine and buy a winery. They figured since they were scientists and into experimenting, they’d buy a bunch of this grape juice that no one was interested in– a grape juice called “zinfandel.” And instead of blending it all together, why not make a bunch of small lots and see what they tasted like and how they might be different?
At least this is the version of the story I heard from the owners of Ridge when they enticed me to leave Peet’s coffee in Menlo Park and come work for them in their tasting room on Saturdays. And this is the version I remember because I love the romance of it, the story of passion and curiousity, of turning something that had little value and showing the world what it’s worth. It’s a great story and would make a wonderful movie (are you listening, Marc Lhormer of Zin Haze, producer of Bottleshock?)
It seems to me that if Ridge hadn’t gone out on a limb there and made wonderful, wild, wacky zin and exposed this fabulous grape to the wine drinkers of the west and the world, that much of the old growth zin would have been yanked out and replanted when all anybody want to drink was cab cab and more cab (and maybe merlot and chardonnay).
I loved trying and tasting all the various vineyards of Ridge zinfandel back then, and I still do. In fact, last year after the Wine Bloggers Conference, I came home with quite a selection of Dry Creek Valley zins and proceeded to host a tasting. We tried the wines with crackers then with a dinner of spaghetti and red meat sauce from Ferraros. Here’s a rundown of our tasting notes from that night:
Bella Vineyard and Wine Caves: 2006 100% DCV zin, 15% alcohol $35.
Smoke right away (tar?), dark cherry, blackberry, smooth and silky yet “jazzy.” Hangs around.
Copain 2003 Arrowhead Mountain Zin 14.8
Smoother, a little smoke like smoked salmon, barn, leather, hay, thick.
Dutcher Crossing 2006 Maple Vineyard DCV 91% Zin, 9% Petit Sirah; old vines 14.8%
I was reminded right away of the light rose raspberry currant spice of carnation vanilla natural perfumed scent of an old beautiful elegant refined woman smiling, and I couldn’t shake her. Maybe it was the time of year, here on the heels of Halloween, but I couldn’t help but like her and want to know her better. (Jock’s favorite–he worked as a sommelier at the Ranch House in Ojai 30 years ago…)
Mauritson 2005 Growers Reserve DCV Zin 15.5
Very fruity, muddy, hard to taste after the Dutcher
Mauritson 2006 DCV Zin Rockpile Ridge 15.5
Clear sense of cherry, bramble
Fritz 2006 14.6% DCV Zin
Butterscotch, black fruit, hay, leather. Lots going on.
Pedroncelli 2006 14.6%
This wine went really really well with dinner! Very satisfying and pleasurable! Easy going yet meaty and smooth.
Talty 2005 Zin Estate 15.0%
I remember really liking this one: peppery, complex, intriguing, a conversation starter of a wine
And given a choice for which wine I wanted “tattooed” –I chose zin! Some of the Sonoma County zins I tasted and enjoyed this year at the Wine Bloggers Conference include:
Teresina 2007 McLeod Family Vineyard (14.9) Surprised me with strong notes of rich chocolate, and chocolate covered dried fruits, and with how much I enjoyed it!
Joseph Swann Mancini Ranch 2005 Russian River Valley (13.9) Pleasure in a bottle–I felt like I could drink this day and night and never get tired of it. This is a zin drinkers classic zin and it was a very popular zin at the WBC tasting Friday night.
Rued 2005 Dry Creek (15.8) Don’t let the monster alcohol scare you on this one–there’s more going on than just heat, but you’re not going to get it if the wine isn’t “cellar” temperature (not room temperature!) At the WBC tasting, the day and the wine was just too hot for this one to shine. As I was able to take an almost full open bottle home, I cooled it off enough to enjoy it.
So back to Ridge–and Wine Blogging Wednesday #60: BBQ & zin.
Now to be honest, while we’re big on BBQ, I’m not hip to the sauce, which I think is part of Sonadora’s original concept for this prompt. We’ve found we like to drink zin with tri-tip, without sauce in my case but often intensely marinated.
What we like best with a porterhouse steak–which is what we grilled for this prompt– is a cab or a cab-syrah blend. For filet mignon, I’m going syrah where the Big Monkey really likes the cab-syrahs. So in addition to the Ridge Lytton Springs 2006, we tried a cab-syrah-sirah blend, Tytanium Ty Caton which I brought home from WBC and had stored in the fridge.
At first, the Tytanium didn’t show well at all: it had been opened at the WBC, then a few days later gassed, then kept cold. Other wines I tasted the day it was gassed were more interesting, which didn’t mean that it wasn’t great, just that the others overwhelmed it. I was surprised at how long it took to warm up–in fact, we were just about done with dinner before it offered much in the way of character.
On the other hand, the Ridge Lytton Springs (14.7%) was lively and delightful right from the start, with a bright garnet or even ruby sapphire color, and some rich caramel notes; we fought over the glass. It’s a classic zin with some bramble, some earth, some tobacco, some spice–like the cinnamon and cardamom of a carnation, and some cecil bruner rose. I also got cranberrry going on. I’d tasted a split of this a few weeks ago at the winery; it was smoother, richer, and creamier than this bottle of the same blend of 80% zin, 16% petit sirah, and 4% carignane, so that tells me the direction this will likely go over time in the cellar. Right now, it’s a bit puckery; the wine maker John Olney suggests that it be cellared for up to 10 years. All Ridge wines–while great immediately–can stand to use some time in the cellar. This one stood up well to the garlicky rosemary potatoes, and certainly complemented my filet mignon portion of the porterhouse steak. you can generally find this wine between $22 and $35, and it shows up on wine lists for a reasonable price as well.
Over the evening, the Tytanium opened up and became more complex, engaging, and a downright pleasure that I felt selfish to be enjoying by myself. Super inky in the glass, I’m sure it would have been lovely with the meal also. Would it be a go to wine for me at $75 a bottle? Some time in the cellar would replicate the aging I gave it by opening it and drinking it over time, so it would be good to put down for awhile and see what happens.
Truthfully, I’d be more likely to invest the $75 in a Ridge Montebello cab. But then, as you can tell, I’m a Ridge kinda gal.
Some closing details from the Ridge website:
First RIDGE Lytton Springs: 1972
Location: The bench and hills separating Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, just north of Healdsburg in Sonoma County.
Elevation: 80′ – 160′
Soils: Varied, with a predominance of gravelly clay; gravelly clay loam on hillsides.
Age of vines: Lytton East: 111-year-old zinfandel, petite sirah, grenache, carignane (42 acres).
Lytton West: 48-year-old zinfandel, grenache, carignane (33 acres), 5 to 12-year-old zinfandel, petite sirah, grenache, mataro (27 acres).
Training: Head trained (no trellis), spur pruned.
Yields: 1.5 – 3.0 tons/acre
Climate: Fog in a.m., warm sunny afternoons, breezes in late p.m.
Owner: Ridge Vineyards
Ridge made its first Lytton Springs from the 80- year- old vines here in 1972, and purchased both the eastern and western portions of the vineyard in the early 1990s. (In the 1870s, under “Captain” William Litton’s ownership, the two were part of one property; spelling evolved into “Lytton” by 1903.) The vineyard is planted to zinfandel and its principal complementary varietals: petite sirah, carignane, a small amount of mataro (mourvèdre), and grenache.