(Geyserville Vineyard, Sonoma County)
(Prima Vini - Walnut Creek, $32.97)
With the distinguished Paul Draper at the helm since 1969, Ridge Vineyards is synonymous with the production of "single-site," "vineyard-designated," old vine Zinfandel. A majority of Ridge's portfolio is dedicated to this multifaceted grape. Mr. Draper works exclusively with vineyards which produce fruit that combine varietal purity with a singular sense of place ("terrior"). The Geyserville Vineyard, with its gravelly loam soil and head trained vines (most are in excess of 40 years old; oldest, 120 years), has been a mainstay in Ridge's repertoire dating back to 1966.
Primarily relegated to the production of cheap, dreadful jug wine for over two decades starting in the 1960s, Zinfandel is now a media and consumer darling. This transformation from "no-name" to "rock star" is no more evident than at annual tastings such as the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival or the elbow-to-elbow, palate numbing, teeth-staining experience that is San Francisco's multi-day ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Festival.
The 2005 growing season in greater Sonoma County coincided with much higher than average rainfall. In addition to the early summer rains, average daily summer temperatures were warm, but not hot. As a result, one may expect this wine's color profile to be somewhat diluted or pale. To the contrary, its opulent shades of red, ruby, garnet and purple are remarkable.
Having aged a whopping 14 months in 100 percent American oak barrels (20 percent new), this Zinfandel inundates the nose and palate with soft wood tannins. The barrels contribute an omnipresent oak bouquet. Flavors range from austere red fruit jam to creamy vanilla to sweet smoke and spice.
Considering the burly blend is 77 percent Zinfandel, 17 percent Carignane and 6 percent Petite Sirah, I am disappointed in the excessive role American oak manages to play and the subsequent masking of the vastly more interesting fruit expressions. Yes, it's a pretty wine. All the same, it's a bit monotonous and short on Zinfandel's essential oomph and youthful spirit.
The raspberry-vanilla finish is marvelous, moderate in length and very elegant. This is the wine's strong suit.
Pull the cork and drink this Zinfandel now! Cellaring will not be of much benefit. Serve it with a platter of mild Italian sausages, sauteed onions and peppers, accompanied by grilled polenta topped with a thick wild mushroom ragu.
Let your palate be the judge...
Have comments or questions about wine? Gregory Peebles, wine industry professional and East Bay resident, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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