The Ridge Lytton Springs zinfandel blend speaks to quality and value in the finest California tradition
The premiumization debate should not obscure the fact that there are expensive wines that deliver value and quality. Perhaps the foremost of those is anything from Ridge, the California producer that has been the watchword of the faith for anyone who believes in value and quality. As evidence, we have the Ridge Lytton Springs.
The Ridge Lytton Springs ($45, purchased, 14.4%) reminds us of everything that is possible with California wine. It speaks to terroir and to Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley and its particular style of earthiness. It speaks to aging – this wine, ready and delicious now, has at least a decade of life in it, when it will become rounder and less ripe and much more interesting.
Best yet, as with all Ridge wines, it shows the rich, ripe style of California, but done with structure and and almost elegance. Look for dark fruit (black cherry? black raspberry?), a wonderfully peppery middle, and one of best uses of oak I’ve tasted in years on the finish. Plus, the tannins are not an afterthought, as with so many zinfandels (even expensive ones), but an integral part of the wine.
This isn’t a swaggering Lodi zinfandel. The fruit and alcohol aren’t piled on for show, like frat boys seeing who can chug the most beer. Rather, the Ridge Lytton Springs is rich and ripe because zinfandel produces rich and ripe wine. And because it’s a blend (four grapes, including some two-thirds zinfandel and one-quarter petite sirah), winemaker John Olney can use the blending process to make the sum greater than the parts.
Highly recommended. I decanted this about a half hour before dinner, which seemed about right. It’s a food wine, but not just red meat. I served it with roasted pork shoulder studded with rosemary and garlic, which worked more than well.
This week’s wine news: Zinfandel icon Kent Rosenblum dies, plus North Dakota wine and a tussle over Italian-style sparkling wine made in Australia
• Kent Rosenblum dies: One of the country’s greatest zinfandel winemakers died last week; the Rosenblum zinfandel, along with Ridge and Ravenswood, paved the way for today’s zinfandel boom. But that was not Kent Rosenblum’s only legacy. He was one of the most humble people I’ve ever met in the wine business. I rode an elevator with Kent, who was a vet long before he was a winemaker, shortly after he sold the company to Diageo in 2008 for $105 million. He was schlepping wine boxes to a trade tasting. “Dr. Rosenblum, I said, “why are you carrying your own boxes? Don’t you have people to do that for you now?” He looked a little sheepish, and said, “Why would I ask anyone else to do this?”
• Bring on North Dakota wine: Researchers in North Dakota want to boost the state’s wine business, in another victory for Drink Local. “”Everyone is interested in expanding our industry in North Dakota for wineries and for tourism,” said one state official. Which, of course, is just what the WC likes to hear. The biggest problem in North Dakota, not surprisingly, is the weather, which is too cold for most wine grapes. But state researchers are working with a variety of cold climate hybrids to find the best for the climate. Currently, the state has 16 wineries.
• How do you say Prosecco in Aussie?Australian bubbly may be one of the sticking points in trade negotiations between their country and the European Union. The Australians sell a wine called Australian Prosecco, which is illegal under European trade rules – the same law that prohibits California producers from calling their wine Champagne under a U.S.- European Union agreement. Why the Australian objection to the name rule for something that’s settled in much of the world? More wine labeled Australian Prosecco is sold in Australia than the Italian kind, and the former don’t want to lose that market.
The Mauritson Rockpile Zinfandel is California zinfandel with an intriguing approach
You never stop learning in this business, and anyone who says differently is either lying or doesn’t understand wine. The Mauritson Rockpile Zinfandel is a red wine from California’s Sonoma Valley that proves the point.
Regular visitors here know that the Wine Curmudgeon prefers subtlety, and that many California wines view subtlety as something to be avoided. But since I am always learning, I took a lesson to heart several years ago judging TexSom. My panel had to judge zinfandel – lots and lots of California zinfandels from throughout the state. Yes, some of them were excessive, but as my colleagues showed me, the best wines were tasty and interesting, even if subtlety wasn’t their reason for being.
Hence the Mauritson Rockpile Zinfandel ($41, sample, 14.75%), a classic example of the Napa style – lots and lots of sweet black fruit, black pepper, a little more sweet black fruit, a dash of oak, and then some sweet black fruit for good measure. But the wine is so so powerful, so overwhelming, that it works. And this comes from someone who doesn’t like this style of wine.
This is a fall wine for stews, sausages, braised beef, and the like. And remember to never judge the wine until you taste it.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month
• Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee NV ($10, sample, 11.5%): One of the most frustrating things about reviewing wine is consistency of the product. I’ve written glowing reviews of this wine, but when I tasted the most recent sample, it was almost flat and devoid of flavor and character. Is this a flaw with this specific bottle of wine? Is it a problem with the current “vintage?” Or is it a problem in the supply chain, where the wine sat in a warehouse or delivery truck? I think the last, since I’ve had this problem with sparkling wine from many producers at many prices over the past 18 months. This is one of the disadvantages of non-vintage ones; you don’t know how long it has been sitting and getting worse.
• Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Cuvée Alouettes ($17, purchased, 12%): This red wine, from the French region of Loire, is an excellent example of what the Loire can do with cabernet franc – red berry fruit, freshness, graphite, spice, and length. It’s clean through the palate with surprisingly soft tannins. Highly recommended.
• Ridge Geyserville 2014 ($35, purchased, 14.5%): This California zinfandel red blend isn’t anywhere near ready to drink, and needs at least another year (if not longer). Until then, look for ripe black fruit and a lot less of the style and elegance that Ridge is known for.
• Château Lafleur de Haute-Serre 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): This French red, made with malbec from the Cahors region, is not what I’d hoped given that it’s from Georges Vigouroux, a fine producer. It’s just ordinary, 1970s style wine with too much unripe fruit and a rusticity that isn’t as much charming as annoying.
Reviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, the 2016 closeout edition.
• Kenwood Jack London Zinfandel 2014 ($25, sample, 14.5%): OK California zinfandel that isn’t what it once was, when it ranked with Ridge for quality. But it fits the parameters for what zinfandel is supposed to taste like today. Lots of sweet black fruit, though a bit of spice and earth on the back.
• Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2007 ($45, sample, 15.5%): No, not a typo, but a California red that I got as a sample when the blog started and has been sitting the wine fridge since then. It’s made to taste exactly the way it tastes to wow the Winestream Media. In other words, rich, elegant, not quite sweet grape juice with some oak. If you like that style, you’ll love this wine.
• Bodegas Salentein Killka Malbec 2014 ($13, sample, 14%): Competent premiumized Argentine red wine, with less fruit than most. But in the end, it’s still sweetish and not very interesting – another in a long line of malbecs made to taste a certain way and do that one thing very well.
How about a $50, high alcohol zinfandel worth drinking? That’s the Limerick Lane zinfandel.
The Wine Curmudgeon does not like high alcohol zinfandel, most of which seems to exist for no other reason than to show it can be done. So that the Limerick Lane zinfandel appears on the blog speaks not just to its excellence, but to the approach that produced that excellence.
The post-modern design for success, be it retailing or baseball or winemaking, focuses on processes instead of results. That is, it’s not let’s make a 17 ½ percent zinfandel, but let’s find a way to make one, given the grapes and terroir, that will allow us to do it well every time. The Limerick Lane zinfandel ($50, sample, 14.8%) is process driven, and is that much better for it.
Look for black fruit (blackberries?), that bramble that most zinfandels of any quality have eschewed in favor of loading up on sweet fruit, herbs, and black pepper. In other words, everything that a zinfandel is supposed to have. This is food wine – barbecue, smoked brisket, and the like.
The bad news? There is very little of this wine, and I’m not sure why I got a sample. I wrote about it because there are other Limerick Lane wines that are more available, and are certainly worth trying.
Dollar for dollar, Ridge is probably the best winery in the U.S. This is doubly impressive given that it makes almost no white wine and most of the reds it makes are zinfandel. But quality will out, as the Ridge Lytton Springs demonstrates.
The Lytton Springs ($32, purchased, 14.3%) is an amazing wine, a zinfandel blend that includes just enough petite sirah, carignane, and mataro so it can’t be labeled zinfandel. Credit this to Ridge impresario Paul Draper’s sense of humor and winemaker John Olney’s sense of what needs to be done with the wine. Who knew one percent more petite sirah and one percent less zinfandel would make such a difference?
Look for lots of jammy black fruit with more oak than expected, but with pepper, acidity, and some herbal notes toward the finish. Best yet, there are even so-subtle tannins, something most zinfandels, even at this price, abandoned years ago and that lend structure to the all that fruit. This wine is a work in progress, and will only become more complete, as the fruit fades and it becomes spicier and deeper over the next couple of years.
Highly recommended, and especially as a gift for a red wine drinker who appreciates something just enough off the beaten path. I had the Ridge Lytton Springs with pot roast, and it was one of those pairings that explains why we do pairings. And Christmas prime rib would be terrific, too.