A BRILLIANT OFFLINE TASTING: VERTICALS OF RIDGE PAGANI AND ALEGRIA AND THEN SOME!
Bree had been plotting this event for months. I remember him mentioning a Pagani vertical in an email almost a year before. Apparently, the idea had continued to ferment in his brain, because when we told him wed be coming to Ridges July 4th Day in the Vineyard celebration, he and 9-Ball not only granted unlimited access to the east wing of Chateau califusa, he also offered to host an offline tasting. He expanded on his original idea to include a vertical of Ridge Alegria Zins as well.
The Director and I were virtually acquainted with most of the guests invited, either through Robin Garrs Wine Lovers Discussion Group or Brad Harringtons West Coast Wine Discussion Group. And of course, wed already met Milan and Sue Maximovich the day before, not to mention Jason Brandt Lewis and SFJoe during our Assault on Sonoma the summer previous.
Wed had a number of email and phone conversations with Delia Montesinos at Ridge, so we were quite pleased that she and her friend Ken were able to attend, especially since Day in the Vineyards was in full swing. For the uninitiated, its a three-day event, a very busy time for her.
Also taking part were Brian and Linda Kingsbury, Paul and Barrie Pietronico, Dwight Green and friend Robin, Henry (hank) and Lauren Harris, along with their friend Lawrence, and Julie and her companion Manricque. califusa also made a point of inviting Margaret Smith, the founding Executive Director of ZAP, and her husband Roger, who gets to "go along and taste all of those fabulous wines with her."
Everyone arrived between 5:30 and 6:15, except for one wayward world traveler.
We started out with a few whites. The Kingsburys brought the 87 Cotat Chavignol, and it was wild! Medium straw, with a nose of grapes?! Yes, almost like a white concord aroma, and it was quite enjoyable. The palate, however, was dominated by tart green apple/wet stone flavors and didnt taste like an 11 year old Sauvignon. Really good stuff!
The 96 Domaine des Baumard Savennieres came courtesy of Dwight Green,who was sympathetic to my whining about never seeing these wines around Day-twah. (He also brought The Director and me a 95 Savennieres Trie Speciale from the same producer; thanks again Dwight! Its safely tucked away in "the cellar.") This pale straw is slightly sweet on the nose, with restrained green apple/mineral notes that expand on the palate with "lemon squirt acidity." Dwight noted some almond on the finish. My notes read "crisp, dry and delicious."
I was trying to pace myself, so I never did get a taste of the 1995/1996 Dehlinger White Table Wine (100% Chardonnay). I did sample the 1996 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre the next evening, and it was still drinking very well. But then, its well liked at Gang Central, so I wasnt surprised.
Next, we tasted the two Rafanelli Zins. The 90 is a ruby garnet with the barest hint of rust and nice raspberry/briar flavors and aromas, that takes on some leathery/prune nuances. The 91 is a ruby garnet, brighter, fresher version of the earlier model.
Jason posted similar comments on the Wine Boards the next day, saying, "Both were wonderful wines, but very different from one another, as the 1991 vintage still retained the bright freshness of berry fruit and spice, while the 1990 had, while losing some of the fresh fruit character, begun to develop the secondary complexities a wine gets with bottle age." He described those secondary complexities to me as not unlike "compote," and hoped that hed be remembered for adding that particular description to the tasting notes vernacular. };^)>
Before moving to the Main Event, califusa and9-Ball laid out a fabulous spread of various breads, a serious Aioli with an almost lethal dose of garlic, and various vegetable delights that were enthusiastically received by all.
Finally we were ready for the Paganis. All selections had been decanted 45 minutes before. This taster started at the beginning and ascended vintages accordingly.
91 Ruby-dark garnet; BIG black raspberry/briar flavors and aromas; soft, yet plenty of spice; just lovely!
91 ATP: Dark garnet; smoother and more elegant, yet more concentrated than the regular bottling; "that Draper perfume in all its glory!"
92 ATP : more tannic and concentrated than the 91 ATP; creamy; almost candied.
(There were various opinions as to which of these four were better than the others, but in this tasters opinion, they all epitomized great Zinfandel. Almost all of the 90-92 Ridge Zins that The Director and I have tasted showed more depth than the vintages that followed, and if I had to pick one of those proverbial "desert island wines," any of them would do quite nicely.)
93: This ruby garnet is typical of the 93s from Ridge; pretty, but with less depth than earlier or later models.
94: Again, typical of the vintage for Ridge; "Rhone-ish; not as pretty; slightly vegetal. Delia called it "stinky."
95: Just as I remember from my original notes: (Spinning in Zinfinity and Joisey) an absolutely beguiling Zinfandel. (Interestingly, I broke one of these out to celebrate the Red Wings Stanley Cup repeat, and it was surprisingly tight and tannic. Hmm )
96: Big, young, extracted and expubident; a little tight, but boy! Black raspberry/briar/bramble; needs time, but its gonna be good. (hank described this in his understated way as "drinkable.")
While we were sipping the last two wines, hank got his congas, and I grabbed one of Brees guitars, while Ken grabbed another, and we had a way cool 35 minute jam. Both these guys can play, so we had some fun, and we even drew some attention from the Zinfest in the other room. My only regret (of the whole week, really) was that after we finished, I found that all of Milans 94 Dusi Ranch Zinfandel had been greedily sucked down, and I was SOL. Oh well
As I turned around from this minor disappointment, there was SFJoe walking in the door! Hed just flown in to attend not only the tasting, but also Day in the Vineyard at Ridge and various other gatherings with Bay area friends. He looked like hell after the long flight, but it was great to see him anyway! (Interestingly, hed sat next to Dawnine Dyer, winemaker at Domaine Chandon, on his flight.)
Joe had read a rant of mine a week or so before about a couple of sad, low acid Russian River Chardonnays, and brought along a 1995 Weingut Prager Feinburgunder Smaragd (Austria) out of sympathy. For some reason, I didnt take notes on this, a surprise considering how well I liked it. (So did everyone else, it disappeared quickly.) I DO remember that it was crisp, clean and delicious, with great fruit, zingy acidity and a mineral component that you rarely find in California Chardonnay. Wish I could find stuff like this in Day-twah
As califusa put the "haunch of beast" (leg o lamb) on the grill, we sipped on the 91 Storrs Ben Lomond Beauregard Zinfandel. A ruby garnet, with plenty of acidity left despite tannins that were pretty much resolved, this showed very nice, mature fruit that only suffered in comparison to the Paganis. I agreed with Jason that this would have been better tasted with the Rafanellis.
By now, the tasting had transformed into a wonderful party, with (relatively) old and new friends mingling. The lamb was fab. Notes were no longer being taken, just general impressions. This tasters read as follow:
91 Ridge Lytton Springs; lovely, but the 91 and 92 Paganis rule.
77 Ridge Langtry Road Claret; an excellent selection brought along by Jason. 53% Zin, 35% Petite Sirah, 12% Carignagne, 12.8% alc.; pretty nose with red currant flavors and leathery undertones. Well preserved; a real treat!
85 Ridge Lytton Springs; the first of the 85 "horizontal" that Mr. Lewis brought; soft, pretty, fully mature, gorgeous.
85 Ridge Geyserville; richer than the LS, but not as elegant; still lots of acidity.
I got to the Alegrias WAY late, and only tasted three. The 90 is a rusty garnet thats showing its age in a nice way. The 95 is rich and very tasty indeed, and I sipped on it for a few glasses worth. The 96 is tannic, with lemon squirt acidity, and needs some time.
Neither my notes nor my memory give any indication that I tasted the 87 or 88 Ridge Howell Mountain Zins at all
Afterwards, caliusa and I sat sipping a glass of Milans delicious1997 Santa Rosa Plum wine, talking about what a wonderful evening it had been. The wines were amazing, the camaraderie was exceptional, and as he put it, "The energy level was high, and it stayed there all night."
I wont get too warm and fuzzy here; I have a certain reputation to live down to. But I will say that this was a very special evening, and The Director and this taster are eternally grateful not only to califusa and9-Ball for creating such a singular experience, but to all who attended.
It was a gas!
P.S. The Director apologizes for screwing up in the picture-taking department and not getting very good shots of the rest of the guests.
1987 Paul Cotat Chavignol
1996 Domaine Baumard
1990 Rafanelli Dry Creek
1991 Rafanelli Dry Creek
1991 Ridge Sonoma Valley
1991 Ridge Sonoma Valley
1992 Ridge Sonoma Valley
1992 Ridge Sonoma Valley
1993 Ridge Sonoma Valley
1994 Ridge Sonoma Valley
1995 Ridge Sonoma Valley
1996 Ridge Sonoma Valley
1991 Storrs Ben Lomond
1994 Thunder Mountain
1995 Weingut Prager
1990 Ridge Russian River
1991 Ridge Russian River
1992 Ridge Russian River
1993 Ridge Russian River
1994 Ridge Russian River
1995 Ridge Russian River
1996 Ridge Russian River
1991 Ridge Sonoma County
1985 Ridge Sonoma County
1985 Ridge Sonoma County
1985 Ridge Howell Mountain
1977 Ridge Langtry Road Claret