If we were asked to recommend an American wine, the easiest and most trusted answer would be any from Ridge Vineyards.
The reputation of Ridge’s wines is typically linked to the fifth place in Steven Spurrier ‘s Judgement of Paris in 1976 and its first place in the 30th anniversary of the same tasting. But the real reason for which Ridge has become a standard to follow in California’s wines is the elegance, quality and ageing capability that it consistently delivers. The grapes are perfectly ripened, a good level of acidity is preserved and the oak ageing is subtle and balanced. The result is delicate tannins and scrumptious fruit.
What does Ridge do that sets them apart from the others? The use of a low intervention philosophy, organic viticulture and natural yeast for the fermentation shows a rejection to the powerful style for which California has lately become famous. Critics in the 1990s and 2000s advocated for a style rich in fruit, alcohol and oak that hindered or sometimes impeded producers to achieve equilibrium in their wines. Ridge’s enology and viticulture has remained loyal to an approach that respects the fruit. A particularly good example of this is their use of American oak for ageing, which traditionally holds a reputation for obscuring the authentic character of the fruit with vanilla and coconut notes. Yet, the winemaker Paul Draper treats the oak with such mastery that the wines could sometimes be confused as European.
The location of the vineyards also favours this style. Monte Bello’s higher altitude in the Santa Cruz Mountains yields higher acidity and its limestone soils provide a solid but refined structure for Cabernet and Chardonnay. The lower temperatures in their Sonoma plots have a similar effect on the old Zinfandel vines. These vines, some over a hundred years old, have the additional advantage of giving concentration without cutting down on freshness or finesse in the tannins.
As a further demonstration of low intervention, Ridge has pioneered listing an ingredient breakdown of their wines on their labels. In the case of their field blends (Lytton Springs and Geyserville), it makes for an interesting enumeration of grape varieties. A surprising revelation to us was that water sometimes makes an appearance as an ingredient in the back label. Perhaps only in exceptionally hot years?
|Ridge – Lytton Springs 2016
|Fruit forward. Concentrated. Initially dark cherry and blackberry. With time, plums. Earthiness and then oak. But restrained in the oak, very Bordeaulais.
|Cherry, blackberries, plums in attack. Plums and graphite in mid palate. Oak and graphite in the finish, slight bitterness.
|High body, med+ acidity, med+ tannins, med+ alcohol.
|Ridge – Monte Bello 1994
|Violets, banana, eucalyptus.
|Cranberry, raspberry, fruit forward. Violets. How a good Margaux feels?. Violets and cranberries forever in the finish.
|Medium+ body, med++ acidity, med+ tannins, med+ alcohol.
|Ridge – Geyserville 2015
|Vanilla, coconut, black fruit: blackberries. With time: dried flowers, chocolate and cedar.
|Black fruit, luscious blackberries on the attack. Midpalate starts showing the American oak, well integrated in the finish on the background of black fruit.
|Full bodied, medium chunky (but soft tannins), crisp, high alcohol. Elegant and balanced. Very long finish.