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Silicon Valley below us

Ridge    www.ridgewine.com
          17100 Monte Bello Rd, Cupertino, CA 95014
             (408) 867-3233

Ridge has championed single vineyard Zins for almost a half century, they make one of the most highly respected Cabernets in CA (Monte Bello) and their chief winemaker (Paul Draper) is a legend in his own time. What more can I say about Ridge that hasn't already been said. They've been a favorite of mine for almost a quarter of a century (feelin' old now). Going back to 1987, when my father introduced me to '84 Geyserville and '78 Monte Bello. Two wines that changed my life and my perception of California wines forever!
So, don't expect an objective critique of this winery from me, but I'll do my best.

The original winery is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, sitting 2600 feet above Silicon Valley on Monte Bello Ridge. They produced their first Cabernet and Chardonnay here in 1962, their first Zinfandel in '64, their first Geyserville in '66, their first Lytton Springs in '72 and their first Pagani Ranch in '91. Paul Draper became their winemaker in 1969, at which time they were producing about 3000 cases per year. In 1986, the original partners (three Stanford engineers) sold the winery to a large Japanese company. Fortunately, the company has maintained a "hands off" approach, letting Paul Draper continue to work his magic with his "hands off" winemaking style. In 1991, Ridge bought the Lytton Springs winery and vineyard, allowing them to make their Sonoma and Napa based wines (mostly Zinfandel) at Lytton Springs, while continuing to make their Santa Cruz Mountains wines at the original winery. By 1999, they were producing about 65,000 cases a year. What may be most amazing about Ridge is that their quality has never slipped over the years, despite their increased production levels.

Over the past 8 or 9 years, Paul Draper has slowly past the daily winemaking responsibilities onto the next generation of winemakers, Eric Baugher in the Santa Cruz Mountains and John Olney at Lytton Springs. Even though Paul is still an active member, and certainly the most highly respected member, of the winemaking team, the obvious question is: Do the wines still have the "Draper magic"?

90+   2009  Ridge  Estate Chardonnay  (Santa Cruz Mountains)  $40

100% Chardonnay   14.5%alc
Overall: Medium gold with bouquet and flavors of butterscotch, mineral, pear and honeysuckle. Solid middleweight with excellent fruit and acidity. Minerality and fruit linger nicely in the finish. Should improve in the next 5 years, but excellent already.

92+   2008  Ridge  Estate Cabernet Sauvignon  (Santa Cruz Mountains)  $40

75% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc   13.5%alc
Overall: Deep purple garnet color. Rich bouquet of cassis with black pepper, spice and smooth cocoa. A light heavyweight with excellent structure including some firm tannins, but well balanced. Tannin holds back the flavor a little at this point, but ends with a very strong finish. Balanced enough to drink now if you decant it for an hour or two, but should be at its best in 7-10 years. Just might be the finest example of this wine in the last 10 years.

88+   2008  Ridge  Buchignani Ranch Carignane  (Sonoma County)  $26

100% Carignane   13.9%alc
Overall: Black cherry color. Has flavors of cherry and cherry pit with hints of caramel and butterscotch. A middleweight that's smooth and consistent from start to finish. Excellent fruit and very good structure with elegance, but needs more distinction/complexity to be excellent. Has potential though. Give it 3-5 years.

89   2009  Ridge  Ponzo Zinfandel  (Russian River Valley)  $28

98% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah   14.8%alc
Overall: Blueberries and wild huckleberries with sausage-like spice. Excellent fruit and acidity. Solid middleweight, that is very tasty for now drinking, but could improve in the next few years.

87  2008  Ridge  Carmichael Zinfandel  (Sonoma County)  $28

92% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah   14.7%alc
Overall: Very good Zinberry fruit with smoky spice, but not as fresh and distinctive as the Ponzo. Could also use more acidity to propel the fruit. Enjoyable Zin, but nothing more.

92  2009  Ridge  Geyserville  (Alexander Valley)  $35

74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 1% Mataro   14.3%alc
Overall: Deep purple garnet color. Lush sweet/tart Zinberry fruit and vanilla nougat with plenty of briary spice and game nuances. Light heavyweight with excellent structure and a silky mouthfeel. Classic Geyserville. Charming and interesting already, but should improve in the next 4-6 years.

88+  2009  Ridge  Mazzoni Home Ranch  (Sonoma County)  $28

58% Zinfandel, 40% Carignane, 2% Petite Sirah  13.7%alc
Overall: Different with stewed tomatoe and cocoa combined with smooth berries. Could use more structure, but an easy-to-drink change of pace Zin with its high percentage of Carignane.

90  2009  Ridge  East Bench Zinfandel  (Dry Creek Valley)  $26

100% Zinfandel  15.2%alc
Overall: Ripe Zinberry with cinnamon, briar and a little sulfur. It's delicious, but also young and grapy. Fruit and acidity coat the mouth nicely. Classic Dry Creek Valley Zin style, which is simple compared to the Geyserville. Could improve in the next few years.

92  2008  Ridge  Pagani Ranch Zinfandel  (Sonoma Valley)  $35

% Zinfandel, % Petite Sirah   14.8%alc
Overall: Deep purple garnet with density. A beautiful bouquet of pure, concentrated old vines fruit (musky Zinberry) with vanilla and milk chocolate complementing. A well structured heavyweight that shows smooth balance and restraint at the same time. The finish is a little less giving than the bouquet and flavor, but still excellent. Decant for a couple of hours for now drinking or let age for 4-6 years. Just as fine as the '07, but more restrained in style.

89+  2009  Ridge  Paso Robles Zinfandel  $30

95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah   14.8%alc
Overall: A delicious Paso Robles Zin with lots of ripe Zinberry and a little fresh fig. Has a slight sweetness, but is balanced by excellent acidity and some elegance. Delicious now, but could improve in the next few years. This and the East Bench are the most ripe of the bunch.

93+   2007  Ridge  Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon  (Santa Cruz Mountains)  $145

79% Cabernet, 10% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc   13.1%alc
Overall: Very deep garnet color. Big, concentrated cassis, black ink and black pepper with excellent acidity and smooth tannins. A light heavyweight that is delicious already and very well balanced. Has structure underneath, but is suprisingly accessible for a young Monte Bello. Reminds me of Lafite from a ripe vintage, whereas bigger, more tannic vintages of Monte Bello often remind me of Latour ('92 is a great example). Probably at its best in 10-12 years, but I wouldn't mind drinking a bottle now. Who's buying?

Christopher Watkins

Final Thoughts: As many of you know, Ridge has been my favorite all around California winery for a long time, and this line up reminds me why. Firstly, every wine is different and even the least of them show balance and structure with potential for improvement with age. They also give you variety, so whether a lover of reds or whites, bold or elegant, a Francophile or a ripe CA hedonist, you're bound to find something here that you like. They also make many of their wines in large enough quantities such that they are easily found outside of CA, and they're very reasonably priced for their high level of quality.

So, do they still have the magic? Based on the lineup tasted here, the answer is a resounding, "YES." The only question now is: Do we call it "Draper magic" or "Baugher magic" or "Olney magic"?

Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager at the Monte Bello winery (and fellow blogger) was our generous host, serving 10 different wines that day. And when I told him how much I love Pagani Ranch and that I hadn't tried the '08 yet, he was kind enough to open a bottle on the spot (make that 11 wines tasted). Thanks Chris!!!

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