Swirl n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: He instantly knew what I was thinking. The $175 bottle of wine sat silently on the counter between us, my hand twitching. I can make it. I'll grab the bottle, we'll run like hell and chug this here bottle of '94 Monte Bello as we tear down the freeway in a blaze of grape-induced glory until the cops gun us down and pry it from our cold, dead hands. Yee-haw!
OK, so maybe in these heels and given the fact that this is our third tasting of the day, grand theft isn't such a good idea. Guiltily, I confessed my plot to the tasting-room staff and got a second sympathy pour of the pricey wine, which sated me for the moment.
Ridge Vineyards' wines instill an odd sort of passion in people. Known for its Zinfandels, Ridge's resident winemaker, Paul Draper, is something of a legend. Credited as one of the early proponents of modern Californian winemaking and revered as a demigod of Zinfandel, he's been called one of the top five winemakers in the country. True or not, his mostly affordable Zinfandels and the not-as-affordable Monte Bello (a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc) are some of the more sought-after wines in California. See, I'm not the only one.
Mouth value: The 2000 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay ($30) seemed a bit overpowered by oak. I won't pretend I can accurately taste the difference between American and French oak, but both the 2000 and the '99 Montebello Chardonnay have an odd, strawlike quality and astringency that I struggled with and attributed to the mostly American oak used by Draper. But everything else we tasted was amazing. The 2000 Lytton Springs ($33) is a blend of mostly Zinfandel that had an intensity of character that begged to be taken home and ravished. The '02 Teldeschi Ranch Zin ($24) was also terrific, upstaged only by the '01 York Creek Late-Picked Zinfandel ($30), with a beefy alcohol content and slight sweetness given the grapes' extra hang time. A dreamy finish in the '01 Petite Syrah Essence ($40 for 3.75 ml) escapes the cloying sweetness of most dessert wines and simply hovers on the palate before--poof!--disappearing gracefully down the throat without overstaying its welcome.
Don't miss: The tasting room is a great example of environmentally conscious construction, using hay bales as both building material and insulation, and outer walls constructed from vineyard clay, sand and straw. To build the winery, more than 3,000 bales of rice straw were used. Unlike other straws, rice straw is less digestible to pests and can last up to 100 years.
Five-second snob: The Lytton Springs vineyards and tasting room are the second of the Ridge Wine holdings. The original winery, which produces its Monte Bello wine, is located further south, near Cupertino.
Spot: Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs, 650 Lytton Springs Road, Healdsburg, 707.433.7721. Open daily, 11am to 4pm. Regular tastings are free; $15 for Monte Bello Tastings (so worth it!).
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From the March 30-April 5, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.