Wine Review: 2006 Ridge Lytton Springs

24 04 2011

Zinfandel! When made right, still one of my favourite reds.

Happy Easter everybody!!  Special occasions call for special wine, and on this Easter weekend I turned to Ridge, a classic California producer who is giving serious attention to a grape that’s often treated too frivolously:  Zinfandel.  If any of you reading this just said “Hang on, I thought Zinfandel was white?”, banish that thought from your head forever.  While an ocean of blush jug wine has been created bearing the name “White Zinfandel”, Zin is actually a red grape.  What makes White Zinfandel white (or, more accurately, slightly pink) is that when it is made, the fermenting juice is only left in contact with the grapes’ skins for a very short time, after which it is quickly separated so that the skins can’t pass on much of their dark colour to the finished wine (thus preventing it from being red).  White Zinfandel is a cheap, uninteresting, bastardized version of a varietal that, when shown the proper care, can create some of the truest versions of American red wine out there.  The US (especially California) is the predominant producer of Zin in the world; Zinfandel really only shows up elsewhere around the globe in southern Italy, where it is known as Primitivo.

Anyway, back to the wine at hand.  This 2006 Ridge is a blend of 80% Zinfandel, 16% Petite Sirah (which is neither petite nor related to Syrah…go figure) and 4% Carignan, all from the Lytton Springs vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley sub-region of Sonoma County, Calfornia, which is an hour or two north of San Francisco.  Sonoma is the second most famous wine region in California after Napa Valley, and the Dry Creek area of Sonoma is a hotter climate zone particularly well-known for its Zinfandels.  This wine retails for around $50 CDN, which is close to the price peak for a Zin, but I got it as part of an end-of-bin clearance sale at Aspen Wine & Spirits for $32, a much more comfortable price point.  Lots of wine shops have bin-end sales where they clear out leftover inventory at significant discounts, but Aspen W&S is somewhat unusual in that they ALWAYS have a few wines on bin clearance, sometimes great ones from top names like this one.  I’ve had the Lytton Springs a few times before, but it had been 6-12 months since I had last cracked one, so I was curious to see how it was doing five years after harvest.

The coolest thing about Ridge: they give you the full life story of every wine.

The answer:  pretty well, thank you.  The first thing I noticed was that it was not built big and brawny like some other Zins:  it had a clear, translucent garnet colour that wasn’t the slightest bit thick or inky, which was a welcome sight.  On the nose, it was initially juicy, with raspberry, cherry and blueberry predominating, but almost immediately the up-front fruit gave way to smoky, briary, leathery, dusty, woody aromas, almost a hot desert floor sort of smell mixed with hickory, BBQ smoke and log cabin notes.  This same flavour progression showed up on the palate:  first sweet red fruit, then wild, rustic, thatchy hits of leather, dirt and pepper, leading up to a slightly bitter, earthy finish that reminded me of dark baker’s chocolate and that lasted at least half a minute.  This is a wine that is simultaneously carefully made and slightly unpolished; it’s intentionally put together in a rough and ready style, with strong dusty tannins and a somewhat assertive alcohol level (14.7%), but it stays in control, with a fairly full but not lush or jammy body and a straight line of acidity keeping things in check.  The booze level spikes a bit at the end, but in the context of the overall wine it feels like it’s keeping with the rustic, back-country Zin theme.  I did enjoy the Lytton Springs more right out of my wine fridge at a slightly cooler temperature (it was probably served around 13-15 degrees Celsius) than I did after it had gotten up to room temp, which might be because the slight chill de-emphasized the alcohol and let the fruit and other flavours take centre stage.

Cork Rating: 6/10 (Ultra-modern or ultra-spare? I say both.)

This was the best of the 3-5 bottles of Lytton Springs I’ve had — I don’t know if the extra aging time let the wine come into itself or if it was just a case of bottle variation, but this is the first time I’ve felt that this wine lived up to its pedigree, its producer and its price.  Zinfandel is the ultimate varietal to pair with BBQed meat, so now that spring is (hopefully) finally here in Calgary, hunt some down and crack it the next time you have burgers or ribs…you will thank me, I promise.  Lots of Zins are huge, syrupy, alcoholic monsters (like the US version of Aussie Shiraz when it goes wrong), but this one shows how a little precision and attention can bring out the best in this hearty, rich, inviting grape.  If the Easter Bunny left you some Ridge this weekend, count yourself lucky!

90 points

$40 to $50 CDN

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