Posts Tagged ‘Paso Robles’

A Ridge Zinfandel retrospective and then some

Several weeks ago, my good friend Matthew suggested the following idea:  Hey, I have some bottles of wine that need opening, so how about if we do a tasting at your place and invite over some wine peeps? My answer: Hmm, O.K.!

The theme for the evening: A Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel retrospective, all pulled from M’s cellar.

In the wine world, Ridge is the stuff of legend. Located in the Santa Cruz mountains and about 1 hour 15 minutes from San Francisco, Ridge is world renowned for consistently producing some of the very best wines that the U.S.A has to offer. Along with a range of Zinfandel based wines from vineyards in Sonoma, Napa, and Paso Robles, Ridge also produces  Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux inspired red, and chardonnay from the Montebello vineyard located up in the Santa Cruz mountains.

The iconic 1971 Ridge Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon placed 5th (and above 9 other French and Califorina wines) at the 1976 Judgement of Paris blind tasting. On a more personal note, the 1978 Ridge Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon (purchased on a whim with my friend Eric)   is hands down the best California wine I have ever tasted. What a sublime and absolutely memorable experience.

Matthew has been a member of Ridge’s ATP (Advance Tasting Program)  for over a decade. Within that time Matthew has amassed a formidable collection of Ridge single vineyard wines, most of which include Zinfandel and Rhone based reds. So what’s a guy to do when the cellar is full and more wine is on the way? Open (more than) a few bottles and share them with your friends!

DB breakin' it down..Ridge style

Our tasting group that evening was comprised of myself, Matthew, Stephanie, Keelyn, Wolfgang and Wes. Serendipitously, one of the invitees that evening was my good friend Dan Buckler, Ridge’s Regional Sales manager and our special guest star. As we tasted through the lineup, Dan introduced each wine by detailing the history, geography, soil makeup and vinification practices of each wine.

A good student of the vine: Matthews' tasting notes

Below is list of wines that we uncorked, tasted and enjoyed that evening. My contribution to the evening involved an enormous crock pot of braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, and a garden salad to pair with this fine selection of hearty american Zins.



Flight # 1 Ridge Dusi Ranch Zinfandel (ATP)


Ridge’s Dusi Ranch bottling comes from a distance parcel of vines located on the estate vineyards in Paso Robles, California.

The Zinfandel vines here are approximately 87 years old, planted on original rootstock, and completely dry-farmed.

1998 Ridge Dusi Ranch California Zinfandel   14,9% abv

100% Zinfandel

1999 Ridge Dusi Ranch California Zinfandel    14,5% abv

100% Zinfandel

2000 Ridge Dusi Ranch California Zinfandel     14,6% abv

100% Zinfandel


Flight # 2 Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel


The Pagani Ranch vineyard is planted to 30 acres of mostly 100 year old Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Alicante Bouschet.

The gravely loam vineyard, situated along Highway 12 in the Sonoma Valley near Kenwood, experiences to cool, foggy mornings and warm days.

Pagani Ranch is generally cooler than either Geyserville or Lytton Springs.

1998 Ridge Pagani Ranch California Zinfandel  14,2% abv

88% Zinfandel, 9% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah

1999 Ridge Pagani Ranch California Zinfandel  14,1% abv

90% Zinfandel, 7% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah


Flight # 3 Mazzoni Home Ranch California Zinfandel  (ATP)


The Zinfandel, Carignane and Petite Sirah from the Mazzoni / Home Ranch Vineyard was originally planted by Italian immigrant Guiseppe Mazzoni and his fourteen year old brother in law Abramo Trusendi at the turn of the 20th century. The vineyard is situated on the west side of the Alexander Valley and just north of Geyserville. The head trained, spur pruned vines are planted in gravelly, clay loam soils and are dry farmed.

1999 Mazzoni Home Ranch California Zinfandel 13,7% abv

50% Zinfandel, 32% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah

2000 Mazzoni Home Ranch California Zinfandel 13,7% abv

47% Zinfandel, 47% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah


Flight # 4 Ridge Lytton Springs California Zinfandel


Ridge’s Lytton Springs vineyard lies just north of the town of Healdsburg in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley.  Here, 100+ year old Zinfandel vines, along with a smattering of Carignane, Petite Sirah, Mataro (Mourvedre) and Grenache are planted on benchland soils comprised of gravel and clay. Each varietal is fermented separately using only natural yeasts in order to preserve the individual characteristics of the fruit from the vineyards.

1999 Ridge Lytton Springs California Zinfandel  14,5% abv

70% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah, 10% Carignane, 3% Mataro (Mourvedre)

2000 Ridge Lytton Springs California Zinfandel   14,8% abv

80% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah



Flight # 5 Ridge Geyserville California Zinfandel


Ridge’s Geyserville estate vineyards are located on the western side of the Alexander Valley in Sonoma County.  Warm days, coupled with cool evening breezes and morning fog provide an ideal growing environment for Zinfandel. In fact, the Zinfandel vines grown at the Geyserville estate are the oldest that Ridge farms. A section of the vineyard known as the “Old Patch” is planted to vines that are 130+ years of age! Throughout the past century, Zinfandel, as well as other “mixed blacks” (Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mataro) have made the deep gravelly loam strewn with river rocks their home.

1998 Ridge Geyserville California Zinfandel   14,1% abv

74% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 10% Carignane, 1% Mataro (Mourvedre)

1999 Ridge Geyserville California Zinfandel   14,8% abv

68% Zinfandel, 16% Carignane, 16% Petite Sirah

2000 Ridge Geyserville California Zinfandel    14,9% abv

66% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 17% Petite Sirah


Flight # 6 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel


The York Creek vineyard represents Ridge’s sole Napa Valley vineyard site. The vineyard is located at the western edge of the Napa Valley on Spring Mountain and just north of the town of St. Helena. Amidst a plentiful forest of native Madrone oak, the vineyard lies at 1250-1800 feet above sea level.

The vineyard is named for a nearby creek which flows year round. The higher (than the Napa Valley floor) elevation and cooler temperatures allow the head trained and spur pruned vines to produce fruit with intensity, structure and longevity. Old vine Petite Sirah and Zinfandel excel on the gravelly loam soils of Spring Mountain.

1997 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel  15,3% abv

95% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah

1998 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel   14,9% abv

88% Zinfandel, 12% Petite Sirah

1999 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel (Late Harvest)   16% abv

98% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah

2000 Ridge York Creek California Zinfandel    15% abv

88% Zinfandel, 9% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah


Many thanks to Matthew for providing these Ridge gems from his cellar, and to Dan for his insight and expertise!

Next: Mumu and Susan on la route du vin to Napa’s Howell Mountain.




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En route to the Tablas Creek tasting room

After our tour of the Tablas Creek vineyards and nursery, it was time to taste some wine! Robert led us back to the Tablas Creek tasting room and past this beautiful olivier, lavender and herb garden directly outside the winery entrance. Our tasting would be comprised of a selection of wines, all of which were grown and vinfied here at the domain. If there could be one tag line to describe the winemaking process at Tablas Creek, it would be “minimal intervention“. This term is sometimes used pretty loosely, but here at Tablas Creek it indicates strict adherence the following practices:

Hand harvesting of all organically grown grapes (picking is afterall when the winemaking practice officially begins)

Native yeast fermentations

Separate vinification for each varietal

Use of stainless steel and/or neutral oak barrels


We began the tasting with a selection of white wines from Tablas Creek. First, the 2008 Grenache Blanc, which is 100% estate grown and certified organic.

Most often, the majority of this varietal is used to produce Tablas’ Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc or the Cotes de Tablas. However in exceptional vintages the winery bottles a bit of the wine as a single varietal. With good acidity, medium + bodied and nuances of green apple, and peach, this Grenache is a perfect complement to a wide variety of mediterranean inspired cuisine.


Next, Robert poured a taste of the 2008 Tablas Creek Roussanne.  Like Grenache Blanc, Roussanne is a second white wine varietal that is widely planted throughout the Rhone Valley. However stateside it is perhaps less well known than even Grenache Blanc. While Grenache Blanc often provides in terms of exhuerance, body and juiciness, Roussanne often adopts a more structured and deliberate approach. Medium bodied, and generally displaying a richer mouthfeel than most Grenache Blanc, Roussanne does lend itself to a bit of judicious oak interplay and can age very gracefully too. After several years, those primary fruit notes often give way to nuances of roasted nuts, paraffin and honey.


Tasting through the first two white cuvées was an interesting exercise in terms of isolating and understanding the respective qualities of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. Now we had the opportunity to taste what I think makes Tablas Creek so special. Their masterful blends! The 2008 Côtes de Tablas Blanc is in fact a blend of 4 different varietals: Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. Weighing in at 13.5% abv, this Rhone inspired white is incredibly food friendly and so fun to imbibe! For inspiration, Tablas Creek recommends the following possibilities: Mussels Marinière Green salads with avocado and citrus dressing Scallops Ceviche, Light fish (halibut, sole) with tropical salsa.


Next, we attacked the reds. As with the whites, Robert introduced us to and poured samples of the following three single varietal G (Grenache Noir) S (Syrah) and M (Mourvèdre) bottlings from the domain:

The 2007 Grenache Rouge, which represents only the second varietal bottling for the domain. Grenache noir is the most widely planted varietal in the Rhone Valley. From entry level Côtes du Rhône, to legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape, grenache noir provides much of the body, red fruits and inherent juiciness that differentiate a Rhone red from say, one from Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Now on to what is perhaps my favorite Rhone varietal, Syrah! The 2007 Tablas Creek Syrah displays everything that I appreciate so much in syrah, and I imagine that over the next several years it will continue to impress me. Whereas young Grenache Noir generally displays more red fruit and spice box qualities, syrah, (if grown in not too warm a climate) elicits more dark fruit notes, cracked pepper, sometimes a bit of mineral smoke and savory qualities too. I would really like to revisit this youngster in a few years time to see what interesting nuances develop.

Of the  southern Rhones “Big 3”, Mourvèdre is arguably the least known and understood varietal. Whereas Syrah has proven itself to be an international globetrotter (for example the Rhone, Australia, California, Washington), and young Grenache is so inherently is often so gulpable and  easy to drink (how many young Côtes du Rhônes get emptied all too quickly?), Mourvèdre is a bit of a dark horse.

In its youth, the varietal often displays a bit more musculature and brawn than its two rhone cousins. Black olive, a certain mineral salt, and at times a certain “sauvage” funk that one not so familiar with the varietal might conclude as the onset of a wine spoilage yeast known as brettanomyces. However, with time, I believe that these noble reds find their way and can evolve into some of the most long-lived and stately reds of southern France. Case in point, a 1990 Bandol from Châteaux Pradeaux which I had the opportunity to enjoy several years back.

The 2007 Tablas Creek Mourvèdre is definitely a more elegant rendition of the varietal than some of its vinous cousins in Bandol. Perhaps 100% de-stemming and a light filtration has something to do with this. The advantage to these more modern winemaking practices is a mouvedre that in its youth is refined and approachable, while still displaying the textbook (black plum, leather, moist earth) qualities of Mourvèdre.


Tablas Creeks flagship wine is the Esprit de Beaucastel. Composed of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah and Counoise, this classic Rhone style blend is made in the spirit of Château de Beaucastel’s  Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

In the southern Rhone tradition of blending several (and in the case of Beaucastel 13) different varietals, the Esprit de Beaucastel aims to capture the thumbprint or terroir of Tablas Creek. And like the iconic Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Esprit de Beaucastel contains a higher percentage of the mighty Mourvèdre than most other traditionally styled Rhone blends.


After our comprehensive tasting of the Tablas Creek current releases, Robert, Nicolas, Emmanuel and myself headed to the cellars to sample several cuvées which were still works in progress. Among them was the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel, as well as a most special cuvée that is only produced in outstanding vintages..


Tablas Creek’s Panoplie is a Mourvèdre based red that is vinified from carefully selected grapes of outstanding quality. The Panoplie is crafted in the esprit of Château de Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin and sees only a limited production. The 500 cases of the 2007 Panoplie will in most cases find homes in the cellars of wine connoisseurs and collectors for enjoyment 5-15 years down the road.


What a fantastic tour and tasting! As we headed back out into the bright central California sun, Nicolas presented Robert with several parting tokens of appreciation. As I mentioned in a previous post, Nicolas is involved with the Perrin family in a north/south rhone venture known as Maison Nicolas Perrin. This “boutique negociant” specializes in sourcing the very best wines from reputable growers throughout the northern Rhone. The wines are then (in most cases) blended by the Maison Nicolas Perrin and then further aged before being released.

Nicolas provided a brief explanation on each of the four cuvees which included:

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin St. Joseph

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin Cote Rotie

2007 Maison Nicolas Perrin Ermitage

2008 Maison Nicolas Perrin Hermitage Blanc

A big Thank You to Robert Haas for spending the afternoon with us on this great tour and tasting of Tablas Creek!




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nothing but gray skies..

This is the current scene taken from my office window. Gray, rainy and blustery. It’s been raining off and on for the past several days, which, along with the cold weather, is a firm reminder that here in the Bay Area, we are definitely deep into winter. Luckily we don’t have snow or freezing temperatures to deal with, however all of this rain does tend to keep me inside and thinking about warmer days past and future.

In the meantime, how about if I spin tail recounting sunnier times, when the vines were growing, the bees were buzzing, and the flowers were in full bloom!  This vernal scenario is exactly what transpired when I had the opportunity to visit Tablas Creek earlier this year. Accompanying me on this visit were two very knowledgeable and easy going guys, Nicolas Jaboulet of Maison Nicolas Perrin, and Emmanuel Lemoine of Vineyard Brands.

Our host for the day was none other than Robert Haas, one of the founders of Tablas Creek. After taking us on a tour of the vineyards and nursery, Robert was also going to lead us through a tasting of the domains’ current offerings. We were in for a real treat!

which way to the Rhone Valley?

Tablas Creek is located in Paso Robles, a wine growing region situated approximately halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on California’s Central Coast. On this west (of the Hwy 101) side of Paso, two venerable business partners and friends founded Tablas Creek back in 1989.

More specifically, the Perrin family of famed Chateau Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley, and American importer Robert Haas, the founder of Vineyard Brands, believed that the shallow, rocky limestone soils and the mediterranean-like climate would favor the production of high quality Rhone inspired wines.

the vineyards at Tablas Creek

Haas and the Perrins purchased a hilly 120 acre parcel of approximately 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean in a district known as Las Tablas. From Beaucastel’s famed vineyards in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they imported traditional red and white Rhone vinifera plant material, with the intent of propagating and grafting these vines for this new domaine.  It should be noted that this process was by no means easy or expedient, as the vines had to pass a thorough testing program in order to receive a clean bill of health.

Today, Tablas Creek is planted to a veritable panoply (more on this later) of Rhone varietals, all of which are farmed and certified organic. The Mourvèdre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, and Counoise (reds), and Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc (whites) grown on the domain have all been propagated and cultivated here at Tablas Creek.

In addition to these tried and true Rhone varietals, one will also find lesser known varietals like Picpoul and Vermentino (Rolle). The domain also partners with NovaVine in Sonoma, which provides customers with high quality grafted vines using Tablas Creek vinifera material.

L-R: Emmanuel, Nicolas and Robert Haas at the grafting table

Tablas Creek young vines ready to be planted

After our tour through the Tablas’ vineyards, Robert brought us to the on-site nursery for a first hand look at how these vines are propagated. In fact, many steps need to be taken before, say, a Grenache vine can be planted in the vineyard. First, vine budwood needs to be selected and grafted onto Phylloxera resistant rootstock.

I shot  this a brief video of Robert showing us how it’s done! Using the omega grafting machine, Robert first cuts the vinifera bud. Next he inserts a suitable rootstock cane while the machine holds the cut vinifera in place. With a second press/cut, the rootstock is cut and now fits like a puzzle piece with the vinifera bud. For a great summary of this vine propagation process, check out the Tablas Creek Vineyard Nursery Journal.

After Robert’s grafting demo, we were off to the Tablas Creek tasting room to taste wine!

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