Wine lovers are often bargain hunters too, perhaps by necessity. Back in 2002, Chris and I happened to be in the same city at the same time (Sydney), and experienced the joy of locating, then purchasing, an entire stash of 1994 Ridge Geyserville from a little bottle shop in Chinatown. To find such a wine was grand enough, but the proprietors of the bottle shop in which it lay clearly had no idea what it was, and were happy to sell us the lot for (from memory) about ten dollars a bottle.
Of course, wines of such dodgy provenance often prove disappointing, let alone ones made of a grape (Zinfandel) whose ability to age is contested. But the first bottle we opened that night — before our most memorable dinner — was good, and so was every bottle tasted thereafter. I’ve long finished my half of the stash, but the memory of both the find and the consumption remain vivid. Chris regularly stokes these fond recollections by providing a bottle or two of Ridge wine whenever we meet to drink, so over the years I’ve been lucky enough to taste everything from various Monte Bellos to a spectacular Syrah that gave a bottle of 2001 Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier tasted alongside a run for its money. I remember approaching that Syrah after some initial courses of German Riesling and so on; we were at that point in a grand dinner where the company, food and alcohol begin to meld into a single warm sensation. I smelled it once, not knowing what to expect, and was completely unable to control a spontaneous éclat of laughter. It was so wonderful.
All of which makes it difficult for me to write objectively about Ridge wines. In a sense, though, to approach this wine through a lens of dispassionate evaluation is to miss both what it means to me and what it represents, stylistically. Although I had never tasted this particular vintage before last night, the warm prickliness of its aroma was immediately transportative. To me, this smells of Californian wine, and for that alone I grant it enormous value. Each time I taste a Zinfandel-based wine, in particular those by Ridge, I love the difference of its flavour profile. Here, there’s intense spice and fruit cake, abundant chocolate, coconut and cherries. It’s as if someone stuffed a Cherry Ripe into the ripest, richest Christmas cake imaginable. Hence, it’s not an elegant wine in either character or footprint, and I love that it presents its notes with such blustery confidence.
The palate rebalances the aroma’s intense spice by providing a core of sweet, bright red fruit that cools the flavour profile. Entry is crisp and immediate, starting dark but quickly brightening to show a mix of red and black fruits. These fruits are juicy and perfectly ripened and provide much of the pleasure of eating freshly picked berries. Swirling all around this core are warm, rich spice notes, well-balanced mocha oak and a streak of bright orange juice. The finish leaves one with a lingering impression of the purest, sweetest fruit. Structurally, this is quite spectacular, the acid totally integrated and the tannins chewy and sweet. It’s taken a day to really open up, so I’d be leaving further bottles in the cellar for at least two to three more years before retasting.
In a sense, tasting a single wine prompts one to reflect on the entirety of one’s tasting experiences. This is what makes wine a pastime that becomes exponentially richer as the years pass, and also what can magnify the experience of one wine beyond all proportion. Happily, this wine was able to bear the full weight of my memories.