A quick break from BC wines this week because I had one of my favouites over the weekend…and wanted to write about it because the winery has so many special memories for me.
It was the Lytton Springs Proprietary Wine from Ridge Vineyards in California. The ’02 vintage of this mostly Zinfandel-based wine was a stunner — at 9 years old, still deep red with ripe blackberries, garrigue and a lush, soft texture — very much what Chateauneuf du Pape might taste like if it came from Cali!
Ridge was one of the first wineries to get famous for its Zins, with owner/ winemaker Paul Draper acknowledged as one of the pioneers for this grape (including the Monte Rosso, which was a ‘cult Zin’ before there were cult Cabs!).
My first Ridge memory came from the original wine cellar purchase back I made in the mid-1980’s ($1000 cash spent on about 50 bottles before BC govt liquor stores took credit; but that’s a whole other blog in itself!)
It was the 1979 Paso Robles Zinfandel and I remeber it for two reasons. First, it was my introduction to Zin, and what an intro — purple, mouth staining and really powerful! But the other reason I remember it was because of the way my Mom (who also had a glass) reacted to it — her face flushed red at the high alcohol! She liked it, but too strong! Every time I drink Ridge,I think of her (she passed away 20 years ago now).
I soon after started to cellar two Ridge wines — the Lytton Springs and Geyserville Zins — because they were such amazing values. Always super ripe, almost like blackberry liquor, highly rated (90+ by Parker) and capable of 6 – 8 years of cellaring — all for <$30 at the time!
Then, perhaps my most amazing Ridge memory. As part of the Vancouver Wine Festival in the early 1990's, a new trendy restaurant called Lumiere hosted a dinner paired with Ridge wines. The chefs just happened to be Rob Feenie (now famous as Canada's first Iron Chef) and his sous chef Frank Pabst (now almost as well known as the head chef from Vancouver's Blue Water Restaurant). It turned out to be the best food and wine experience in my life — and remains that way to this day!
For the wines, two different vintages of the Lytton Springs, Geyserville and Monte Rosso!! And the food — Feenie's soon to be famous smoked black cod was on the tasting menu, as well as the best dish I have still ever eaten. It was a sea scallop topped with foie gras, wild mushrooms, crispy pancetta and dabbed with jus!! Unbelievable! I can still almost taste it. Although the restaurant has since closed and the chefs moved on, it remains one of my great wine and food memories.
Finally, I actually got a chance to meet Mr. Draper at the Vancouver Wine Festival a few years ago. He was just there, standing at the Ridge tasting booth, looking quite unassuming. I don't think folks actually knew who he was! Personally, I felt intimidated — all I could do was introduce myself, shake his hand and say how much I loved his wines. I remember he smiled.
I still have both the Lytton Springs and Geyserville in my cellar (in addition to the '02, the '05 and '06 are there). They are expensive now, over $50 usually, so it's tougher to justify. But they continue to amaze me when I open them.
And that — plus the memories — is why I will continue to look for Ridge and its Zinfandels for many years to come!