Monthly Archives: June 2013

A Vertical Tasting at Ridge Vineyards

Ridge Vineyards winery

Ridge Vineyards winery

Nina and I are low-key planners when it comes to our trips. Just like our California trip to see family, until we arrived, all we had were the tickets and a place to stay. The rest usually comes naturally. And so it did. During a dinner with one of Nina’s cousins, he mentioned that one of his cousins is a vineyard manager at Ridge Vineyards…I did not take notice immediately, but then I saw a Ridge label in a wine store and realized: Wait a second, I have heard of the winery before!! This is not some local hack, this is actually pretty decent California wine royalty.

So we pestered cousin 1 to get in touch with his cousin 2 and see what he could do to get us to the winery. I know, I know. I am a sucker for good wine, and I wanted to see whether we could get a decent tasting. And a decent tasting we got. Turned out that the day we were in the region (we were in San Jose, while the winery and tasting room is in Cupertino), they were having a Wine Club exclusive tasting. And that tasting included a vertical of Ridge’s Bucchignani Ranch Carignane. We naturally made ourselves available for this and ended up on the guest list, together with two friends of ours.

Let me tell you about the winery: Ridge Vineyards was founded in 1962, but its roots go back further. In the 1880s, a doctor bought land in the Monte Bello Ridge, a mountainous slope near Cupertino. These vineyards were later bought by the then owners of Ridge in the 1960s, and Monte Bello is still their flagship vineyard. Apparently, the winery has been owned by a pharmaceutical company since the 1980s (weird!!). It now mostly has holdings in Napa and Sonoma (north of the San Francisco Bay), with Monte Bello still being part of its portfolio. It became famous when during the Judgment of Paris in 1976, a blind tasting in Paris that compared California and Bordeaux reds as well as California and Burgundy chardonnays, it came in fifth with its 1971 Monte Bello, an outstanding achievement (the first wine was a California, then three Bordeuax, then Ridge). In a re-enactment 30 years later, Ridge came in first with its wine!!

The label (Photo credit: www.ridgewine.com)

The label (Photo credit: http://www.ridgewine.com)

Let me say this first: I love the bottles for their iconic, simple labels. They’re just really stylish.

The drive up to the tasting room is gorgeous in itself. You wind the car up and up and up and then reach the winery, which overlooks Silicon Valley. It’s just spectacular.

But off to the vertical. As I indicated, we had a vertical of 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 Ridge Bucchignani Ranch Carignane. Bucchignani Ranch was added to Ridge’s portfolio in 1999. The vineyard is located in the northwestern edge of Alexander Valley. The majority of the Carignane vines in this vineyard were planted in the 1940s, with oldest dating back to 1927 and the youngest to 1952.

We started with the 2006 Ridge Bucchignani Ranch Carignane. In the glass, the wine showed a lighter red with slight browning at the edges. The nose was enticing, with blueberry pie, salt caramel and sweet almond aromas. Quite unexpected, very pretty. On the palate, the wine was light bodied, with firm tannins that were nicely balanced. The wine was showing some contraction, with rather low fruit aromas. However, it felt a bit thinnish to me. It got more impressive when paired with the salty cheese that ridge was providing. I’d say a good to very good wine. Not impressive, but solid.

Next up was the 2007 vintage. The pourer informed us that 2007 was a very hot year. The wine presented itself in a darker, ruby red color. The nose was very intense, it was hard to focus on what aromas I got: it was perfumy, one of our friends remarked on butter scotch, although I am not sure I got that. To me, there were meaty aromas going on…whatever that says. So, yeah, definitely interesting nose. On the palate, the wine was medium-bodied, with a surprising amount of acidity and lots of tannins. Very different from the previous vintage. It felt rather balanced, but was a bit all over the place. What I liked most about this wine was the taste after you swallowed. About 20 seconds in, aromas became jammy and fruity. I really enjoyed that finish. For my flavor profile, though, this might have been a bit too strong. I could see it go well with food, though!

Us with our good friend in the tasting room

Us with our good friend in the tasting room

We then moved on to the 2008 vintage, which was of a lighter ruby red color. In the nose, we got orange peel, cloves, I detected some sweat. Not a bad nose (despite the sweat). The great thing about this wine, though, was its structure. Unlike the other two wines, it was spicy right in the beginning, not the end. There was very good balance in the wine. I detected some chalk in the mid-section that leads over to well developed flavor in the back. Very good, lingering finish that wraps up the wine well. I thought this was very good.

The final wine in the vertical was the 2011 Ridge Bucchignani Ranch Carignane. A bit more powerful in color, this wine showed very young aromatics in the nose, with balsamic vinegar, stone fruit and blackberry. Again, a nose that was very nice to linger in for a while. In the mouth, this wine was medium bodied with strong acidity, but the flavors were dominated by its jammy-ness. Later I got vanilla and scone batter. I noted down that this wine was very refreshing. It might have been a bit unbalanced still with the rather strong acidity, but I still thought this was a very good wine. And give it a few years and the acidity will calm down a bit, too.

All in all, it was a good tasting. The wines were definitely interesting and diverse and gave a good impression of the skill that is going on at Ridge. The wines are definitely a reason why this winery has a good reputation. I’d come back any time. :)

The wines from this line are apparently only sold to members of the Wine Club. The 2011 vintage is being sold at $26, which seems a fair price when compared to other California wines.

Goofing off, Silicon Valley in the background

Goofing off, Silicon Valley in the background

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Monthly Wine Challenge #1: Transportation

My fellow blogger The Drunken Cyclist has put up a nice challenge on his blog the other day. In it, he pretty much encourages us other bloggers to write a themed post to be published by the first week of July around the topic of “transportation”. And, naturally, the post has to be somewhat connected to wine…duh.

The first thing that popped to my mind was the Mosel valley. I have told you many times (and trust me, those who have met me in person suffer even more from that!) how, at times, insanely steep the vineyards at the Mosel can be. How steep, you ask? Well, the Mosel vineyard Bremmer Calmont, which Wikipedia names as one of the steepest vineyards in the world (yes, and that actually means the world and not just America because it is not the “World Series”…), has up to a 68 degrees incline (for the record: 45 degrees is 100% for those who measure it that way). Just sayin’. An article on About.com speaks of “typical inclines between 40 and 60 degrees” along the Mosel. Are you beginning to understand why I am telling you that Mosel wines are seriously under priced? Think of all the hard work that goes into maintainng a vineyard like this…

So how do winemakers transport themselves into these hills to do pruning, and assessing grape quality? And even more importantly, how do they transport the grapes out?

Well, this guy has found the answer:

When you drive down the Mosel on your bike, in your car or on a train, you will notice these metal lines sloping up into the steepest parts. They are necessary to power a piece of machinery that was – I believe – invented in Switzerland: A so called monorack train. The monorack’s track is made of a steel square tube to which a tooth bar is attached on the bottom. The tubes are firmly attached to the ground on poles. The winemakers then hook a monorack train to these rails, complementing the tooth bar. The train is powered by either Diesel, gasoline or even electricity. The tracks use extremely little space and can climb inclines of up to 100%; they even can perform horizontal or vertical curves in a radius of up to four meters. Besides the engine, the train is comprised of a seat or more and a cart-like space to put tools in – or even boxes of grapes at harvest time.

Many steep vineyards still are not using the monorack, or cannot be reached by it because they are too steep. But even with the monorack, harvesting is extremely hard work, getting the grapes from grape pickers and getting them to the waiting monorack tractors. If there are no monoracks, that is even more work. Transportation and labor therefore form very high cost factors in producing these wines – monorack or not.

And what if I tell you that you can still find wines from these winemakers that sell for around $20 to $25. You would call that insane? Well, that is one way. Others call it buyer’s luck…

The monorack is a unique feature in unique landscapes. Keep your eyes open next time you wander the vineyards along Mosel or Neckar in Germany. And admire the guts of the winemakers riding these, or imagine how much fun it would be sitting on one…Monoracks have made transportation in an almost impossible world a tiny bit easier, and at least some more fun.

To me, my love for these wines has in part stemmed from an appreciation for what these vineyards demand from a dedicated winemaker. You can’t use harvesting machinery really, you have to climb slatey soil to reach the steepest outreaches. The prize is clear: Producing some of the proudest, most beautiful and deepest white wines this world knows. I wish we wine drinkers could merit that a bit more…

Please, please watch at least parts of these two videos to see what I mean by gutsy and fun…

First it’s uphill…

And then it’s downhill…

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Summer is here, it’s time for sangria…

Our Sangria

Our Sangria

It has undoubtedly become summer here in A2: It is hot, and it is humid…yikes. But I have begun feeling my urge to have sangria, and at our local food bloggers meeting we were talking about it, too. So I dug a bit and found my post from May 2012 in which I posted my recipe. Until then, I had never made sangria. But I thought whatever, it cannot be too hard… So back then, I scoured the web, and found tons of recipes, like this one or that one, usually boasting that they are the best recipe ever. A surprising number were for white sangria of which I had never even heard of before. I was also disturbed by the frequent ingredient of club soda or ginger ale…just did not sound right to me.

Eventually, I just decided to give it my own try, pure and simple:

– 5 liters of Franzia boxed shiraz (hey, it is the world’s most popular wine after all…according to their website) – I picked a shiraz because it tends to be more spicy than the other varieties they have and I thought spice notes like cinnamon and cardamom etc. would go well with the fruit that was going in. Also, don’t even bother with buying more expensive wines, the idea is using a cheap wine and flavor it to taste.

– 2 oranges, 1 lemon, 1 apple (all organic, because they will soak with their skins in the wine) cut in wheels. Peaches are also great.

– 2 oranges squeezed into the wine

– 2 cups of sugar dissolved in 1 1/2 cup of warm water (to create a syrup that blends easier with the wine than the granulated sugar) – make this according to your own taste.

A friend of ours also adds some vanilla aroma, which I have found to be a great addition, too.

Mix it all, chill it for as long as you can (ours chilled for about 10 hours, overnight is even better) and that is that. No club soda, no ginger ale. We added some sparkling water to make it bubbly later, but I don’t think it is necessary. I thought it worked pretty nicely…

This is not a 5 liter cooler...I refilled it from the bucket.

This is not a 5 liter cooler…I refilled it from the bucket.

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