Ridge Zinfandels

There are a handful of wineries I buy from every year, no matter what the vintage was like. One of these is Ridge, a business celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year. Winemaker Paul Draper has that rare quality of faithfully transmitting vineyard characteristics while giving his wines a personal stamp.

While Ridge is perhaps best known for “Monte Bello” Cabernet Sauvignon, its greatest accomplishment has been Zinfandels. Indeed, Ridge Zinfandels always reflect the sites where the vines grew, and all taste remarkably distinct. They are structured wines, rarely flabby or sweet like other Zins. While they use oak, the vineyard dries the barrels, giving a dusty quality to the fruit. They also age remarkably well for this varietal.

A rewarding way to enjoy Zinfandels is to gather some friends and enjoy several from the same vintage but from different vintage sites to discover the difference “terroir” makes in wine.

Alexander Valley, 2007, $35
Blended with the Carignan grape, this is the least “Zin”-like. While the driest of the group, it is also the most elegant and restrained, with aromas of violets and evergreen and a palate that recalls the verve of a great Italian Montepuliciano.

Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley
2007, $35
Ripe and meaty, with serious texture and a luscious dried fruit quality.

Pagani Ranch
Sonoma Valley, 2007, $35
The most exotic, with a vivid purple hue and aromas of Chinese five-spice, damson plums and cinnamon.

Paso Robles
2007, $30
More linear flavors with a smoky, fatback quality. Accessible and juicy with a natural cola finish.

Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

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