January 19, 2007

2003 Ridge Lytton West Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, California

After having such a terrific experience with the De Lisio shiraz we were excited to keep the momentum going with non-French syrah. I found this one by Ridge and didn't hesitate picking it up. Though Ridge has produced a syrah since the mid-1990's, those were only for sale at the winery and this is the first vintage to be released outside of the winery. That's pretty cool. I have tried several of the zinfandels from Ridge over the years, and they consistently rock. We aren't drinking much zinfandel these days, but when we do the Ridge Geyserville, Pagani Ranch and Lytton Springs zins will be top of my list. But I digress.

We'd not tried the Ridge syrah, but figured that they would bring the same quality, intensity and attention to detail to this wine that they do to their zinfandels. We were correct in that assumption. This wine was absolutely fantastic and it stunned us. But first, a little history...

The Ridge vineyards date back to the 1880's, which in the American wine industry is a very, very long time ago. In 1885 Osea Perrone (viva Italia!) purchased about 200 acres of land along the Monte Bello ridge (monte bello is Italian for beautiful mountain). I'm seeing a connection between Italians and great syrah here... but that's just me. Osea terraced the land and planted the first vines himself. He built a small winery and set about making his first wines under the name of the Monte Bello Winery. Fast forward to today and the land has changed hands a couple of times, various parcels have been acquired or sold off and have had a variety of different vines planted across it. This original vineyard has also become a key vineyard property in what is now Ridge Wines. In terms of their techniques, Ridge has always been somewhat of a rebel and has made wines with approaches very different than their other Californian neighbors. Oddly, this has a lot to do with Prohibition, which cleaved Californian winemaking from its historical roots. Post Prohibition, many winemakers experimented by collaborating with the agricultural universities and worked to technologically change winemaking. Ridge did not subscribe to this approach, and during the sixties began focusing on a winemaking process that is natural and eschewed technology. This approach is really pretty simple and starts with creating the best fruit, fermenting in small lots with naturally occurring yeasts and nurturing the wines along throughout the winemaking process. It is an approach that is passionate, intense and laborious. Their wines consistently show the benefits of these efforts.

The Lytton West Syrah is no exception. It is intensely dark with a full, enticing nose. There is lots of fruit (strawberry... like strawberry preserves) in the nose, but all of it is balanced by an earthy quality. Both of us said "Wow!" out loud as we were smelling it and before we had even tasted it. Cat was wide eyed. We drink good wine, but this is really, really good wine and we both knew it. On the palate this syrah is rich and complex, though still medium bodied. A perfect and flexible food wine, I could see this with beef or pork tenderloin, Moroccan cuisine, or even a spirited salmon prep. The wine just kicks ass. The palate, while full, has a fantastic finish. Not cloying or over the top like many Californian syrahs, it finishes quietly with just lingering hints of the fruit and a little bit of spice. Interestingly, this wine is also made with 9% viognier - a white Rhone varietal. This may be what keeps this syrah from being over the top. For a wine that is such a powerhouse it finishes with subtleness and elegance. Delicious? Yes. Well-rounded? Yes. Memorable? Definitely. Both Cat and I loved this wine and highly recommend it. We also love the label design and find it to be classic, like it was designed by Pentagram.

cost - $36.99

winecommando rating (1-10) - 10 (solidly!)


Hayden said...

You love 03 Ridge Syrah? At Crushpad in San Francisco, they make a very similar style Syrah. Delish. Check them out at www.crushpadwine.com

sanspotash said...

Thanks for the tip, we'll check it out.