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Mark Squires' E-Zine on Wine

 

Mammoth Zinfandel tasting with Robert Parker

Black Friday followed by Red Saturday: Nov. 25, 1995

Robert Parker and his assistant Jay Miller staged a tasting of 59 zinfandels and two ringers, with all the usual suspects present, for 15 people. [His notes were just published in issue 103 of the Advocate, p. 39.--this note added 2/25/96.] We ate at the very friendly, very good, Milton Inn, which served us well on short notice. (That's a long story.) That and 60 odd bottles of wine settled me in for the evening. (G). This, I have to say, was hard in a certain sense. These zins as a group had a lot of youth, flamboyance and alcohol. It was a little fatiguing to the palate to drink so many heady wines in one sitting. I've drunk far more Bordeaux and Burgundies in a sitting without feeling so tired (not wasted, just tired...). Anyway, enough meandering, and here are some comments (limited comments; otherwise, I'd have to write a book, and this is long enough now.)
Served BLIND in flights of 10. We knew what wines were in the tasting, but not what wines were in each flight.

FLIGHT ONE:

This flight demonstrated how fine a zinfandel winery Turley has become. Favorites were the 93 Turley Hayne, the 93 Cline Big Break, the 93 Ravenswood Belloni at the top. The group had The Hayne first, too, followed by the 93 Coturri Coturri Vineyard and the 93 Turley Aida. First pick for moi and the group: the 93 Turley Hayne, poured eighth in its flight. [NOTE: When Parker's ratings came out recently, this and the Turley Aida were the only two wines he scored as high as 95.--this note added 2/26/96.] A wonderful wine, not as grapey as some of the flamboyant Ridges, a little more obvious tannin and balance, I think, but still intense, ripe fruit to kill and the structure to support it. Looking back on it, although we voted only by flight, this may have been my #1 of the event. I had a virtual tossup between the fifth (93 Cline Big Break) and second (93 Ravenswood Belloni) wines, and forced by Jay to choose, chose the Cline, which dollar for dollar was probably the best QPR wine there (and was considerably better than the rather odd 1990 Cline Reserve).

Next, the Ravenswood, almost sweet, very fruity essence of zin style that I often think a bit much, but this came around nicely with air and I decided I liked it a lot. Not too far back, the 93 Turley Moore-Earthquake. Very impressive, superb balance, didn't evolve much with air. Clearly outshone only by its cousin, the Hayne.


I liked the 94 De Loach OFS a lot too, but now, I was into the second tier. In no particular order, the 93 Mondavi was unimpressive and restrained; The Turley Aida (voted 3d by the group) was a laid back version of the Earthquake. Frankly, tasting all the Turleys, they seemed in large part to compete with each other as bigger or more restrained but otherwise similar versions of their cousins. A good wine, but I liked the other two better. A final note for the biggest bone to pick: the group had Coturri Coturri Vineyard 1993 as its second wine. I found it oversweet, just TOO late harvest in style. It makes Ridge Pagani seem restrained.

FLIGHT TWO:

This was an odd flight. Mixed in with several wines I really disliked were several that were very hard to distinguish and very fine. I felt like tossing a coin. (This turned out to make sense, since they were mostly young Ridge Zins.)

I did have a strong preference for wine 15, which turned out to be the 1991 Ridge Pagani Ranch, a huge, syrupy wine with black cherry flavors that sometimes seemed over the top but benefited from a couple of years of age. (I was very impressed all night with how 91 Ridges in general showed, and regrettably, I bought none.) I had a distinct but not certain preference for 93 Ridge Pagani in second place. I take back all those nasty things I've said about Pagani. I thought this was more restrained but very similar to the 1991. Then, I had a trio of wines, where I'd just say "pick em." The 93 Ridge Lytton Springs lacked the flamboyance of either Pagani, but I liked the style. The core seemed not quite as intense, though. The 92 Ridge Pagani had some mouth drying tannins, a touch of sweetness, followed by the 92 Ridge Lytton Springs, which again, was a more restrained versions of the Paganis. On reflection, the Lytton Springs were better balanced, the Paganis more flamboyant.

There was nothing else I really cared for in this flight. Forgive me, but I have to trash a trio of wines: 91 Coturri Chauvet, 90 Cline Reserve and 90 Topolos Rossi Ranch. All of these wines were so odd that they were prime candidates for the ringer. I thought the Topolos particularly hideous.
The ringer in fact was 1985 Trentadue Old Patch Red, which I actually rated as seventh. It at least made the cut. Group vote: Believe it or not, the Trentadue won. This is the biggest argument I have here all day. I think the Ridges, very similar, sorta cancelled themselves out and the next good but different wine attracted attention. Otherwise, I have no explanation. Then, the group chose the 91 Ridge Pagani (my first) for second place. Sanity restored. (G)

FLIGHT THREE

I'm typing and typing and it's beginning to feel like I'm reliving the marathon tasting. Water, bread, please. Anyway:
The first half of this flight was superb, the second half unpleasant IMHO. My top two wines were the 91 Ridge Geyserville (a lovely wine combining power, fruit, balance and intensity) and the 92 Ridge Geyserville (tied with the 93 Ridge Geyserville), honorable mention to 90 Ridge Geyserville.


This tasting was some demonstration of Bob Parker's view that zins do not age terribly gracefully, although I have to say here (and later with the Ravenswood flight) that I've sometimes had much better bottles.

The only wine I didn't like in the first half was the 92 Callaghan Buena Suerte. It was browner than a 20 year old wine, opened dead, revived a bit, but never showed much to justify buying it.

The second half saw older wines. The star was the 90 Ridge Geyserville, which seemed a notch less intense than its cousin the 91 Geyserville (my first place vote and the groups's also). Not bad praise. (I've noted before depending on storage that the 90 has some tendency to shut down, though.)

It was grim after that. An 87 Ridge Geyserville was so bad, slightly maderized that I thought it was the second ringer. (I KNOW this can be better wine! I've had some lately. ) The 85 Geyserville had slight maderization, but mostly seemed dull and old, as did the 84, although the 84 was the best of the older wines here. The 79 Fetzer Riceti seemed a little too earthy, not dead, but again, rather dull and boring. The Group, apart from the 91 Ridge Geyserville, selected the 84 Ridge Geyserville for second. (I picked 91 and 92 Ridge Geyserville for first and second; Robert Parker went for 92 and 91 as I recall....I wonder who did all that voting for the 84 Ridge Geyserville???)

FLIGHT FOUR

This was a surprisingly disappointing flight, with a lot of great old Ravenswood that I recall as much better not showing too well. My top wines: 90 Ravenswood Old Hill, 92 st. Francis Old Vines, 90 Ravenswood Cooke. The Old Hill showed remarkable balance, and a nice core of sweet, black cherry fruit, and for all of Joel Petersen's "take it to the max" rep, the best Ravenswoods seemed in better balance and more subtle than the Ridges as a group. (Whether you care or not, is up to you!)

The St. Francis had pretty, ripe fruit, and the Cooke added some mouth drying tannins supported by lots of fruit which was, however, less noticeable. The group picks: the 90 Cooke, 90 Ravenswood Dickerson tied with 92 St. Francis Old Vines.

Robert Parker went for the St. Francis and the Cooke, in that order. Personally, I found the Dickerson a bit too acidic. But the really annoying wines were, surprisingly, the 86 Ravenswood Dickerson, which started sweet and maderized quickly with air; the 85 Ravenswood Old Hill, which seemed faint and dying (once one of my fave all time zins...). Mediocre but not as bad were the 84 Ravenswood Old Hill and the 90 Ravenswood Sonoma.

FLIGHT FIVE

This was a flight again that had several really bad (and sometimes corked!) wines surrounded by lots and lots of nice things. My picks, in order: 91 Ridge Lytton Springs, 90 Ridge Lytton Springs, 91 Lytton Springs, 84 Lytton Springs Reserve.

Unhappily not showing well: a corky Ridge 87 Lytton Springs (the actual Lytton Springs winery, not Ridge), a very odd 86 Lytton Springs (again, a zin I knew well and loved) and 87 Lytton Springs Reserve. The 84 Ridge Lytton Springs was pleasant but just "there" and couldn't keep up IMHO.

Group: also picked the 91 Ridge LS and the 90 Ridge LS one and two. A good consensus in this flight. One result of this tasting is how many old favorites I came back to that are now shadows of their former selves. In a couple of instances, I could say that this is not representative. I've had some recently. As for others, I can only say my heart is broken. Sob.

FLIGHT SIX (Free at last, my head hurts....)

This was hands down the worst flight of the evening, featuring some really old zins (77 Montevina Special Selection, 74 Ridge Shenandoah, 77 Mirassou Harvest Unfiltered) and a vertical of Ridge York Creek. The 74 Ridge seemed rather lemony and the yuch was my summary for the Montevina. Hey, what do you want after 60 wines? Poetry? Highlights: none. The group picked the 82 and 81 Ridge Ycs one and two. I picked the 86 and 82 Ridge Ycs., but found nothing really exciting.

SUMMARY:


(c) Mark Squires, 1995