78% Zinfandel, 19% Petite Sirah, 2% Carignane,1% Grenache
Dry Creek Valley
Deep ruby Ripe, aromatic, perfumed berry; sweet blackberry predominates. Briary, with hints of eucalyptus/mint, lemon zest, sweet oak, vanilla. Briar and bright, sweet blackberry components intensify on the palate. Cherry, black raspberry, black currant. Licorice, peppery spice, vanilla. Nicely rounded tannins, firm— though not overpowering—acid, exquisite balance.
A late spring with difficult weather during flowering and set severely limited yields from the outset of the 1996 growing season. Quality, however, was excellent. Five percent more petite sirah than in any previous vintage contributes to the lush, full-bodied character. The wine was put in air-dried american oak in December after vintage, and racked every four months until bottling fourteen months later. We held the number of new barrels to roughly fifteen percent of the total, as the percentage of one-year old oak was quite significant. With its black fruit and lively spice, this fine zinfandel will be enjoyable at the time of its release, and at its best (as an explosively fruity wine) over the next five years.
This is the eighteenth vintage in which Ridge has made wine from the old zinfandel and mixed-varietal vineyards along Lytton Springs Road in the Dry Creek Valley appellation. Our 1972 Lytton Springs Zinfandel marked the first use of the Lytton Springs designation. With the purchase (1991) of these hundred-year-old vines, and subsequent purchase of the neighboring Norton Ranch, we now own most of the vines that make up the Lytton Springs. In contrast to the past few vintages, the 1996 harvest was very early—among the earliest on record for the vineyard. A series of storms in late winter and early spring brought the vines more rain than usual as the shoots first emerged; a mid-May storm arrived just as they began to bloom. The storm knocked off a considerable number of flowers, reducing the total crop by roughly thirty percent. In the case of the oldest vines, as much as fifty percent was lost. The storms of spring were followed by a very warm summer. Temperatures were unusually high—over thirty days exceeded 100 F. This extended heat wave resulted in a harvest at Lytton Springs that was perhaps two weeks ahead of schedule. The first grapes—at Lytton West—were picked on August 28; as the heat continued to push ripeness, we picked right through. Almost all the grapes were crushed and fermenting by the second week of September.
As always, the primary and secondary fermentations were carried out by naturally-occurring yeasts and malolactic bacteria. The old-vine zinfandel was fermented in small tanks, the grapes held beneath the surface of the juice for slow, gentle extraction—a process known as submerged-cap fermentation. The petite sirah and carignan were also fermented in small tanks, but the juice was pumped over a floating cap of grapes. Malolactic fermentation finished soon after the end of primary; the fifteen separate parcels were blind-tasted over a period of three weeks. The finest—and most typical of the vineyard’s character—were assembled to make this wine, which was then transferred to air-dried american oak for aging. To complement the wine’s full, luscious fruit, only twenty percent went to new barrels; while the rest was aged primarily in one- and two year old wood, adding spice and structure to the wine. After five racks and more than a year in barrel, it was bottled without fining. This intense, complex wine combines the raspberry typical of the site with the deep, darker blackberry often found in old-vine zinfandel. Petite sirah adds a spicy chocolate note that complements the bright zinfandel. The opulent, forward fruit will be at its most appealing in the first four or five years. For those willing to set a bottle or two aside, the wine’s substantial structure and fine balance assure a different pleasure after ten, or even twelve, years of aging.
Average Rating: 90.8
No. of Tasting Notes: 30
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