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Ridge’s Jimsomare—The “Other” Monte Bello

Jimsomare's Gate - Click to enlarge

Last week I had the rare opportunity to attend a tasting of two verticals from Ridge’s famed, but elusive, Jimsomare Vineyard.  One of three Ridge vineyards on Monte Bello ridge, Jimsomare has been the source of outstanding Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from Ridge’s beginning.  It also has Ridge’s plantings of Chardonnay.  Ridge, of course, is so well known to Gang-ites (or is it Gangsters?) that I’m not going to waste precious e-space going into the long and storied history of Ridge.  And although Ridge’s Jimsomare Vineyard may be less well-known than some others, since it gets only limited distribution from the winery, and occasionally in Ridge’s now-defunct Cabernet Program and still-thriving ATP, it is well-known and loved by the Gang.  In fact, Allan Bree reported on a similar Jimsomare tasting way back when in 1999.  So let’s get to it!

We started out with a couple of whites:

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2008 Ridge Chardonnay Jimsomare (14.8%).  The first chardonnay labeled “Jimsomare”, although all of the Ridge chardonnays come from that vineyard, even those labeled “Monte Bello”.  A very traditionally “California-style” chardonnay, with full ML, barrel fermented, and aged in American oak.  Fat rich, creamy and full of vanilla, with decent if not exceptional acidity, this is a well-made wine in a style that seems to be increasingly out of favor. find this wine

1961 Hanzell Chardonnay.  A real curiosity, this was clearly maderized, dominated by sherry/caramel/butterscotch flavors, but not without interest and surprisingly well balanced with zippy acidity, not at all dried out.  Was probably superb in its day (maybe 30-40 years ago). find Hanzell Chardonnay

First up were the Jimsomare Zinfandels.  All are 100% Jimsomare fruit, and 100% Zinfandel, except where noted. Find vintages of Ridge Jimsomare Zinfandel

1968 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (15%). Fairly pale color, and a hint of oxidation on the nose along with a stinky cheese rind aroma, the telltale fragrance of a wine on the downslope of its aging curve, this is still quite enjoyable with high-toned fruit, and complex flavors of herbs, earth, and some spice.  A bit tart, but not dried out or raisiny, rather elegant in fact.  Began to fade after about 15 minutes in the glass, but pretty vigorous for a 42-year-old zinfandel.

1970 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (15.8%). Poured from both a regular bottle and a magnum.  Much larger scaled than the 1968, richer but very well balanced.  A bit tart with strong acidity giving the wine a piquant character, but almost Burgundian in its weight and aromatics.  The magnum was fresher and full of black pepper notes, a bit of cheese rind with meaty notes and the slightest oxidative note.  The regular bottle had more pronounced acidity but was close in overall quality to the magnum.

1979 Ridge Zinfandel Monte Bello (12%). A blend of 40% Jimsomare and 60% Pichetti, another nearby vineyard that contributed to some of the Monte Bello wines in this era.  Very peppery fruit, high-toned acidity with cherry and a hint of citrus, soft tannins.  Quite fresh and complex, this one seems more Claret-style.

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1981 Ridge Zinfandel Monte Bello (11.9%). This is 73% Jimsomare, 27% Pichetti.  Soft, elegant, full of fruit with a bit of “age stink” (cheese rind), smooth, fully resolved tannins, very savory and tasting more ripe than the alcohol would indicate.  Delicious and one of the favorites.

1982 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (11.6%). 5% Petite Sirah.  Quite restrained, with very high-toned/tart acidity dominating the palate.  Some tannins still unresolved, but very lean, reminded me of a Norton.  Rather atypical and not too enjoyable.

1983 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (11.9%). Corked.

1988 Ridge Zinfandel Late Picked Jimsomare (14.9%). 3% Petite Sirah, 0.11% residual sugar.  Much riper with darker fruit and more richness than the other ‘80’s wines.  Some dried fruit characteristics and smooth tannins, but still with good fruit that doesn’t come across as sweet, and surprisingly high acidity.  The first wine that begins to resemble more modern, large-scaled zinfandels.

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1991 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (13.1%). More primary fruit, this still could age more.  Wonderfully balanced with with perfectly balanced acidity and smooth tannins.  Rich but in the “claret-style” in terms of its structure, but with expansive aromatics and great length that make me think “Burgundian”.  Really superb wine.

1992 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (14.8%). This has the stinky cheese aromatics of an over-mature wine and some oxidation, too.  Not much fruit, the palate is dominated by acidity, this seems tired and clearly past its best.

1993 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (14.9%). Much riper and deeper, but with a bit of oxidation showing.  Lower in acid than most of the wines thus far, and raisiny notes of overripeness.  Rather hollow mid-palate, and short finish.  Decent, but no better.

1994 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (13.4%). Rich powerful, with dark fruits.  Rich and round palate gives the impression of softness, but the acidity is very well balanced and gives the wine plenty of freshness.  Seems perfectly mature, terrific wine.

2000 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (15%). Rich, ripe, and still primary with some overripe raisiny notes and low tannins.  Powerful, full of black currant, decent acidity, good length.  This is a bit too ripe for my preference, but still very good.

2002 Ridge Zinfandel Late Picked Jimsomare (15.6%). Even riper than the 2000, and a bit hot.  Full of dried fruit, very intense overripe character but still drinkable as a dry table wine.  Reasonable balance if verging on porty.  Too ripe for me, but fans of the style would like this.

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2003 Ridge Zinfandel Jimsomare (13.6%). Beautifully balanced with perfect ripeness, this seems classic in comparison with the previous couple of wines.  Pepper, red and black fruits, great depth and full of fruit, great length.  Really, really good, and capable of aging for quite a while.

On to the Cabernets.  Again, all Jimsomare fruit, and all Cabernet, except where noted. Find vintages of Ridge Jimsomare Cabernet Sauvignon

1985 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare (12.5%). Savory, leafy, cabernet franc-like nose, savory palate with some green notes, but not vegetal, more savory herbs like marjoram and thyme, with a hint of mint/rosemary.  A bit under ripe, but still quite enjoyable, more like a Loire cabernet than Bordeaux.  Would be better with food.

1993 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare (13.4%). Fairly rich and shoing ripe fruit and spices.  Seems mature, with simple and understated fruit flavors, hard tannins, almost too structured.  Not quite enough fruit.

1994 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare (12.4%). This is riper in a more “California-style” of cabernet.  Rich, with deep fruit, a hint of raisins and slightly soft, but still savory and easy to like.  Will not improve for much longer.  Drink now.

1995 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Jimsomare (12.9%). Very Bordeaux on the nose, a classic “claret-style” cabernet.  Outstanding balance and great complexity with cassis, cedar, cigar box and great length.  A great Ridge Cabernet.

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1978 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello (13.6%). 6% Merlot.  The Grand Vin, not Jimsomare.  In the style of the 1995 Jimsomare, but much more advanced, even a bit tired, with some oxidative scents poking through the subdued fruit.  I have had better bottles of this wine, but clearly even perfectly stored bottles are fully mature and should be enjoyed soon.

Some interesting dessert wines followed.

1971 Ridge Zinfandel Essence (13.7%, 13% residual sugar). 375ml bottle.  From the Buena Vista Vineyard in. . .Lodi!  Quite pale, but still very much alove, with rich port-like fruit and not too sweet.  Good acidity gives surprising freshness, and gives the wine more of a Madeira-like impression as opposed to Port. find this wine

1978 Ridge Zinfandel Dusi Late Harvest (14.2%, 10.5% residual sugar). 375ml bottle.  Dusi has long been the vineyard source for Ridge from Paso Robles.  This is quite similar to the 1971 Essence, but clearly is younger and richer, with more fruit and power, and about the same level of sweetness.  A bit less acid, and thus more Port than Madeira.  Still drinking well. find this wine

2007 Ridge Zinfandel Geyserville Essence (13.5%, 16.95 % residual sugar). 23% Petite Sirah.  This is much sweeter than the previous wines, but very rich, powerful, and not too dense or thick.  The balance is quite good, and this seems like it should age very well, although the acidity seems to be on the low side. find this wine

We also had a couple of other excellent, non-Ridge dessert wines, including a 1985 Phelps Late Harvest Scheurebe, a 1977 Taylor Port, and a 1998 Ch. d’Yquem, but I didn’t take formal notes on these.  The Scheurebe and Yquem were standouts.
find Ch. d’Yquem wine
find Phelps Late Harvest Scheurebe

This was a terrific tasting, and very educational.  My favorites overall were the 1981 Monte Bello Zinfandel, the 1991, 1994, and 2003 Jimsomare Zins, and the 1995 Jimsomare Cabernet.  The 1970 Jimsomare Zin out of magnum, the ’79 Zin, and the 1985 Cabernet were also quite enjoyable.  Certainly this tasting reinforces Ridge’s reputation as one of America’s finest wineries and one that consistently makes wines that have the capacity for extended cellar aging.  Whether the aged character is something you like, or not, is a personal matter, but at any age these wines give a lot of pleasure.  The oldest wines all have some degree of that “stinky cheese rind” aroma that I find to be characteristic of an over-mature dry red wine of any kind.  It’s not unpleasant (at least not to me), but not everyone will be equally tolerant of it, and it does tend to dominate and reduce the overall complexity of a wine in the oldest examples.  Yet none of these wines were truly oxidized or dried out to the point of being over-the-hill, and even those past their peak were quite enjoyable as wines, and also interesting on an intellectual level.  I, for one, will never pass up the opportunity to taste a Ridge wine at any stage of its life!

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