1995 Ridge Vineyards, Carignan, Oat Valley Vineyard, Cooley Family Ranch, Sonoma County.
I am still obsessed with these early to mid 1990s Ridge wines, especially the Zinfandel field blends and Carignan based wines, they are aging beautifully and holding on fantastically well, like this impeccable Oat Valley Ranch Vineyard 100% old vine Carignan that is showing its age, but still offering a full range of flavors, balance and an almost Bordeaux like profile with dark fruits, a hint of loamy earth, cedary spice, dried flowers and a graphite mineral note. This bottle came from an exceptional cellar, it never moved since it was bought as part of the Ridge ATP wine club, which offered out a special bottling not available to wine stores or restaurants, it had a perfect cork with not a hint of bleed and the color was perfect for a wine of this vintage with a bit of brown around the edges and with a dark garnet core. The nose is incredibly has a hint of reduction, but blows off quickly and opens to show the wilted flowers, red berries and the beginnings of some stewy plum and autumn leaves before the medium bodied palate comes alive with mulberry, baked blackberry, currant and dried cherries along with touch of underbrush, anise and bramble. The Oat Valley Vineyard Carignan retains that graphite and flinty element throughout though it never takes away from the overall drinking pleasure even with the slight fading of fruit and surprisingly, this fine aged example of this grape was superb with food, pulling out more pretty and supple fruit with my Saturday night pizza! This wine maybe deserved better, thinking it would have given its last true charm much better with a selection of hard cheeses and or a simple cut of beef, but oh well, it was still a wonderfully rewarding wine that was deservedly admired by me. For those who don’t know, Carignan is one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes common in the Rhone Valley, but maybe better known for its role in the wines of the Corbieres region in the Languedoc, where it sees its largest acreage of vines, though it is also found in most southern European counties, including Spain and Italy, Chile and Australia, as well as here in California.
The Cooley Family Ranch Carignan grapes were hand harvested and transferred to Ridge’s Monte Bello winery, as Lytton Springs (purchased by Ridge in 1996) wasn’t yet doing the Sonoma and Dry Creek bottlings, with this Oat Valley Vineyard sitting on the edge of the Sonoma and Mendocino county lines with soils that are a collection of iron and mineral rich rocky volcanic soils at a nice elevation that saw warm days and cool nights, allowing the perfect ripening of these grapes. At this time, Ridge’s legendary winemaker Paul Draper was leading the cellar team and his gifted touch certainly adds to the humbling experience to drink up some California history, with these vines being all pre-Prohibition plantings, making them over 80 years old at the time of this 1995 wine, which sadly look to have been entirely grated over to Bordeaux varietals in recent years. I was almost teary eyed as I was researching this wine, as these Carignan vines would be well over a hundred years old now, but unfortunately they are no more it would seem, only pleasure filled memories at this stage. Ridge has long been a champion of single vineyard site throughout California and has been heroic in trying to save the oldest and most unique vines and grape varieties, making wines of class and distinction since 1962, with a respect for nature and tradition in the vineyard and in the cellar. Ridge uses native yeasts and mostly de-stemmed grapes and ages in mostly long air dried American oak barrels that provide for more transparency and authentic terroir character and purity of flavors. Interestingly, 44 barrels were made of this Oat Valley Vineyard Old Vine Carignan, so hopefully there are a few more bottles out there for people to discover, but it also shows how awesome Ridge’s wine club is and how loyal the members are to soak up that much of a lesser known varietal!
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive