1997 Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Nervo Vineyard, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County.
I usually review new or current release wines, but this was too good an opportunity to miss, a perfectly cellared bottle to celebrate Zinfandel Day, and wow, did this 1997 Ridge Nervo Zinfandel exceed all expectations with beautiful mature fruit and texture, it in fact reminded me of an aged Rioja Reserva, but with classic Zin, raspberry fruits, cedary spices and dried flowers. The color was exceptionally youthful still, a pleasant surprise, with a deep purple/garnet hue with just a glinting hint of burgundy/orange around the edges and the nose was lightly loamy, with macerated red fruits and woody elements and led to a palate of red berries, plum and the raspberry fruits with a sense of preserves, more than freshly crushed, which is accented by a hint of anise, a slight balsamic note, baking spices, tobacco and a sweet kiss of American oak with a hint of the vanilla and toasted coconut. This wine, enjoyed over the course of an evening, really held up throughout and was graceful and decedent on its own and did wonderfully well with a pasta dinner, very impressive and with a remarkable clarity and welcome vibrancy. This Ridge Nervo Vineyard Zinfandel came from 116 year old vines, at the time of its harvest in 1997, which were located not far from the 101 Highway, between Geyserville and Healdsburg that was originally planted prior to the Nervo family’s purchase of their property back in 1896. When Ridge bought these grapes in ’97, they were from the old eight acre parcel that was about 91% Zinfandel and 9% Petite Sirah, with Paul Draper noting that usual inclusion of Carignan was not included in the final blend in this heavy crop vintage, as it was too light to add anything of merit to this Nervo bottling. I am always blown away with the older Ridge wines, and in fact, many older Zins age well and while they lose that overt fruitiness after about 15 or so years in bottle, sometimes you can even be fooled into thinking they are Bordeaux(s), with a silky mouth feel and a sense of earthy complexity, making for a compelling experience in maturity. The 1997 growing season was a great one in California, producing some of the greatest wines of the decade, and there was a bountiful crop of ripe grapes at harvest time, so much so that winemakers almost didn’t have enough space for all the grapes, many chose to do an intense sorting and selection to make their wines, which led to some legendary efforts.

Ridge, ever the open book, says the 1997 Nervo Zin was fermented using all natural spontaneous yeast and aged in mostly five times used air dried American oak barrels with just 20% new wood being used here with an elevage of about a year. This wine was part of Ridge’s Advance Tasting Program, a series they do that go to their wine clubs almost exclusively, so it was a rare treat to get ahold of this one, which I am grateful for and have to thank my friend and wine professional Alex Lallos who found this gem in a private and well kept cellar, with this bottle being in one place since its release in the early part of 1999. I also scored a 1995 Ridge Oat Valley Carignan, which I will open sooner versus later and I hope it has held up even half as good as this Nervo. Overall the ’97 Nervo has a brilliant structural build with some dusty, drying tannins, as you’d expect in a dense wine such as this, but like all Ridge wines it is very polished and supple. I have been blessed with the chance over the years to sample some very old Ridge bottles and while usually people talk about the Monte Bello, their iconic Cabernet Sauvignon based blend from their Santa Cruz Mountains estate, I also must say the Zin blends, like Lytton Springs, Geyserville and Pagani Ranch, all age well to, with this 1997 Nervo proving this quite loudly and with style. I have also in the past have had 25 year old plus Zins from Joel Paterson of Ravenswood fame, with his early nineties stuff, like Old Hill and Dickerson, which were also fabulous and I had an old Elyse Morisoli Zin, from 1991 that was so good even tasted blind a French friend serious thought it was an outer Medoc wine, he guess it was an eighties Beychevelle! Plus, I can say that Turley and Lamborn’s Howell Mountain Zins are very age-worthy. Zinfandel, also now known by its Croatian (or original) name Tribidrag is having another renaissance and there are some fantastic versions out there, with Ridge, Turley, Biale, Carlisle, Bedrock, Lagier-Merideth and Martinelli being just some of the modern classics, plus in the last couple of years you are seeing more small producers hand crafting lighter and more natural styles as well, including great examples by Broc Cellars, Sandlands, Monte Rio Cellars and Martha Stoumen, giving this grape an exciting new range. It’s a great time to discover Zinfandel all over again, and don’t miss a chance to try an older bottle, especially these Ridge offerings!
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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