Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pine Ridge Vertical Tasting

“I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive.”
- Maya in the movie Sideways

The core of the Alaska Grape Nuts assembled the other weekend to conduct our first official vertical tasting. One of our members is a big Pine Ridge Winery ( fan and became a member of their library club, which delivers some of their older vintages. He assembled for us a collection of their Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from 1996 through 2000.

As someone relatively new to wine, but totally consumed, I am intrigued and desirous of trying older wines. But, alas, my collection is young and don’t really have the means to pay for wines that have been aged. This for me represented some of the oldest wines I’ve tasted… and I was quite excited about it.

We decided to start with the old and move to the new, reasoning that the younger wines would be more tannic, less refined, and could overwhelm the older ones. I’m not sure what the correct protocol is on this, though. We had separate glasses for each one, though, and so we had the opportunity to revisit them all after going through the line up once.

1996: I think this was the crowd favorite… WOW… especially on the second visit, after it had breathed just a little more. It had an incredibly soft mouth feel. You could start to see some color variation on the rim. The fruit was sturdy and solid, but still somehow subtle. There was still structure with the wine but the tannins were just incredible soft. The finish persisted and it was just a beautiful wine to drink… absolutely my favorite of the night.
Blend: 80% Cab, 15% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cab Franc

1997: This wine was brighter in color and fruit; it wasn’t quite as garnet colored as the 1996 and definitely had more bright, but short lived fruit. On the second visit to this wine I noted a bit of raisiny notes. The ultra fine tannins really stood out to me on this one. The group consensus on this was 3rd or 4th.
Blend: 76% Cab, 11% Merlot, 5% Cab Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec

1998: This vintage came in last place for crowd consensus and interestingly, this vintage in Napa is usually rated low overall. However, many of the Nuts in attendance thought this would be an excellent wine with a steak and had strong preferences… so, don’t read too much into vintage charts. The mouth feel was consistent and nice, there was acidity and tannins on the backend. But, for me the fruit really wasn’t present and what little was there seemed to disappear really easily. This had a wide variation of reviews.
Blend: 77% Cab, 17% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Cab Franc

1999: I would describe this wine in one word… complete. At this point I could tell between this and the ‘96 that we were drinking a bit of a newer wine; or, at least wine that could age a bit more. This had a slight syrupyness and viscosity to the mouth feel, very nice fruit but not deep or rich, but it persisted in the finish… and I liked that. The group rated this as the second highest of the night.
Blend: 76% Cab, 18% Merlot, 4% Cab Franc, 2% Petit Verdot

2000: This one was rated 3rd overall and the tannins and acidity were present. There wasn’t the fruit present like in the ‘96 or event the ‘99, but it wasn’t completely lacking like the ‘98. I’d really like to see how this wine is in 3 years… would it be more like the ‘96… well integrated and smooth?  Or, would it be like the ‘98… all tannins?
Blend: 75% Cab, 20% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec, 1% Cab Franc

It was a memorable night for all of us. As always, we really enjoyed each others company and being able to talk about life, wine, and the new experience. I loved the extreme differences between the vintages and I’d like to read a report of those years. Were they hot, rainy, early, late, etc.? We also found it interesting to see the different proportions used in blending (something they aren’t required by law to include on the label). Finally, I am grateful to try a wine like the ‘96, a wine that to me was obviously an older wine, and to experience the richness, depth, and personality of a bottle of wine that was born 13 years ago. I look forward to more of these, especially as our young cellars gain maturity.

Until next time… Drink and Discover