Saturday, March 17, 2012

Venge Scouts Honor and Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel Blends

Ribs and Zinfandel March Madness Wine Tasting - Venge Scouts Honor and Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel Blends Against HazyBlur Shiraz

What to drink when watching March Madness b-ball? Not a dilemma here - Zinfandel with bar-b-que ribs, of course, a favorite combination. For a gourmand approach, try Zinfandel blends, a more complex wine for a more enriching wine tasting experience. The other wine that fits here is our usual favorite, South Australian Shiraz, so we compared a Hazyblur Kangaroo Island Shiraz 2004, a perfect match to the flight, brought by Bill and Beth for the occasion.
For our bracket busting dinner and tasting we opened two Venge Vineyards Scout's Honor Napa Valley Family Reserve Zinfandels - 1998 and 2001. We matched against the Venge's Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2009

Before dinner, we paired the hearty Zins with a selection of artisan cheeses, (shown left). The cheese selection included Aged cheddar, Assiago, Blue, Manchego, a Carr Valley Winter Solstice Wisconsin Cheddar and a Parmigiana.

The 2001 Venge is another wine we purchased during our Venge Winery visit and lunch tasting with winemaker Nils Venge as part of our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2002.

Venge Vineyards Scout's Honor Napa Valley Family Reserve Zinfandel 1998

This vintage selection was showing its age - from the brownish-orange rust hue rimming the glass to the earthy leather bramble taste that may have taken over for some of the fruit. Never-the-less the medium body was full of black raspberry and black cherry fruits accented by smoke and hints of creosote. This resembles my recollection of the 1996 vintage more than the 2001 as shown below.

85% Zinfandel, 15% Charbono

RM 87 points, but Bill C preferred this over the 2001!

Charbono? It is a grape variety with origins in the Savoie region of France where it is also known as Corbeau, Douce Noire, or Charbonneau. It is the second most commonly grown variety in Argentina, where it is known as Bonarda, which is not the same as the Bonarda Piemontese varietal, and is probably not related to Dolcetto of the Piedmont. Some believe that this variety is actually the Dolcetto Nero grape of Italy, or the minor French variety Charbonneau, because an Italian synonym for Dolcetto is "Dolce Nero" which translates to "sweet black," as does the French name "Douce Noire" for Charbono.

It is produced in small acreage on California’s North Coast, mainly in the Napa Valley. This grape produces very dark, acidic, red wines, with high tannin levels and wild berry aromas. Charbono rarely receives much attention, but some producers continue to grow the grape once produced by the storied Inglenook. Currently, producers such as Turley, Pacific Star, Villa Helena, August Briggs, Robert Foley, OnThEdge and Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon have extended the life of this grape. Venge uses the grape to add structure, backbone, color, complexity and character to its Zinfandel, which while big and bold might otherwise be less interesting. 
Venge Vineyards Scout's Honor Napa Valley Family Reserve Zinfandel 2001 

The surprise of the evening, this was a bold sweet fruit bomb. Medium to full bodied, dark ruby red color, bright full aromas and flavors of full rich ripe sweet black raspberry and ripe spicy plum with a hint of bramble, leather and smoke. It was amazingly sweet with bright forward fruit - its hard to imagine this not being at its prime right now. Surprisingly soft, smooth and easy drinking given its high 15%alcohol content. This shows Scout's Honor Zinfandel Blend at its finest, and shows reason to go get more and try other vintage releases! May be too sweet for many folks but that's why it makes a perfect complement to the bar-b-que ribs and the white cheeses.

Zinfandel 79%, Petit Syrah 14%, Charbono 7%

Alcohol 15%

RM 92 points.

Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs Dry Creek Sonoma Valley Zinfandel 2009

By far the biggest and most structured of the tasting. Firm and still a bit tight, with forward black fruits, plum, a layer of tar, licorice, smoke and notes of pepper. This needs a couple more years to unwind and open and probably has a long life ahead. We knew that going in but wanted to try it as a benchmark against the vintage selections above and also to determine if we should buy more since its currently available. While Parker loves this wine and gives it a 95 rating, I would favor the Scout's Honor if I were buying more.

The blend is 71% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah and 6% Carignane.
14.5% Alcohol

Carignane? It's origin is a Spanish varietal of grape from Cariñena, Aragon. It was later transplanted to Sardinia, where it is still made into varietal wine, Carignano, and elsewhere in Italy, France, Algeria, and much of the New World. Italian immigrants to the US brought the vine to California in the late 1890's. Through the early and mid-20th century, Carignane was one of the most widely planted grape varietal in California. Acreage has diminished from a high of 27000 acres to about 3500 today. The grape is not often used to make varietal wines but a few producers such as Ravenswood, Cline and Mayo Family Winery still make notable varietals from old vines.

Carignane was generally associated with jug wines, it is appropriately used for blending into wines to add body, color, and character however it tends to have a characteristic harshness and astringency that diminishes with age. It is one of the 22 approved Rhône varietals and can be found in the notable Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It is often blended with Cinsaut, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Mourvèdre, Merlot, and/or other grapes, especially in the Languedoc region of France. Ridge uses it as its best suited to add complexity, depth and character to a bold varietal such Zinfandel, which otherwise might be someone one dimensional, albeit big and flavorful.

Hazyblur South Australia Kangaroo Island Shiraz 2004

Typical dark purple color, medium to full bodied with full forward black and blue berry fruits accented by predominate black pepper and a layer of clove spice.

RM 89 points. .

Bill's notes: Garnet in color, fruit on the nose. Delicious, huge mouthfeel, lots of spice with predominant pepper notes. Also some cherry and a touch of clove. This has rounded out and become a bit more complex since my last bottle 2 years ago. A wonderful complement to summery barbecue rib and coleslaw dinner with Rick and Linda. 

WCC 88 points.