I would love to tour around California in an open top car, visiting beautiful vineyards, tasting delicious wines, eating great food, soaking up the sunshine, camping on the beach and (why not?) having a go at surfing. Sunshine is a marvellous thing. I think it makes people more relaxed, the world appear more beautiful and grapes taste sweeter!
Wines from California can be extremely charming and attractive with bright, ripe fruit, fine tannins and a supple texture. They’re the beautiful people of the wine world if you like. They are also a little more user friendly than the great French wines. There’s not so much knowledge required about the intricacies of each vintage, drinking windows and ‘going through a closed phase’ business that can make French wine so frustrating.
That’s not to say that all wines that come from the Golden State are fantastic. Making great wine takes just as much effort in California as it does anywhere else in the world and we need look no further than Ridge winery for an example. Winemaker Paul Draper has crafted over 40 vintages of Ridge wines and has earned his rightful place in the winemaking hall of fame. Ridge wines are exceptionally good and highly sought after; particularly after their success at the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976 and ultimately coming top in the 2006 re-match with their 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon.
Making wine this good takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Ridge are blessed with fantastic old vines that give great fruit and of course the climate is pretty good too. Draper refers to his winemaking approach as ‘pre-industrial’ – his approach is more akin to craftsmanship. They use the best traditional pre-Prohibition techniques in synthesis with the least intrusive modern technology. They taste, taste and taste again to make their blends and selections and use minimal intervention in the cellars to make wines that are fresh, complex, have a sense of place and that develop with age. The wines are seriously good quality and are most importantly absolutely delicious.
At a tasting in Dublin earlier this year, the Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel blend stood head and shoulders above its Californian counterparts. Amazingly for such a cult status Californian wine it’s not absurdly expensive either. Ridge Lytton Springs andGeyserville wines are very good value as are the Santa Cruz wines which are similar to the Monte Bello labels but are at their best when young. Ridge wines combine the polished beauty and seductiveness of California with the age worthiness and class of great French wines. A treat by anyone’s standards.