Sonoma Zinfandel Tasting Notes, 2008: Unti, Ridge and Mauritson

ridgezinI drove out to Sonoma County today to gather a few Dry Creek Zinfandels for the blind tasting that I’m arranging this month. I stopped by Unti, Ridge and Mauritson — three wineries are all within a couple miles of each other, right near the intersection of Lytton Springs Road and Dry Creek Road (which is actually very close to the Hwy 101-Lytton Springs exit).

I have visited Unti once before, have been to Mauritson a few times, and have been to Ridge too many times to really count. Suffice it to say, all three of these wineries are worth a visit. Ridge and Mauritson both have several Zins to offer, with lots of small, single-vineyard selections that may or may not be available during every visit (another reason why I hesitate to get too specific here). Unti just has one Zin, but for me, it’s definitely one of the great values out there.

• At $25 per bottle, the Unti Vineyards Dry Creek Zinfandel 2005 is just dynamite stuff. I’m very intersted to see how it performs in a blind tasting, being the least expensive bottle of the bunch. After having been truly impressed with this wine a few weeks ago, I had to purchase another bottle today. I drank this wine with one of my chef buddies from my Auberge du Soleil days (he has since moved on to Cyrus, an envious place to be at age 24). We were both big fans of this Zin.

Unti also offers a few Rhone selections, Grenache and Syrah, along with some Italian varietals, Sangiovese and Barbera. The winery is a small family-owned operation, and the tasting room is rustic and quaint, dominated by two large French oak foudres (I believe they are just over 600 gallons each). On any given visit, there is a decent chance that someone with the surname Unti will be pouring the wines, and I had an interesting discussion with George Unti, the patriarch and vineyard manager, about Biodynamic farming.

• At Ridge, where I began the day, my only purchase was a wine that I didn’t taste, the 2006 Ridge Carignane Buchignani. Believe me, I really really love Ridge Zinfandel, and it was all tempting, but I also have a pretty decent supply of these wines from my many previous visits. Still, I did have to get the Carignane after being floored by the 2005 vintage a few months ago. Carignane is a varietal that you won’t often see in California, and it is usually relegated to a blending grape most of the time.

Ridge bottles their 100% Carignane for their wine club, and they sell the remainder out of the tasting room only. This practice is what keeps me coming back to Ridge time and time again; these small, left-over wine club allotments are where it’s at for me. The Ridge Carignane is only $24 per bottle, which is an outstanding price. If it’s even close to as good as the 2005 vintage, it is an extreme value, novelty factor aside.

• Mauritson offers a pretty wide array of wines, including a Pinot Noir that is not an official Mauritson wine. The Pinot is actually bottled under the Charles Clay label, and the wine is a joint venture with chef and restauranteur Charlie Palmer. All of the Mauritson wines are eminently drinkable, but in my opinion, the true gems are the quartet of 100% Zins bottled under their Rockpile label.

I tasted three of the four Rockpile wines (the 2005 Cemetary is sold out and the 2006 is awaiting release), and I really enjoyed the very distinct terroir provided by each. My two favorites were the 2006 Rockpile Ridge Zinfandel and the 2006 Westphall Ridge Zinfandel. The Rockpile Ridge was earthy and restrained, while the Westphall had an intriguing fruit-forward characteristic. After debating which one to purchase, I ended up buying them both. They are priced at $35 and $37, respectively.

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