"How much crap wine did you drink over the holidays?"
This is usually how I feel after returning from someone else's house over Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or Passover, or [Insert Your Holiday Gathering Here]. This year was different, and I have the economy to thank. Because nothing else besides our economy (is it a Recession or a Depression? No idea? Check out this website to learn more ...) could make me interested in $10 American plonk. (That's not to say I don't drink cheap American wine...just that it's hard to find quality American wine for $10 that does not taste like it was produced the way it was - in massive quantities for people who don't care what they drink.)
To start the fesitivities we opened a Chateau St. Jean California Merlot 2005 * This is by all accounts a good value and one worth picking up to host a dinner party, a wedding, a bar mitzavah, or the return of the prodigal son from his animal quest. Not too sweet and not too light, with a mild vegetal character that add a touch of complexity, this has an intense oakiness which can only come from the profligate use of alternatives, but for $10, I didn't really mind. Chateau St. Jean does not post information on the wine's origins on its website, and it did not respond to my request for additional info.
We also dined with Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State * This has long been my single favorite American wine for $10-$15. Produced in much the same manner as the California Merlot from Chateau St. Jean, the Columbia Crest offering at this price point is a touch plumper and rounder, but shorter on the finish. (Their merlot is equally attractive, and worth having around the house all the time.)
Now after the cousins and aunts and uncles and all their offspring had departed, my father-in-law, who shares my taste for Ridge Vineyards zinfandel, and I performed a sort of Advanced Tasting Program recap for 2008.
The 2006 Geyserville ** is very good. Garnet color, with a focus on the intense red berry characteristics of zinfandel and a mild loamy texture. I prefer the 2006 Lytton Springs *** which is darker, more complex, more robust in texture, not as sweet, and longer on the palate. Neither of these wines displays the soft vanillin of the 2006 Carmichael *** which is (probably) my favorite zinfandel of the year, showcasing more boysenberry and toasty new oak notes.
We also tasted the 2005 Three Valleys * and 2006 Three Valleys * The Three Valleys is Ridge's lowest zinfandel on the totem pole. It has the red berry notes and a mild loamy texture of a second grade Geyserville, but is a touch too sweet and volatile to be included in the vineyard designate blends. Lastly, we opened a 2005 Paso Robles * which has never really wowed me. You find the berry notes and the precision of the winery's vineyard designate zinfandels, but the texture lacks the loam notes and complexity found in the wines from Sonoma.
All of Ridge's zinfandels run from about $20-$35. You can purchase them online at Ridge Vineyards' website.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!