SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

Ramblings: Wine Descriptors and Ridge Vineyards Wines

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I’ve grown tired of wine reviews that talk of hints of boysenberry and secondary aromas of eucalyptus.  While these descriptors may be accurate, they seem divorced from what most people want from a glass of wine:  pleasure.  Moreover, trying to pinpoint the right descriptor for a wine can take away from the emotional and communal experience that accompanies most memorable bottles of wine.  Film director Jonathan Nossiter (of Mondovino fame) may have said it best:

 “[The modern wine language] strips the meaning from wine, which is an act of pleasure, an act of communion, an act of history, an act of fraternity, an historical act and a cultural act.”  Will Lyons, “Jonathan Nossiter Casts a Critical Eye, Wall Street Journal (May 28, 2012).

This point was driven home in a recent tasting hosted by Ridge Vineyards’ Christopher Watkins.  Instead of simply inviting a group of bloggers to taste through a flight of wines and spit out descriptors off of the flavor wheel, Christopher challenged us to think of wine in an entirely different way.  He poured four different wines, then played four different jazz classics, and asked us to pair up each song with one of the wines in front of us.  There was a bit of method to the madness.  Here’s Christopher’s take on the goals behind this experiment:

1) I wanted to take advantage of the calendrical confluence ([Ridge Vineyards’] blog’s 3rd anniversary & Paul Chambers’ birthday) as an opportunity to discuss the procedural and philosophical parallels between the production of great jazz and great wine, and ideally then take this out to the larger realm of how all great art is produced; emerging, as I believe it does, from that peculiar and wonderful intersection where mojo meets craft, knowledge meets instinct, juju meets technology, passion meets knowledge.

-and-

2) I wanted this event to be a living enactment of the greater possibilities inherent in the winery-wine blogger relationship; per my goals for the panel talk at the conference (“The Winery View of Bloggers”), I wanted to be able to show how this unique relationship allows for something more than the conventional producer-reviewer paradigm to rule the aesthetic day.

The magic of this tasting was that there is no right answer.  It was all based on feel and emotion rather than overly-heady dissection of aromas and flavors.  It was a fun afternoon, one that reminded me that it’s important to take a step back from the regimented “swirl, sip, taste” routine, and to just listen to the music.

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Here’s where I ended up with the pairings:

2001 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
John Coltrane, Mr. P.C. (from “Giant Steps”)
A 99 pointer from RPjr – rich, round, full, crowd pleasing wine, but a lot going on here, the same way I think of Coltrane just fingering through a gazillion notes on his sax within the span of one measure.

2000 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
Miles Davis, So What (from “Kind of Blue”)
Cool, smooth, and dark.  Brought to mind the “Kind of Blue” album cover – all shadows and light.  I think of “So What” as a popular entry point for modern day jazz fans, something that’s easy to embrace whether you’re new to jazz or an aficionado.  I think this wine has a bit of that too.

1999 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs
Sonny Rollins, Paul’s Pal (from “Tenor Madness”)
This is just a fun lively wine, one that gets your toe tapping and almost pushes you to the dance floor.  Rollins brings the same pace and energy, and your body instinctively starts moving.

1997 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville
Thelonious Monk, Bernsha Swing (from “Brilliant Colors”)
No doubt this wine had some funk, some aged prune notes that made you wonder “what’s going on here.”  And that’s what I always get from Monk – a musician who constantly pushes things in unexpected directions, but manages to pull it back before things get too weird.

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My photo album from the visit to Monte Bello:  http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.385905738118949.85610.161688120540713&type=3&l=8f7aedcced

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And here are some write-ups from other bloggers who attended the tasting:

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7 thoughts on “Ramblings: Wine Descriptors and Ridge Vineyards Wines

  1. Great post.
    That was a fun event.

  2. This must have been such an unusual and exciting afternoon. I’m going to do the same kind of pairing with friends. Although not with the wines you tasted because my budget will simply not allow it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Thank you for the wonderful write-up! Your perspectives are wonderful, and most appreciated!

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