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28 January 2006
What do butter, toffee, baked berries, vanilla and cocoa powder have in common? Those are supposedly all of the essences that one tastes on the tip of the tongue when enjoying Pine Ridge's $95/bottle 2001 Andrus Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. As the wine slides back toward your "mid palate" you should notice cherry, blackberry, blueberry and mocha flavors. And after you have swallowed, there is a lingering sense of brown sugar, cocoa and latte.
Uh. It sounds more like the menu at Starbucks.
I'm afraid that the finer points of wine tasting will always elude me. I can tell "red" from "white" and I can even differentiate between "rough" and "smooth." I know when there is a greater sense of tanins (because it makes my mouth all puckery), but c'mon. Who dreams up all of these descriptions?
The Pine Ridge 2004 Dijon Clones Chardonnay has "rich, creamy aromas...with flavors of fresh-cut Golden Delicious apples, light caramel, fresh lemon zest, nutmeg and sweet vanillla." The "finish" reflects various apple, citrus and spicy notes that are abundant in the middle palate.
Excuse me? "fresh-cut Golden Delicious apples"? Not Gravenstein or Granny Smith? How fresh cut? Do apples cut and left for 15 minutes taste different from apples which are cut and eaten immediately? Clearly I can't differentiate the nuances of apple flavors either!
I loved the 2002 Crimson Creek Merlot, which is "bursting with cherries and dark berries. Spice, toast and mineral aromas complement juicy cherry, boysenberry, blueberry and blackberry flavors. Tea, vanilla, tobacco and green peppercorn enhance the mid-palate. The long, lucious finish is accentuated by cherry and red current."
Red. I taste "red."
Is it any wonder Sideways was such a funny movie? I dunno. I envision all these guys sitting around the Pine Ridge caves swilling wine, laughing and coming up with something that sounds high-fallutin' enough to warrant $95 a bottle. "How about this one, Charlie? I think I taste "stone" in this one. Stone mixed with a bit of burnt cherry and a soupçon of old gym shoes." (I also wonder if there's a bit of "Emperor's New Clothes," about it all, tasters being embarrassed to admit that they can't really taste the blending of all those disparate tastes!)
However, despite the flowery descriptions of the wine (which is quite good wine, by the way, even if I couldn't detect baked cherry with a slight toastiness), Pine Ridge lived up to its reputation of giving the best tour in the valley. Not that I've taken all the tours, but it would be difficult to be better than this all-exclusive tour, which begins at the "experimental vineyard," where Joe, our tour guide, explained the fine art of vine pruning. Pine Ridge grows 95% of its grapes, which, if I remember correctly from the years when I was typing about stuff like this, is a rarity in the wine business these days.
Next we went into the winery building and into the caves 100 feet below the hillside, part of the .6 of a linear mile of underground caves, where we learned a lot about aging and barrels and other aspects of the wine making process. The caves remain at a constant temperature of 60-62°F and 85 percent humidity.
Of course we have taken wine tours for years, but I always learn something new. Joe talked a lot about the wine barrels, all of which Pine Ridge orders from France (did you know each one costs $800-900?). He said there were more than 4,600 barrels "spread throughout the hillside," and that each barrel contains 60 gallons, or about 24 cases of wine.
One thing I don't think I knew before is that each barrel is marked with the label of the cooperage (the company that made the barrel) and the region where the wood came from. The barrel is also placed over a small wood fire, where it is charred or "toasted." The amount of char on the barrel has an effect on the wine, so that information, too, is printed on the barrel itself. In the picture at left, the manufacturer's label is at the top, and you can see that the wood came from the St. Palais region in France and that it is a "heavy toast."
Before we left the caves, we were taken to an underground tasting area where we were treated to comparison tastes of their Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon (as opposed to their Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon) and Merlot (sorry--I still didn't taste essences of tobacco!)
Next we went back to the sales room, where we tasted more wine...
...and we all bought some. (In the above photo, Joe is pouring the $95/bottle Andrus Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.)
The wine we brought home may not taste like white peach, stone, tropical fruits, citrus, toast and/or coconut, as promised, but it will taste like good white wine.
And the lingering taste that remains from the Pine Ridge winery tour will long be a pleasant one.
PHOTO OF THE DAY