Posted by: tomciocco | December 10, 2008

“THE END OF A LONG LINE” WINE

Drinking those carefully collected and often pricey bottles from the cellar is always a matter for thought, and for me always represents a sort of oenological facinfg down of mortality – we all know that our X number of bottles of this or that favorite bottling will not last forever, but drinking one more of the lot clearly marks another inexorable step toward a sort of vinous oblivion…

Dramatic and hyperbolic? You bet, but you get the idea. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: if the wine is ready to drink, and you’ve got the food to compliment it, and the palates around the table to appreciate it, “smoke ’em if you got ’em”.

But the wine Jen and I drank here leaves a slightly bigger hole in your heart at its loss than most other prized bottles…The “what” in all this tripe is the RIDGE YORK CREEK PETIT SIRAH 1999. The “why” is all the usual reasons, plus one big kicker at the end…

 First off, though not a micro-production wine, the esteemed Mr. Paul Draper (Ridge’s great and longtime winemaker) didn’t make this stuff by the lake-ful, so there wasn’t a great deal of this stuff to be had to begin with – the fruit’s source is only so big, and only provides so much, and that wasn’t much. The York Creek vineyard, located on Spring Mountain on the western edge of Napa, is a storied site planted to Zinfandel (27 acres), and Petit Sirah (just 9 acres). Many of the gnarled and tough Petit Sirah vines in this special parcel exceed 75 years old, so their yields are naturally low and produce intensely flavored fruit. In short, high quality, low quantity…

Second, nigh on anno domini 2009, let’s be honest, there ain’t much of this stuff that hasn’t long ago been swallowed and returned to earth. Though Petit Sirah, with all its stubbly tannins, does and indeed should be cellared for at least few years for best results, most drinkers (and California wine drinkers in particular) tend to open their bottles sooner than later. I think I might have 2 or 3 bottles left myself, but after that, nada.

So here’s the kicker. For many years prior, the millionaire industrialist Fritz Maytag (both of the cheese and home appliance fame) and the longtime owner of the York Creek vineyard, had contracts to sell York Creek fruit to multiple vintners, one of which was Ridge.  But with the 1999 vintage, Mr. Maytag decided to discontinue all of these agreements to hatch other plans for the vineyard’s produce, so while there are certainly still York Creek wines being made, the 1999 Ridge York Creek Petit Sirah is the very last vintage of a wine that is unlikely to ever be made again. Ridge is still a great producer and going strong, and York Creek is still the treasured site it’s always been, but the permanent disassociation of a gifted wine maker from that blessed place truly marks the end of the line for this fine wine…smoke ’em if you got ’em, sure, but with a wine like this, savor every drop.

Maybe there was a strickly “finer” food match for this wine, but in the spirit of American egalitarianism, I threw down a from-the-ground-up hamburger spread.  Like slugging down a Chambolle-Musigny with duck jerky, you say? No way, I say. It was a palate-rocking tilt between heavyweights to be sure, but the blasting spectacle made parting with one more of these heirless bottles made its drinking a bit less an event to mourn, and a little more of an unforgettable meeting…

The beef hides beneath the lettuce

The beef hides beneath the lettuce

RIDGE YORK CREEK PETIT SIRAH 1999

election-night-08-2   

Still a very saturated blackish purple color after over 9 years time. Powerful but complex and ever-evolving nose of soy sauce, blackberries,  dark spices, iodine, dried red flowers, and a touch of black truffle. The palate is clean with smooth tannins and flavors of old leather, black tea, Turkish coffee,  and dried blueberries. Despite a formidable weight, it  finishes with a light “squeaky” acidity. A nearly seamless entwinement of bold rusticity and real grace.

TOM CIOCCO

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