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The wines of Ridge, Santa Cruz Mountains, California

One of the most widely respected Californian wineries, Ridge have a loyal following. Surprisingly, I've found that they're one of the few new world producers that has a good reputation among die-hard adherents of old world wines, such is their universal appeal.

While the wines are pretty impressive, Ridge have also got their image right. The packaging of these wines seems to match them perfectly. There's something striking about the short, silver capsules and the elegant, almost minimalist labels that's really appealing (anorakish detail: according to Ridge's website, the design was by a chap called Jim Robertson using a font face called Optima, back in the 1960s).

These wines were being shown by the UK agents, Morris and Verdin, who have an enviable US list. As a measure of their popularity, while I was tasting more than one retailer came round begging for an allocation. Another measure of their popularity is that even at a trade fair, the wines are kept under the counter, to keep them from being guzzled by non-serious individuals. Compared with other superstar Californians, they're reasonably priced, starting at around £14 for the York Creek Petite Sirah and going up to £70 for the Montebello. As a result, they often don't hang around on retailers shelves, but instead are sold out more or less on release. If you want to track them down, Noel Young seems to get a decent allocation, and you might also strike lucky at Adnams, La Vigneronne, Handford or Andrew Chapman, who also list these wines. And to think that it wasn't so long ago that they were found in regular Oddbins branches at around a tenner a pop.

Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains 1998
The son of Montebello, this is made from the same vineyard sources on Montebello Ridge, but is a selection of the more forward cuvées. A deep red/purple colour, the nose shows lovely, dense blackcurrant fruit with a delicious spicy edge from the oak. There are also some dense, ripe menthol and eucalyptus notes. The palate is firm and dense, quite tannic, with good acidity. A concentrated wine with an attractive spicy finish. Very good/excellent

Ridge Montebello 1997, Santa Cruz Mountains
The 1997 incarnation of one of California's most respected reds is a blend of 85% Cabernet, 11% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. Reassuringly, it is only 12.5% alcohol. It's a hugely dense wine with an opaque red/purple colour. The nose shows complex berry fruits, cassis, herbs, spices and olives. There's lovely balance despite its power, and the palate still shows lots of primary fruit and some noticeable spicy American oak. Overall, it's a classy effort with a lot of development ahead of it. Excellent

Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah 1998, Santa Cruz Mountains
A really impressive example of Petite Sirah, often considered to be a lesser variety. The attractive herby/spicy nose leads to a powerful, tannic palate. This is a huge, dense, chunky wine -- it's almost impenetrable at the moment. Still balanced despite its size. Very good/excellent

Ridge Lytton Springs 1999, Sonoma
A blend of 70% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Syrah, 10% Carignan and 3% Mataro. A deep purple/black colour this has quite a shy nose. The palate shows a great concentration of rich, sweet, spicy berry fruit with a soft, chocolatey edge. Underneath the fruit there's a firm tannic structure. It's a fairly serious, structured sort of Zinfandel. Very good/excellent

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