Winemaker and General Manager, Michael Beaulac, invited a few lucky writers (myself included), out for dinner the other night to unveil his 2009 Cabs and the 2010 CBV (Chenin Blanc/Viognier). While it's unusual for me to attend winemaker dinners, I have a long history enjoying Pine Ridge wines and it seemed like an opportunity I shouldn't miss. I was right.
Michael took over the helm in April 2009 after a 25-year run by Stacy Clark who helped establish Pine Ridge as a major brand. With 200 acres to play with, and 13 vineyards in 5 appellations, there is plenty of room for Micheal to make a strong mark on the wines, from field to glass. For the wines we tasted at Saison, his touch shows a sharp focus on terroir and individuality for each bottling. After spending the evening talking about his philosophy, I got the impression he is about to leave a strong fingerprint on all the wines of Pine Ridge, while keeping people like me, who has been buying Pine Ridge wines since the 1980s, and their loyal wine club members, happy.
I'm not a score keeper or follower, but I'm sure he is also coming on board to raise what seem to be less-than-stunning scores in the major publications over the past several years. That is already paying off, because our group was the next to taste these wines after Parker and his scores were very good for the 2009s, especially for my 3 favorites of the night, the 2009 Rutherford Cabernet, the 2009 Stag's Leap Cabernet, and the 2009 Fortis. This follows good scores for the 2008s as well, so I'm sure he'll keep the momentum going.
Dinner at Saison was a post in itself, but the main theme was pairing with a lot of big Cabernets. And what better than a huge slab of rare lamb (I think cooked sous vide) followed by a slice or rare 28-day beef (amazing, but needed better trimming). Starters to go with the 2009 Dijon Clones Chardonnay were a tasty radish concoction followed by a shot of foamy parsnip puree with a few pearls of salmon roe (really delicious).
We arrived to a glass of the 2010 CBV (Chenin Blanc/Viognier) from Clarksburg. This is a wine I'm very familar with, and I should say the change starts here. Michael had the Chenin Blanc brought in with very low brix (19) and the Viognier at normal brix which yields a wine of delightful crispness. Usually, this is a pretty fat wine, and just to jog my memory, I opened a 2009 yesterday to confirm. The 2010 blend still has the nice body that the viognier brings, but with a bright, food-friendly acid hit.
2009 Pine Ridge Cabernets (all barrel samples)
2009 Pine Ridge Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon- For the technical: 76% Cab, 4% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot, 4% Malbec (all from estate fruit). Most of the grapes are from Stag's Leap and Rutherford this year. This has some nice dense black fruit and a nice boysenberry overtone. Oak is still forward at this point. The blend makes this have a nice wildness to it, spicy and vigorous. In a couple of years this will be great with a nice steak.
2009 Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon - 75% Cabernet, 13% Malbec (!) 7% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot, 1% Cab Franc. This is a bit more floral and light, depite the big dose of Malbec. It has a bit of cherry pie on it and very fine tannins. This was one of my favorites. Recommended
2009 Pine Ridge Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon- 96% Cabernet, 4% Petit Verdot. Pretty tannic at this stage, but ultimately very elegant. I think the blend here speaks for itself. The wine is full-on cabernet with a touch of nice minerals and herbs coming form the small amount of Petit Verdot. Delicious.
2009 Pine Ridge Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 100% Cabernet and it shows. This was my favorite of the barrel tastes. It's tight now, and full of licorice and spice but the tension will be released with age. Pine Ridge has made it's name with Stag's Leap fruit and I feel Michael Beaulac is making a statement here that the wines of Pine Ridge are rooted in Stag's Leap and this wine should be as pure an expression of Stag's Leap fruit as it can be. Highly recommended.
2009 Pine Ridge Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon - 100% Cabernet. The spiciest and most tannic of the bunch, and in a lot of ways the most distinctive. It has a green pepper or herbaceousness to it that sets it apart from the others. Recommended.
2009 Pine Ridge Fortis - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is solely made from Rutherford and Stag's Leap fruit this year (53% and 48% respectively). This is a massive wine, even at this early stage, dense and grand. This was my other favorite and it's highly recommended.
2008 Pine Ridge Chardonnay Dijon Clones - Tense and delicious. They have developed a method of non-invasive batonage where they spin the barrels with a machine so they don't aerate the wine. It makes for a delicious, unctuous wine that has a lovely freshness to it. Great with the parsnip puree.
2008 Pine Ridge Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvign0n - I loved this with the steak. It has super-fine tannins and a vital acid backbone that makes the flavor pop over something like an intensely flavored meat.
2008 Pine Ridge Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon - 95% Cabernet, 4% Petit Verdot, 1% Merlot. This is a pretty wine right now and I would serve this with something like a duck breast or pork chop.
2008 Pine Ridge Fortis - 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 7% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot. The Cab for this is made up of 57% Rutherford, 26% Oakville, 9% Carneros and 8% Stag's Leap. This is a wine to linger over. At this point, it's showing oak and muscle and with a few years should show itself to be a real beauty. This was a great pairing with the 28-day beef. Highly recommended.
Disclosure - This was an event sponsored by Pine Ridge's PR firm.