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Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet 1994

Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet 1994I thought after taking a little look at the 1994 vintage in Bordeaux last week, with the wine from Christine Valette's estate Troplong-Mondot, it would be interesting to look at another expression of the Cabernet grape from the same vintage, in the shape of this wine from California.

It is probably fair to say that California should be regarded as Cabernet's second home outside of Bordeaux. Although, like Chardonnay, the variety is now almost ubiquitous across the world's wine regions, Cabernet settled first in California and it is here that it has probably had most success. It is the bedrock of the California "cult wines", highly-prized collectible bottles from predominantly Napa Valley estates such Screaming Eagle, Araujo, Harlan Estate and others. Nevertheless, despite the state's illustrious history when it comes to viticulture, and the many wines of good quality that are produced there, it is still a region of which I have limited personal experience. Initially this was largely down to availability; these are not wines that you are likely to stumble across in the UK. Even fans of the top wines in the USA can have difficulties sourcing adequate numbers of bottles, as many of the estates sell their wines via mailing list which have very limited distributions. Subsequently, having tasted one or two and this realising the quality on offer, one looks at the prices. They are, in many cases, prohibitive.

Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet 1994This was not the case with this bottle of Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet 1994, however, which I purchased - as the condition of the information-rich label might suggest - many years ago. The exact details are now lost (again!), but I added several such bottles to the cellar about ten years ago, and I seem to recall it was offered in a high street chain - as part of a multibuy deal - for about 12. Looking at prices for recent vintages today, I see they now go for about double that. Tasting the wine I have here, I am not surprised that the retail price has crept up somewhat, as this wine was clearly very good value, even without my multibuy discount. It still has a remarkable colour, something I noted when this wine cropped up in a Ridge tasting back in 2002. It has a dense, pure, dark garnet hue, with a raspberry-pink rim, which is somewhat dusky but otherwise the wine shows no sign of age at all! The nose is slightly high-toned, with lots of fruit still, and the complexities of perfumed violets, black olives and a wet, pebbly character. There is also a very faint, mushroomy nuance. Overall, this is simply beautiful. On the palate it is fresh, showing good substance, but immediately cut through by a tingling, decisive acidity. It has a lovely, slightly detached character, despite its fleshy weight, and flavours of black olive with an appealingly bitter edge, and fine black fruits. It is dry, less opulent and lush than my last tasting (a good thing I think) and has an attractively balanced structure. Gently ripe tannins rear up at the finish, showing this has plenty of cellar time ahead of it. Really great quality here in this very impressive wine from Ridge. It is certainly tempting to look for more recent vintages - the 1999 is still available on the UK market, I see. 18.5/20 (12/11/07)

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