Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shannon Ridge Winery Current Releases

Shannon Ridge Winery, of Lake County California, recently sent me their new red wine releases to taste through. As someone just beginning to learn about the wines coming out of the Lake County AVA, this was a good chance to get to know one of the wineries from the area. I've reviewed a Shannon Ridge wine in the past, unfortunately a disappointing sauvignon blanc. On the other hand, it's rare that I find a California sauvignon blanc I like. That said, I'm always up to try new ones!

Lake County is located in California, north of the famous Napa Valley and inland from Sonoma and Mendocino counties. This American Viticultural Area is somewhat higher than other notable AVAs as well, and Clear Lake plays a major influence on how the vineyards ripen. You probably won't be surprised to learn that cabernet sauvignon is the most-planted varietal, merlot being a distant second.

These are the wines I was sent to review:
2008 Shannon Ridge Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon $19 suggested retail
2009 Shannon Ridge Lake County Zinfandel $19 suggested retail
2009 Shannon Ridge Lake County Petite Sirah $24 suggested retail

(img src: http://calicabs.eventbrite.com)

Each of these wines can be purchased at local wine stores and directly from the Shannon Ridge website.

First up was the 2008 cabernet sauvignon. This cabernet is actually made up of 89% cabernet sauvignon, 8% petite sirah, and 3% merlot. All the fruit comes from Lake County and the abv is a relatively (sad, I know) normal 14.5%. After fermentation, the 2008 cabernet spent 16 months in French and American oak barrels.

Aromatically this 2008 Shannon Ridge cab is all smoke and wood, with a bit of a boozy heat on the finish. A vigorous swirl session brought out some dark, ripe berry aromas too. I wrote down one word, then circled it repeatedly: "pleasant". That sums up the bouquet in this cabernet, it's nice and interesting yet lacks some depth. Above average, yes..but mind-blowing, no.

The way this wine tasted was a different story however. I loved how it was dry and dusty, with some firm tannin keeping a dollop of soft red fruit flavors firmly in place right in the middle of my tongue. There is some influence from the oak barrels too, a toasty sawdust note hangs out at the fringes of my palate throughout the sip and swirl. Unfortunately the finish did leave me wishing for more depth, but that could be a function of this relatively young wine needing some decanting.

For around $15 in the retail environment, this 2008 Shannon Ridge cabernet is good and veers away from the typically overripe, fruity cabernet's that $15 buys from Napa Valley. I'd love to pair it with a grilled steak and some garlic french fries. B and a BUY recommendation.

Next, I tasted the zinfandel from Shannon Ridge. One of the varietals (along with petite sirah) from Lake County that's getting some coverage in the blogging community, zinfandel can be a very structured, focused wine or an overripe, sweet, high alcohol fruit bomb. Guess which kind of zinfandel I like?

This 2009 zinfandel is again 14.5%, around the norm for what we see these days. A blend of 93% zinfandel and 7% petite sirah, this wine spent 12 months in oak barrels. 2,060 cases were produced.

I liked the spice and earth notes right up front, very dark aromas that set the tone for the wine. There's also some black cherry and fig creating a balance with the spice and earthy primary scents. If I had to pick one aspect of the bouquet that I enjoyed the most, I would choose the mixture of earth and black cherry. Imagine dark, dry earth and crushed cherries, inhale deeply and I think you'll get a sense of what I smelled with the 2009 Shannon Ridge zinfandel.

After tasting this zin, I wrote the following: "Plenty ripe but with nice balance between ripe red berry fruit and the tannin. Well built wine, my attention was taken by a dollop of spice on the mid-palate. Very enjoyable, especially for zin lovers!"

Good stuff, this is a very good zinfandel at a great price. Using wine-searcher.com I found it at $18, which compares favorably to zinfandels costing a lot more. This is a very high-quality wine with great complexity and for most zinfandel drinkers, atypical of what they usually drink. Upon some reflection, this might be a zin for cabernet lovers...B, STRONG BUY recommendation.

Finally, the "big daddy", petite sirah. Again, 14.5% alcohol, I detect a theme...This is varietally pure, 100% petite sirah and also spent 12 months in oak barrels. A relatively small 7,000 cases were produced, though the Shannon Ridge cabernet did see 12,000 cases making it the largest of the three. I did a quick check of wine-searcher.com and found this petite sirah at only $12 at a number of stores. That's half the suggested retail price. The question then is, how good of a deal are we getting?

An intense blend of blackberry and blueberry are framed by baking spices and dry, dusty earth. I was intrigued by the restraint, even after running the wine through an aerator. There is a green, herbal component at work but it's very light and doesn't show up with every sniff of the glass. Even after being open for three hours, the bouquet remained a lot more muted than I expected.

Sipping this Shannon Ridge petite sirah is a different story entirely though. An initial smoothness full of ripe berries give way to a thick, tannic mid-palate that begs for a steak. I used words like "beefy" and "chewy" to describe how dry and intense that mid-palate sensation is. Balancing a ripe core of black fruit with a muscular, tannic sensation is a hallmark of good petite sirah and one of the reasons I tend to enjoy it so much. In that regard, the 2009 Shannon Ridge achieves notable balance and intensity. I suspect that given a few more years of aging, we'll see an even better wine.

Of the three Shannon Ridge wines I tasted, this was my favorite by a comfortable margin. An easy B+ and STRONG BUY recommendation, at $12 it's a no-brainer. Bring this out at the end of a Barolo tasting or when you're grilling thick steaks, I bet it'll wow your friends.

A successful tasting of three Lake County wines that showcase the high quality and low prices that create some outstanding bargains in that region. All three of these are wines I'd gladly purchase and indeed, if I spot the petite sirah around town, I'll be picking up a few to have on hand. If Shannon Ridge keeps pumping out wines like this, I think they'll become a very well known Lake County producer in a short period of time.

These wines were media samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

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