If there is a single wine that I could name that pointed me onto the path of becoming a wine lover, it’s the Zinfandel made from the Lytton Springs vineyard. I’m not exactly sure why this wine made me sit up and take notice, but it did, and remains today one of my sentimental favorites. So when Joel from Wine Life Today announced the theme of Comfort Wines for this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday, I knew there was only one wine to fill the bill: Ridge Lytton Springs.
It must have been late 1981 or early 1982 when I stumbled across a small winery named Lytton Springs in my search for the best Zinfandel. This variety had already become my favorite most likely due to the forward fruit in most bottlings that was noticeably different from the Bordeaux and Napa Cabs I was mostly drinking at the time. Since I didn’t yet read any wine publications, I must have chosen Lytton Springs Zinfandel from the recommendation of a wine merchant or, more likely, just at random. From my first experience with the aromas of dark fruit offset by spices and cedar, I was hooked. The layers of flavor and impeccable balance also didn’t hurt either and this became my “benchmark” Zinfandel that all others were judged against.
The Lytton Springs Winery was founded in 1970 after Richard Sherwin purchased the old vine vineyard near downtown Healdsburg, California. The vineyard had been planted around the turn of the 20th Century on lands owned by a Captain Litton who many years before built a hotel catering to Bay Area visitors to the local hot springs. By the time of the vineyard planting, the spelling of his family name had evolved to Lytton.
The vineyard is a classic “field blend” of inter-planted varieties with about 70% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah and the remainder split between Grenache and Carignane. As early as 1972, Ridge Vineyards winemaker Paul Draper made wines from this vineyard but it wasn’t until Ridge purchased Lytton Springs Winery in 1991 that the entire 35-acre property was devoted to Ridge wines. There is a great interview with Richard Sherwin over at Gang of Pour if you are interested in more background on Lytton Springs Winery.
I can’t recall when I made the switch to Ridge Lytton Springs but it was most likely in the early 1990’s. The grace and even elegance of this wine made it stand out to me over another favorite Sonoma vineyard, the famous Ridge Geyserville most recently tasted on my birthday last year. So I was looking forward to getting back to Lytton Springs 2004, a wine I last tasted about 14 months ago but failed to blog here for some unknown reason.
Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley 2004 ($34) – This wine still displays a youthful purple-ruby color. The aroma profile is classic Lytton Springs: black raspberries & blackberry with fennel and cedar. The flavors are also a mixture of dark fruits with the addition of some blueberry, black pepper and minerality that finishes long with great balance and moderate tannins. Although this wine weighs in at 14.5% ABV, there is no hint of heat on the palate or in the aromas. This is clearly still one of the best Zinfandel’s produced today and is in wide distribution due to production of over 10,000 cases each vintage.
Natural cork closure
When I taste this wine today, it takes me back to my earliest memories of noteable wines. In fact, Lytton Springs Winery Zinfandel was the best wine I had ever tasted until it was upstaged by a glass of 1974 Heitz Cellars “Martha’s Vineyard” Cab that I had in 1986. But I still have a warm place in my heart for Lytton Springs Zin that will never be changed.
Kudos go to Joel from Wine Life Today for a great theme and congratulations on the birth of his second child just a few days ago. I’m hoping he can find some time to recount all the stories this month in between his fatherly duties.
Next month some guy from New Jersey named Gary is hosting. Should be fun to see what he’s got in mind.