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.
Matthew Apsokardu says
Nice entry! I agree, this month’s topic was a good one and brought up some warm memories for all of us. Your Zin sounds like a wine worth remembering.
What’s really nice about this one is the wine is still so good, a testament to this vineyard and the fine folks at Ridge who saved it.
Agent Red says
Last month one of our mission names was, “Comfort Wine”, so i was happy to see this same concept elsewhere on the Winoshphere!
Hey Tim, first time comment here.
Thanks for the excellent article – I have a similar affection for the original Lytton Springs Winery. In 1986 I sat down with a bottle of Lucas Lodi Zin and Lytton Springs, my first blind tasting, and “realized” the difference between the two wines. Since then, Lytton has been my favorite Zin.
Unfortunately, having been out of the wine tasting business for about 8 years I have rekindled my interest and started another wine group, and was very disappointed by how the Ridge Lytton Springs shows these days.
If you’re interested, you can read our reviews on my pages; I’d recommend just going to the “Ye Zinfandel Page” page on the top menu.
Thanks again for your post – it’s interesting that there are a number of us who were born into Zinfandel via the marvel and mystique of Lytton Springs Winery.
Thanks for finding some back catalog posts here. I have been pleased with recent Ridge Lytton Springs bottlings but agree some of them over the past decade have not been as good as they were in the past. But there are plenty of other great Zin’s on the market…
I agree – there are some terrific Zins out there to be sure. I'm thinking my current favorite wineries for their breadth of quality Zin vineyard designates are Rosenblum and (new to me) Four Vines. I adore the latter's "Maverick" (Amador County) and "Biker" (Paso Robles), both in the low to mid-$20s, and their "Old Vine Cuvee" at $11 is a wonderful bargain. The former winery, of course being one of the Big-R's, is no stranger to any Zin fan, but I've managed to somehow consistently avoid them until last year, when I fell in love with the (surprisingly to me since it's in an elegant/finesse-y style and I always thought I preferred the monsters) Annette's Reserve Redwood Valley 2005.
Within the next month my wine group will be tasting several Rosenblums, which will include:
2005 Rosenblum Cellars Annette’s Reserve Redwood Valley Zinfandel, $30
2006 Rosenblum Cellars Rockpile Road Vineyard Rockpile Upper Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, $31.99
2006 Rosenblum Cellars Monte Rosso Vineyard Sonoma Valley Reserve Zinfandel, $39.99
2005 Rosenblum Cellars Snows Lake Vineyard Lake County Zinfandel, $29.99
2005 Rosenblum Cellars Aparicio Vineyard Amador County, $28
Those were the ones locally available; do you have a favorite Rosenblum Zin we should seek out and be sure to include?