Ridge Surprises Me Twice: Jimsomare Zinfandel 2008

Anyone who follows this blog probably knows that I’m a great admirer of Ridge Zinfandels. What I love best are the Ridge Zins that blend in goodly proportions of other grape varieties – sometimes so much that Ridge can’t label them Zinfandel. California law requires a minimum of 75% of a single variety for a wine to be so designated, so Ridge’s Geyserville, for instance, which is one of my favorites, is simply called Geyserville for the vineyards’ location, because it always has less Zinfandel than that.

In my experience, young monovarietal Zinfandel wines are big, often highly alcoholic, and frequently (to my taste) over-fruited and jammy, whatever part of California they come from. I know for many winelovers those qualities are pluses. Not so for me, for whom they constitute the essence of obvious or coarse or even vulgar wines. Color me, in this respect at least, a wine snob.

So imagine my surprise – not to say distress – when, browsing through my I-thought-carefully-selected trove of Ridge Zinfandels a few weeks ago, I came across a bottle of 2008 Jimsomare Zin that I hadn’t realized I had. How did that get in there?  It’s 100% Zinfandel, and I normally don’t buy those, much less store them beyond what I consider their optimum drinking time.

I usually like my Zins 8 or at most 9 years old, which I have found over the years is their sweet spot: They still have freshness and vitality, coupled with the complex, developed flavors of maturity. So now I found myself confronted with a wine of a type I usually avoid, and one perhaps too old as well: the back label and my own experience suggested drinking this bottle 3, 4, or 5 years ago.

For all my surprise, this was hardly a catastrophe. After all, the wine was from Ridge, which always produces well-structured, long-lived wines. At its worst, it wasn’t my favorite style, but neither was it likely to be dead: Fading maybe, but probably still drinkable. Which I decided to do right away, before it the inevitable befell it.

Which led to my second surprise: My fears were totally off the mark. This ’08 Jimsomare was wonderful, with no sign whatever that it was beginning to decline. It had mature flavors – mushroomy and earthy – to be sure, but also plenty of freshness and brambly fruitiness. It had a lively, up-front acidity that isn’t typical of Zinfandel, as well as a pervasive minerality of a sort my palate associates more often with white wines than reds – though it worked beautifully in this irrefutably red wine.

I was intrigued: How could this wine be so different from my previous experience of monovarietal Zinfandels?  One answer was obvious: This was no new release, no stripling of a wine, but a bottle that had had a good while to pull itself together. But even with that, there were elements I couldn’t account for – that very unusual acidity, the undertone of minerality. Where did those not normally Zinfandelish characteristics come from?   The Jimsomare vineyard, evidently, but just what and where was that?

It took very little research to answer those questions. The Jimsomare Ranch is the lowest-lying – and that’s still high – of four properties that Ridge works on the Monte Bello ridge of the Santa Cruz mountains. It contains some of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in the region. They were started in the 1890s, and along with younger vines (30-40 years old) on the same property, they make Ridge’s Jimsomare Zin. So really mature vines from a high-altitude, cool climate vineyard are one part of this wine’s distinction.

Ridge’s Jimsomare ranch was formerly known as the Klein ranch

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The other key part is the ridge itself. Here is Ridge’s own description of Monte Bello’s terroir:

Composed of unique green stone and clay soils layered over decomposing limestone. Limestone is not found in the well-known Cabernet producing areas of Napa and Sonoma Valleys, making the soil composition at Monte Bello a unique and important contributor to the wine’s distinctive character. The combination of elevation, cool climate, and soil produces a wine that is impeccably balanced and destined for long-term aging, with firm acidity and a consistent streak of minerality.

That is meant to explain the distinction of Ridge’s famous Monte Bello Cabernet, but it also describes exactly what so surprised me in my ‘08 Jimsomare Zinfandel.

I confess that I had not thought Zinfandel, as a variety, was so sensitive to its terroir, so this was a real learning experience for me. Who knows what Zinfandel might be capable of, if more thought was given to its siting? California could have some more pleasant surprises in store for us yet.

6 Responses to “Ridge Surprises Me Twice: Jimsomare Zinfandel 2008”

  1. Charles Scicolone Says:

    Ciao Tom another interesting and informative article and I like older Zin’s so I would be happy to try the with Ed also

  2. Ed McCarthy Says:

    Tom, I enjoyed reading about your Ridge Zinfandel experience. I have quite a few older Zins, from the ’80s and early ’90s, and am now trying to drink them regularly. How did I let them get that mature? Most of my wines are in a cool cellar in Massachusetts, and I just didn’t get to them. But I must tell you that I have not come across one yet the was too old to drink. Zinfandels hold up quite well, in my experience, when kept cool. I mainly own the better producers’ Zins, such as Ridge, Rafanelli, and Ravenswood. Of course, older Zins no longer show that unique fruity quality; they start to resemble older Cabernets. Ridge Geyserville never disappoints. Actually, I don’t have many Zins younger than 15 year old; Sometime in the past, I started concentrating more on Italian wines, and I always had Bordeaux.
    When this damn Covid-19 pandemic runs its course, we should get together, perhaps a group of six, and help me finish my older Zinfandels.

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      I would be more than happy to help you finish your oldest Zins — when this cruel war is over!

    • Rob Nichols Says:

      Tom – another great article, thank you. Like Ed I have many older bottles of Geyserville going back to the mid 90’s which I have been opening occasionally over the years. Each time I am impressed with how well they are drinking.

      Ed – Seeing your name brought back many fond memories of volunteering at IWC back in the 80’s. Thanks for that! If that Zin tasting is anywhere near Maine let me know!

      Best, Rob

      • Tom Maresca Says:

        Zins are remarkably long-lived, aren’t they? Do you find, as I do, that the older they are the more they resemble what we used to call claret?

        • Ed McCarthy Says:

          We have done blind tastings of mature Zinfandels and mature Cabernet Sauvignons at the International Wine Center. I recall that no taster did that well in identifying the correct variety. And so, I agree that mature Zinfandels do come to resemble Cabernet Sauvignons. I assume that would relate to mature Bordeaux as well.

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