Monday, March 26, 2012

Shannon Ridge – Not baaaaad…

The good folks at Balzac recently gave me the opportunity to give the wines of Shannon Ridge a run. Shannon Ridge is in Lake County, California – a region rapidly gaining in notoriety and availability. I’m always interested when samples arrive, but I was especially intrigued by this line from the accompanying press release:

“Shannon Ridge’s vineyards are certified sustainable, and are known for their woolly compost machines – a flock of 1,000 sheep, complete with shepherds and a team of highly trained sheepdogs. The sheep do an excellent job of canopy management and leaf removal, and pick the vineyard clean after harvest. They also manage the cover crop in the spring and work hard to reduce fire danger in the surrounding hills the remainder of the year.”

Sheep are cool (and tasty!). I was already a fan before I cracked a bottle. It turns out that you can order parts of their “mowing system” for your own consumption. They direct-ship any cut of lamb you’d like. (see for more info) Additionally, the Shannons have reserved the unused land on their ranch as a wilderness area. They also planned their vineyards so as not to interfere with eagle nesting areas and animal migration trails. Good on ‘em.

They produce a broad range of wines on their ridge, both white and red. I was sent four bottles to try. The suggested retail on these wines is $19 with the exception of the Sauvignon Blanc. That one’s $16. How were they? Overall, I was pretty pleased with them, as you’ll see below:
The lineup...and then some.

Shannon Ridge 2010 Sauvignon Blanc – As you may have noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc kick thanks to the New Year’s feast. It was nice to get domestic for a change. The Shannon Ridge was pleasant enough. I got apples and lemons off the nose. The first taste had a bit of an acidic bite amongst the apple and citrus flavors and I thought it had a slightly  alcoholic aftertaste. It finishes dry and lemony. It was a decent wine for the price point. Didn’t blow me away, but it’s of good quality.

Shannon Ridge 2009 Merlot – My notes on this wine read like copy from a 70’s Schlitz beer ad: “Easy drinking, smooth, not too heavy.” Don’t be put off by the description. The “easy drinking” part is the only similarity with the aforementioned swill. This wine was the only one not entirely sourced from Lake County. They pulled some grapes from Mendocino (one of my favorite California regions!) to blend with the Lake County fruit. The result was a pretty classic California merlot – lots of up-front blackberry and plum, a tannin that gradually builds as you work your way through the glass, and a balanced, silky finish. (And I don’t know anyone who could legitimately describe Schlitz as “silky.”) I gave this one a big thumbs up. As a side note, this wine reminded me that I need to start buying good “f’n merlot” again.

Shannon Ridge 2010 Chardonnay – I always open California chards with a little bit of trepidation. The unoaked ones can be uninteresting, and the oaked ones can be like sucking on a Kingsford briquette. Thankfully, this was neither. This chardonnay was another nicely balanced wine. Lots of pineapple and apple on both the nose and body. There’s oak here, but it’s at a quiet undertone level, balanced with a little bit of malolactic creaminess. The finish is a little firmer on the oak side with some sustained fruit. I think this could be an excellent, flexible food wine selection as grilling season comes on.

Shannon Ridge 2009 Zinfandel – This wine brought back some wonderful memories. During our first trip to Sonoma, the SPinC and I fell in love with Zinfandel -- the varietal that made us go “Hey, we need to learn more about this wine stuff.” We lived on Zins for a while, then moved away to less in-your-face varietals. We reminisced about the start of our mutual addiction over this classic NoCal Zin. Word of caution – if you try this one, it needs a considerable amount of air to open. Once it’s good and aerated you’ll find, in the SPinC’s words, “Fruit, fruit, fruit – vanilla, vanilla, vanilla…” As with the other Shannon Ridge selections, this a good balance of blueberry, vanilla and tannin with a finish that gets grippier as the evening wears on. We opened this one with roasted boneless pork chops in a mushroom sauce with some baked sweet potato “fries” and it was a wonderful complement. Like most big ol’ Zins, it was divine with end-of-evening chocolate. Another solid choice.

Shannon Ridge also does a petit sirah and a zinfandel-based blend they call “Wrangler Red.” They also have a slightly more expensive line of single vineyard wines. For a “nice bottle” evening, I’d certainly recommend the latter three.

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