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WINE AND FOOD WEDNESDAY
01/19/2011
Wine and Food Wednesday
Ridge and The Girl and the Fig

By Charles Olken

My associate, Steve Eliot, usually pens the wine and food columns. Steve, as you may know, toils mightily for CGCW but also teaches wine appreciation to the chefs-to-be at the California Culinary Academy. Wine and food pairings are always part of his classes, and, truth be known, he is not only a very good cook in his own right, but a very adventurous cook and a lover of complex flavors. But today, he is under the weather, and I was prepared to have us miss a day when a most tasty email showed up in my inbox.

Ridge Vineyards was writing to announce its new Syrah-Grenache, and that title in the inbox attracted my full attention all by itself. Not only is Ridge one of the highest achieving wineries in these pages ever, but its devotion to California’s oldest vines in good locations makes the announcement of this new wine all the more exciting. Connoisseurs’ Guide, perhaps even more than wine marketplace, likes well-made Syrah and finds many of the highly ripened examples to be perfectly useful with a variety of flavorful foods. To be sure, we continue to champion wines of balance, and Ridge manages, more than most producers, to find ways to capture full flavors in its wines while avoiding the upper alcohol levels.

And then there is Grenache. Most Grenache in California ranges from dreadful to dull. But, it is not the variety’s fault so much as planting and viticultural decisions that have held it back. That coupled with the fact that few wineries have ever really tried to unlock the beauty that Grenache can produce, and you have what has looked like a grape that is no more at home in California than is Nebbiolo. But as our tastings of Grenache over the last couple years have shown, when planted right, the grapes will produce very fine wine—wine with attractive fruit flavors, pleasing balance and a texture that reminds in ways of Pinot Noir. And with those findings in hand, Connoisseurs’ Guide has concluded that we want to see more and more Grenache migrating to coastal locations where the climate will nurture rather than burn out the grape’s essence.

Now there is Ridge Syrah-Grenache, and while the tale is only finally told when the wine is tasted blind, we are going to be moving directly into our Rhone-grape tastings and hope that this new combination of grape with potential and winery with track record proves as interesting in the bottle as they seem to be at this encounter with the announcing email.

The food pairing aspect here is provided by The Girl and The Fig (recommended to you just ten days ago in this space). The restaurant has had a chance to try the new wine and recommends it with its Braised Lamb Shanks served over mashed potatoes. You can access the recipe here, http://www.ridgewine.com/ridge_vineyards_events/syrah_grenache_lamb_shanks.tml, and I can tell that it will soon appear on the table Chez Olken.

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