GEORGE BALLING: A retrospective tasting

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We had a large group at our home on Thanksgiving so it seemed an opportune time to roll out some older wines and give them a try. This is a great exercise to see how some older vintages in one’s collection taste and to stay in touch with the contents of your collection big or small so you don’t lose track of bottles. We frequently get the question from readers, “I have this bottle of wine from 19XX and wondering if it is still good?” My response is, “Only one way to know, open it up!” Not to oversimplify but that really is the only way to know is to open it and taste it. The wine might be good or past its prime but if you suspect it is too old, it is no longer improving. If it is a special bottle, with an emotional attachment assemble some close friends to taste it with you but still get after it, open it up and let’s see what we have.

Our choices this past Thursday were a three year vertical of Ridge Geyserville from 1995, 1996, and 1997. The Geyserville bottling is a Zinfandel based field blend from Ridge’s estate vineyard in the town of Geyserville which is located in north central Sonoma County. In the ‘90s it was my favorite bottling from Ridge. Back then the bottles retailed in the $30 range, we carry the current release from the same vineyard in the shop and they now retail around $50.

As a general comment on the “ageability” of wines, what matters most is winemaking. General statements like “you can’t age white wines,” or “wines from California aren’t made to age,” or “all wines from Europe are better with significant aging” are false. Any grape, any color or wine from any region can do well with significant age if it is made to age. The most important element in winemaking that allows a wine to age is acid; it is the single thing that gives wine longevity. We have had California white wines that age well and after 20 years are still delicious, just like we have had wines from Europe that can’t make it to the 10 year mark. A bit of guidance from your favorite wine professional and knowledge of winemaker helps a lot with knowing the potential of a wine to age, so feel welcome to ask the next time you are in the shop.

The one thing I can say with certainty Ridge Zinfandels age beautifully! As a group these three wines with 20+ years on them were all in amazing shape. They had mellowed and developed subtle character that was less evident in their youth, all were delicious.

What is good about tasting these three vintages with respect to current releases? This was a pretty good run of years all were warm long and dry producing A+ wines. Back at the time of release 1997 received the biggest scores and accolades, although 1996 was pretty equivalent. In tasting the three of them it reminded me of what a good run we have had, you will in the future see similar profiles on wines from 2012, ’13 and ’14, or even 2013, ’14 and ’15.

The 1995 was a subtle and serene wine with mellow structure and dense rich fruit. The flavor profiles were raspberry focused and resembled the thickest richest raspberry jam you could imagine. Mild earthiness and spice box aromatics on all three years gave them an old Bordeaux character that was delightful.

The 1996 was perhaps the least different of the three. Aromas and palate flavors were strikingly similar to the 1995, although the wine was a bit livelier in the mouth. The tannins were still mellow and well integrated presenting a lush and viscous wine on the palate. Both the 1995 and 1996 have reached their potential and I will likely consume the remaining bottles in the next year.

The 1997 was the show stopper. This fabulous California Vintage was warm dry and long with daily highs in the 90s, and nightly lows in the 50s, perfect temperature spread and conditions for wine grape growing. It showed! The fruit was so ripe and yet still vibrant on the palate of this wine it was tough to believe it was 20 years old. The aforementioned Bordeaux-esq aromatics were so compelling I found myself not wanting to drink the wine opting to linger over the aromas.

One thing was clear the wines were certainly age worthy. We bet you have a few like this in your collection so pull them out and see what is going on.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or if you have questions on wine, you can email, or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.

• • •

George Balling is co-owner (with his wife Mary Lancaster) of the dinner party, a wine and table top décor shop located by Costco in Coeur d’Alene. George worked as a judge in many wine competitions, and his articles are published around the country. You can learn more about the dinner party at Be sure and check out our weekly blog at You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook at!/dinnerpartyshop.

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