Friday, March 19, 2010

Monte Bello

There have been a lot of lovely pieces recently about Ridge.
From Eric Asimov:

Jon Bonne: and

Tyler Colman

Jancis Robinson:

If you are interested in Robert Parker scores, Ridge lists recent ones on their own blog:

Although I did not attend the anniversary celebration, I was delighted to receive an invitation from Monte Bello tasting room manager Christopher Watkins to join a blogger's tasting. With only eight guests in attendance this was an opportunity to taste verticals of some of their better known wines.
Arriving early with Thea Dwelle of Luscious Lushes, we were greeted with a beautiful day on top of the mountain. Sunny and warm, there were views all the way to San Francisco. Christopher provided us with a glass of chardonnay for our stroll through the herb gardens, which featured both plants and prominently displayed beware of rattlesnakes signs. Luckily for my snake phobic self, it is still too early in the year for them to be out sunning themselves. At least, that is what I told myself.

After the other guests arrived we went back into the tasting room for our wines.
First up were two chardonnays:
2008 Jimsomare and the 08 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate. One of the more intriguing things for me about Ridge has been that their chardonnays have a higher alcohol than their cabernet blends. Creamy and bright, both of these wines came in at over 14% abv.

We then started on a much longer list of reds. As those who have heard me rant about this countless times know, I'm a big fan of blends. Most wines, with prominent exceptions, can be improved with the selective inclusion of complementary grapes. Of course, what I am still learning and imagine I could spend a lifetime exploring is what each grape brings to a blend. Why petite verdot rather than cab franc or 20% merlot one year and only 11% another? I would love to try my own hand someday. Looking at my notes below, you can see how each year the blends change to reflect the unique challenges and pluses of each harvest. Each blend is unique but reflects the consistent desire for structure, complexity and balance. As their website states:

Though born in the sixties to this new world of California winemaking, Ridge turned to the natural rather than the technological. The approach is straightforward: find the most intense and flavorful grapes, guide the natural process, draw all the fruit's richness into the wine. Ridge wines are fermented using wine yeasts naturally present in the vineyard.

Red wines are fermented in small-capacity fermentors to assure full extraction and intensity. The juice is drawn off, gently aerated, and pumped over a floating cap of grape skins. Once pressed, all wines complete a natural secondary (malolactic) fermentation. Chardonnay is whole-cluster pressed, barrel fermented, and held on its lees for an average of eleven months. In November, as malolactics move toward completion, we assemble each zinfandel from small lots kept separate according to varietal and vineyard parcel, choosing those that best accentuate the distinctive character of each site. The wines are then racked, unfiltered, to air-dried american oak.


08 East Bench: 100% zinfandel. East Bench is their newest designation. At 14.9% abv, it had big fruit on the nose but lots of structure, red fruit, spice, and mineral flavors. Unlike many zins, I think this could be an excellent food wine.

06 East Bench 100% zinfandel. Lots of dark fruit and some jam but with soil and acidity on the finish. Christopher explained that 06 had been a cool growing season, with many wines showing more acidity than in other vintages. Interesting also to note that this was the first vintage from these vines.

08 Geyeserville was a blend of 72% zin, 20% carignane, 6% Petite sirah and 2% mataro. I thought this was big and quite young. 14.8 % abv.

07 Geyserville was a very different blend with 58% zin, 22% carginane, 18% petite sirah, 2% mataro At 14.4% abv, it was almost port-like on the nose, very dark in color, with characteristic black fruits and acidity for balance.14.4% abv

08 Lytton Springs was 74% zin, 21% petite sirah, 5% carignane. This showed bright fruit and again acidity on the finish but could use some time to mature. 14.4% abv.

07 Lytton Springs was 71% zin, 22% petite sirah, 7% carignane. 07 was apparently a big year and this wine showed bigger fruit and less acidity with strong tannins on the finish. 14.4% abv

We then moved on to cabs:

07 Santa Cruz Mountain Estates 58% cab 42 % merlot 13.3% abv Was very young with strong tannins. Needs some time and air.

06 SC 56% cab 42% merlot 2% petite verdot This is the current release. I felt that it was much more rounded than the 07 but still needs time.

05 SC 58% cab 42% merlot I thought this was accessible now, but really needed food to come alive.

We finished with the famous Monte Bello itself. Again from their website:

Almost all the thirty-some small, separate lots of Monte Bello go to new, air-dried oak barrels (approximately 95% american, 5% french) for malolactic. In early February they are blind-tasted, and a first selection is made. Assemblage is usually complete by May. Decisions on when to pick, when to press, when to rack, what varietals and what parcels to include and—finally—when to bottle, are based on taste. To retain the nuances that increase complexity, we handle the grapes and wine as gently as possible. As with raising a child, there are no recipes, only attention and sensitivity.

08 Barrel Sample 72% cab, 28% merlot. This wine will be released in march 2011. The barrel sample has lots of tannins, not surprisingly, but early indications point to this a a lovely wine.

07 79% cab, 2% cab franc, 10% merlot, 9% petite verdot 13.1% abv. This was also showing a lot of tannins and is quite young. It has great potential. It will release in the fall of 2010.

06 68% cab, 20% merlot, 10% petite verdot, 2 % cab franc (CHECK)13.5% abv I felt that this one was very smooth and much more drinkable today than the 08 and 07. Balanced and elegant.

05 70% cab, 22% merlot, 6% petite verdot, 2% cab franc 13.2% abv. This was the most open and drinkable of all of the Monte Bellos we tasted. To me it had strong fruit and tannin, but would be ready to serve with dinner now.

04 76% cab, 13% merlot, 8% petite verdot, 3% cab franc This was a fascinating wine. Herbal and slightly closed this is one that I would love to revisit in a few years.Possibly my favorite of the day.

03 85% cab, 8% merlot, 7% petite verdot. Along with the 04, my favorite of the tasting.

1996 13.2% abv 80% cab, 11% merlot, 9% petite verdot Despite the fact that it had a lot more age on it than some of the others, i felt that this wine was fairly closed and was showing really strong tannins. I thought it has marvelous potential but still needed lots of time.

Christopher hopes to make these blogger tastings a quarterly occurrence. If you live in the Bay Area, I highly reccomend you not mix the next tasting.

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