Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello is considered by many the finest example in the United States of a Cabernet Sauvignon focused Bordeaux-style blend. As such it is often referred to as “America’s First Growth” referring to the strength of quality found in the wine, and the age of the vineyards as well.
Ridge Vineyards began when doctor Osea Perrone purchased acreage atop Monte Bello Ridge near Santa Cruz, terraced the land and began planting vines. The cellar he dug into the mountainside is still used today as Ridge’s production facility. In the 1940′s, a theologican, William Short developed an abandoned vineyard just below the Perrone estate, and began planting Cabernet Sauvignon. From the Short property the first Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon were produced, in the 1960s regarded as some of the best of their era.
Monte Bello vineyards are grown between 1300′ and 2700′ in elevation, lending to concentrated flavors. The ground in the area shows a combination of green stone, and decomposing limestone, unlike the earth of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Additionally, the Santa Cruz mountains receive air currents from the Pacific Ocean and Monterey Bay keeping a fairly cool climate for the grapes to grow in. These elements combine to produce a Cabernet based wine considered in many ways unique for California.
Ridge Monte Bello Vertical Tasting
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Last week I was lucky enough to attend a Ridge Monte Bello vertical tasting hosted by Solano Cellars in Albany, California (just north of Berkeley). The tasting brought together five Monte Bello blend vintages, with a recent component bottling of the Ridge Klein Cabernet Sauvignon produced from what is known as the Klein Monte Bello vineyard. That is, the Klein Cabernet goes on to form a portion of the ultimate Monte Bello blend, and is offered on its own as well in limited production.
I was impressed by the ageability of each these wines. The 1990 was my favorite of the selection, showing the greatest balance of characteristics as well as development, but also offering the potential for several more years of cellaring. This vintage brought together wonderful dried fruit elements, with hints of forest floor and cigar box, bbq spice sweetness on savory meat notes, and the trademark Eucalyptus oil touches that Ridge Cabernet is known for carrying. In fact, the Eucalyptus oil showed through each of the vintages tasted.
The 1994 showed as far more youthful than the vintage would seem to imply. It carried a richer, fuller body than the 1990, and brought together more savory elements than the previous, with less tart or sweet touches, as well as a more distinct note of Cabernet Sauvignon’s characteristic green pepper elements. The tannins and overall structure were consistent with the 1990.
2001 showed as the ripest of the vintages, carrying less structure (though by no means absent of it) than the others. The grapes of 2001 grew amidst heat spikes not typical to the region, thus rushing and slowing their ripening. The fruit here offered a mix of black fruits, and underlying dried fruits, giving a chewy complexity. The umami (savory) elements were here as well, all together giving a medium-long finish.
We were lucky to taste from 2006, as it is a less available vintage, due largely to smaller production that year after little rainfall. The tannins here were strongest, carrying alongside them the most distinct herbal notes as well.
In 2008 the Monte Bello vineyards were surrounded by forest fires that threatened hundreds of acres in the Santa Cruz mountains. Gratefully the estate was spared, but the smoke notes definitely show themselves as an established element of this vintage. The wine is youthful, with all fresh fruits rather than the dried concentrates appearing previously. There is earth on the nose, but shifting to tart acidity in the mouth.
2009 Klein Cabernet Sauvignon
Our final wine of the evening was the component part Klein Cabernet. I’d say it could do with several more years of age before drinking, though it shows impressive structure and a wealth of developing flavors now. After sitting open for several hours the tannins were still thickly drying. The acidity is medium + here too, but the tannins definitely win. I’d love to taste this fresh, vibrant cab again in a few years.
Thank you to Jason of Solano Cellars, and Amy of Ridge Vineyards for co-hosting this lovely event!
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