What better way to kick off California Wine Month, than Cabernet Day?! I’d been looking forward to this superb opportunity to taste the iconic Ridge Monte Bello that, along with the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate, is a Bordeaux blend. It was also a chance to taste a couple of “mature” vintages from the 80s, and 90s to see how the Monte Bello wines age. I’ve not had a chance to do that, so I was eagerly anticipating the experience.
The tasting was held in the VIP room at Ridge’s Monte Bello location in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
About Ridge Vineyards
Ridge Vineyards was established high atop the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1962. The estate is located about 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean. There are currently 108 acres of vineyards planted to five grape varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay. The vineyards range in elevation from 1300′ to 2700′ above sea level. The combination of the mountain elevation and proximity to the Pacific Ocean results in Monte Bello being one of the coolest regions to grow Cabernet Sauvignon in California, especially during cooler years (Can anybody say 2011?!)
Ridge produces two different styles of Cabernet dominant Bordeaux blend (a.k.a. “Meritage” – rhymes with heritage) from Monte Bello estate. According to Ridge:
“In terms of place, our Santa Cruz Mountains Estate is Monte Bello, and vice versa. From this very special place, we are fortunate to be able to create two distinct wines, one which is labeled as Santa Cruz Mountains and one which is labeled as Monte Bello. We do this by listening to the vineyard at each harvest and making selections based, not on quality, but on style, to craft two wines that are equally captivating but serve different purposes. While Monte Bello is intended for the cellar, Santa Cruz Mountains Estate expresses the beauty and complexity of our exceptional mountain home in the first glorious flush of its youth.”
Click here for an animated fly-in tour of the Ridge vineyards, including Monte Bello.
The first Monte Bello was from the 1962 vintage. Ridge has been making the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate since 1979.
It was a gloriously sunny and warm day in the Santa Cruz Mountains where Ridge Vineyards is located. When I arrived, I was welcomed with a chilled glass of the Ridge 2009 Estate Chardonnay. Wow…what an outstanding Chard! Unfortunately, I didn’t finish my glass since I still had more tasting to come. I don’t drink a lot of Chard, but when I do this one is on my short list!
- 2009 Ridge Chardonnay Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Pale lemon yellow color with tropical fruit, and peach aromas. On the palate medium-bodied, with vivid tropical, fruit, and vanilla spice flavors. Surprisingly long finish. 100% Chardonnay. 14.5% ABV (92 pts.)
Three vintage Vertical Tasting of Santa Cruz Mountains Estate
Next up was a vertical tasting of the 2004, 2005, and 2006 vintages of the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate. The Santa Cruz Mountains Estate is a Bordeaux style blend produced in a style intended to be enjoyed in its youth.
- 2004 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Deep garnet color with cassis, olives, and herbal aromas. On the palate fruity, with good balance,fine-grained tannins, and cassis, and mineral flavors. Medium finish. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 47% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc. 13% ABV (88 pts.)
- 2005 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Deep garnet color with cigar box, herbal black cherry aromas. On the palate it was concentrated, medium bodied, with satiny tannins and black cherry, cassis, and a hint of mineral flavors. Medium-long finish. This was the most seductive of the Santa Cruz Estate wines for me. 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 13.7% ABV (90 pts.)
- 2006 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Dark garnet color with a low-key dark red fruit, and leather aromas. On the palate firm tannins, medium bodied, and fruity with black cherry, and slight herbal flavors. Medium finish. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot. 13.7% ABV (87 pts.)
Three Decade Vertical Tasting of Monte Bello
The headliner of this vertical tasting was the 2001 40th Anniversary vintage rated 99 points by Robert Parker. If that wasn’t enough, Christopher Watkins, Tasting Room Mgr, author of the Ridge blog, and Ridge Jedi Grand Master also pulled out the 2005 Monte Bello for a bonus tasting!
- 1985 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Slight bricking; medium garnet color with dark red fruit, leather, herbal/mineral aromas. On the palate smooth, mature, and round with cassis, black cherry, and mineral flavors. Long finish. Granted I’ve not tasted a 20th century wine in the 21st century before, but I was amazed a 26 year-old wine could be so wonderful! 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot. 13.1% ABV (93 pts.)
- 1995 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium garnet color with dark red fruit, leather, cigar box aromas. On the plates displaying medium-full bodied, nervy and fine-grained tannin with cherry, cedar, and mineral flavors. Long finish. 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. 12.5% ABV (92 pts.)
- 2001 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium garnet color with wonderfully aromatic aromas of kirsch and black fruit. On the palate, it was smooth, concentrated with a seductive complexity with black cherry, cassis, and mineral flavors, and a hauntingly long finish.
56% Cabernet Sauvignon; 36% Merlot; 8% Petit Verdot 14.2% ABV (95 pts.)
- 2005 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Medium garnet color with cassis, black cherry, and slight cedarwood, and mineral aromas. On the palate, fruity, complex, refined, balanced and a bit light on the back palate with black cherry, cassis and a bit herbal (dill?) flavors. Medium-long finish. 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc (92 pts.)
- About the Monte Bello Vineyard (Ridge Vineyards)