No Reservations Wine Tasting – Ridge Vineyards

My wife and I do more than our fair share of wine tasting.  We’ve hit all the major wine regions in California (and a few minor ones too;-), along with some tasting in Oregon and Spain.  From time to time we have a wine tasting experience that stands above the rest, and is everything we’re looking for – great wine and commendable service in a relaxed unpretentious environment. It’s those such experiences that are the focus of this “No Reservations” series.  Why “No Reservations”? Because I can honesty say I have “No Reservations”  about recommending the winery anyone who is looking for a great wine tasting experience.  The latest in this series features Ridge Vineyards, which has two tasting rooms – Monte Bello in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Lytton Springs in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.

My complete review of Ridge Vineyards tasting rooms, including history, a recap of the tasting experience – including reviews of wines tasted may be found at the American Winery Guide’s website (For Monte Bello click here; For Lytton Springs click here)

Here are three (among many) things to know about Ridge….

No. 1. Always on a high:

Ridge Mtn Top View 1

The heart of Ridge Vineyards beats just 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, in the inhospitable Santa Cruz Mountains. The AVA is said to be the coldest Cabernet Sauvignon-producing area in California, thanks to cool maritime winds and vineyards at altitude. The original Monte Bello vineyard was planted near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in 1885. Today, the Monte Bello vineyards range from 1,300 feet all the way up to the original site at 2,700 feet above sea level.

No. 2. One producer, many sites

Ridge Lytton Springs Sign

While Monte Bello is the birthplace of Ridge Vineyards – and home to perhaps the most elegant Cabernet Sauvignon in California – winemaker Paul Draper and his crew must also tend vineyards in Sonoma, the Alexander Valley and Paso Robles.

North of San Francisco lies Zinfandel-focused Lytton Springs and the 130-year-old Geyserville Vineyard. Since purchasing Lytton Springs in 1991, Ridge has built a new winery, using traditional techniques such as straw-bale insulation and clay-soil plaster sourced from the surrounding vineyards. But a solar-paneled roof puts it firmly in the 21st century.

No. 3. 50 years of bond:

Ridge History

Nothing to do with 007, but rather the fact that in 2012, Ridge celebrated 50 years of being a bonded winery. While the winery made its first wine more than 120 years ago, the vineyards were abandoned under Prohibition. It took a religious intervention to get Monte Bello back on its feet. Theologian William Short, who owned abandoned vineyard land below the original property, replanted some Cabernet Sauvignon vines in 1949.

However, it would be another decade before Dave Bennion and three engineering colleagues from Stanford Research Institute produced a quarter-barrel of Monte Bello Cabernet. Astonished by the quality of the wine, the group re-bonded the winery in time for the 1962 vintage. Draper tasted the fruits of their labor and was so impressed he joined the winery in 1969.

“I’d had the opportunity to taste great Bordeauxs when they were cheap, compared to what they cost today,” Draper recalls. When he sampled the 1962 and 1964 Monte Bello, “they were the most complex Cabernets I had tasted from California.” Fifty years later, the winery can still justifiably make that claim.

Note: Source of quotes

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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, fitness and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Copyright 2014 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Let The Good Times Roll(Twice!)at Ridge Vineyards

My wife and I decided to kick off California Wine Month by checking out the Ridge Vineyards Fall Release Celebration at Monte Bello (“MB”).  So as soon as the event was announced, we RSVP’d and eagerly anticipated attending the event on September 1st.

However, not long after we decided to check out the Monte Bello Fall Release Celebration, we received an invite for the Lytton Springs Fall Release Celebration.  While, the wines were the same (although I had a feeling Ridge would pull something different out of their magic “library” hat for the Lytton Springs event), the menu featured completely different gastronomic delights so tempting we decided to check, the Lytton Springs celebration too!

Back-to back weekends of wine and food happiness…now that’s what I’m talking about!

The five Fall Release wines featured at both events were:

Here’s how it went down at Monte Bello

Join us as we celebrate the release of our newest fall wines. Our winemaking team will be on hand to discuss the vintage and sample a variety of wines with you. We are very pleased to announce the annual return of Pizza Politana for this event! If you’ve been here to experience their amazing food-truck spin on wood-fired pizza before, then you already know how delicious this event will be, but if you’ve yet to experience this unique rendition of oeno-culinary magic… you’ll be amazed!


It was an absofreakinglutely beautiful day! The skies were blue and beautiful, in the mid-70s, and no breeze to speak of.  It was the kind of day that can make one wonder why anybody would want to live anywhere other than Northern California…

Up on the Ridge

One of the first things we noticed when we arrived at Monte Bellow is the relatively new facelift the winery has undergone, especially to the hilltop area in front of the winery.  It been upgraded to include more tables and made into a wonderful space for a picnic with a glass of wine and taking in the panoramic view of the Silicon Valley.

Down to business…First stop…a splash of the 2010 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay….an instant classic that’s still young, but shows great structure.  It’s opulent, but surprisingly vibrant,  with a harmonious stone-fruit, tropical fruit, mineral character. Long  satisfying finish.  If you haven’t already snagged some, it’s too late, it’s sold out.  Glad I had a chance to taste it!

Monte Bello Chard

Ridge knows how to get a party started – First up – an instant classic – the 2010 Monte Bello Chardonnay

With a splash of the Monte Bello Chard in hand, we headed over to the Pizza Politana station to see what imaginative wood-fired pizza yumminess was in store…

Check out the menu and suggested pairings!

Pizza Menu

(And to my delight, there is was – a little sumthin, sumthin from the library, the 2006 Geyserville!)

Since the Fig, Bacon, Goat Cheese pizza recommended for our Monte Bello Chard wasn’t ready, we happily drained our glasses and headed over to the barn. That’s where the Zins were being poured…

2011 Ponzo Zinfandel – Pretty cherry, raspberry spice and subtle floral aromas.  On the palate, it’s energetic, and velvety with flavors that follow the aromas.  Seriously delightful on its own or at the table.

2011 Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel – A bigger wine that the Ponzo, with a bit more pronounced and complex aromatics. Exuberant cherry, raspberry, spiced oak, and a bit of eucalyptus leap from the glass.   Wonderful balance of ripe red fruits, tannins, and acidity. Long finish. 

2011 Ridge Lytton Springs – Superbly balanced.  Wonderful acidity. Gorgeous red fruit, sweet spice and bramble aromas; with ample black cherry, red currant, and spice flavors with a long lip-smacking finish. 

Then we headed over to the tasting room, where they were pouring:

2006 Ridge Geyserville – Lovely aromatics  with a melange of red fruits, spiced menthol, and subtle oak.  It’s finessed, supple and well-balanced.  It the kind of wine that makes you just want to sit with, and wait for it to reveal its nuanced layers of intriguing aromas and flavors.   Fantastic with Kale, Sausage and Pecorino Pizza! 

And last but not least…

2010 Ridge Monte Bello Another instant classic! This vintage includes all 4 Bordeaux grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cab Franc. Billowing, complex, dark fruit, mineral, violets, and earthy aromas.  Layers of  blackberry, black currant, raspberry fruit with vanillin oak.  Balanced, and beautifully detailed with youthful sweet tannins.  Long finish.  Needs time to mature…the $64k question is…Can I wait?

2010 Monte Bello Anyone

TBD – The Big Dog – Monte Bello!

More oft than not, when we go to a Ridge event, we end up buying a bottle of wine.  This gorgeous day demanded it!

It’s just  that the wines are some damned enjoyable and satisfying, that I always reach a point when I want a glass of wine.

Not another metered tasting room pour…

Yes…a proper glass of wine…

2011 Lytton Springs Half Bottle So we picked up a half-bottle of the 2011 Lytton Springs,  and headed up the hill for the best seats in the house for the sweet Jazz stylings of Real Time…

real time

and proceeded to chill, while savoring the beautiful day, distinctive wines and killer pizza.

My favorite pairing of the day was the 2010 Monte Bello Chardonnay and this…

Fig Pizza

Figs, Zoe’s Bacon, Goat Cheese & Arugula.

(It barely edged out the Lytton Springs + Summer squash, black olive ricotta pairing – though all the recommended pairings were fabulous)

My wine of the day was the 2006 Geyserville – a sublime wine with a bit of age that’s showing superbly now..

The following weekend, we were off to Healdsburg – here’s how it went down at Lytton Springs (recently included on Food& Wine Best California Wineries To Visit)…

Unlike the perfect weather from the previous weekend, the day we visited Lytton Spring (“LS”) it was HOT (it was 93 degrees and climbing when we left – btw my hat’s off to the LS team for somehow keeping ALL the wines at appropriate serving temperature range – Bravo!).

photo (17)

The theme was a virtual wine and food world tour with Spain, France, Argentina, Korea, and of course Sonoma County representing!

photo (14)

Check out the food and wine pairing menu!

  • Spain Bodega Rock Fish Fritters, Allioli & Romesco to pair with 2010 Monte Bello Chardonnay
  • France Duck Fat Fried Fingerling Potatoes, Jasper Farms Blue Fondue to pair with 2011 Lytton Springs
  • Argentina Grilled Sonoma Lamb Brochettas, Padron Pepper Chimichurri to pair with 2011 Pagani
  • Sonoma Edamame & Avocado Hummus Flatbread, Radishes and Pickled Red Onion to pair with 2011 Ponzo
  • Korea Grilled Korean Kalbi Short Ribs, Jasmine Rice, Gravenstein Apple Kimchi to pair with 2010 Monte Bello Cabernet

On top of that, the library selection was the Ridge 2005 Lytton Springs – Intriguing dark fruit, earth, bramble, mint, and spice aromas.  Silky smooth, harmonious, and complex with plum, cassis, bittersweet chocolate, mineral and spice flavors.  Long finish

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My favorite wine and food pairing was the “Argentina” – My sweet Lord, the fruit and spice profile of the Pagani was a the perfect complement to the spice of the Padron Pepper Chimichurri (which can be a challenge to pair – especially with a red)!

My wine of the day was the 2005 Lytton Springs.

If you know Ridge, then you already know the wines are the truth across the board.   Having been to a few Ridge events, I must say that the foods they offer up to pair with their wines are also the truth.  It’s obvious that Ridge puts a ton of care and feeding;-) into their food and wine pairings, and it shows – All the suggested pairings were on point (I must confess, I did a double take when I saw the suggested Grilled Korean Short Ribs paired with the Monte Bello – but damned if it wasn’t a delightful pairing)!

photo (18)

Barrel Room at Ridge Lytton Springs

We had a great time at both events and it was interesting to compare and contrast the two experiences.

Monte Bello has those gorgeous panoramic mountain top views, the Jazz, and the wonderous pizza served up by Pizza Politana.  But, it was more challenging to revisit specific wine and food pairings because, the pizza you wanted may or may not be ready, when you were. Funny thing is –  one a few occasions, the wine in my glass disappeared before the particular pizza I wanted appeared!

On the other hand, it was easy to revisit wine and food pairings at Lytton Springs, the tasting room is more spacious, and it’s hard to beat the bucolic vibe at LS.  I could sit and admire the vineyard there for hours. I also very much appreciated the opportunity to taste the current and 2005 vintage of the Lytton Springs. What a joy it is to experience how a distinguished wine ages.

Overall, I preferred the Monte Bello experience.  But my wife preferred the Lytton Springs experience.

You can’t go wrong either way!

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Ridge Vineyards Post #Harvest2012 Celebration Tasting

I’ve been into, as I refer to it, “the wine thing” for a few years now, including starting this blog in 2010. And each year I’ve found myself becoming more and more fascinated, not just with the finding and consuming wine, but also with how wine is produced. Not so much how wine is made, but more so the decisions made along the way from the vineyard to the bottle.  So when Ridge Vineyards announced their #Harvest2012 celebration tasting, a unique experience including:

  • A brief talk from (and Q & A session with) a key member of our Monte Bello Vineyard Team
  • A multi-media presentation from a staff member embedded with the Vineyard Teams
  • A five-wine Single-Vineyard Estate flight that concludes with a very special library offering
I RSVP’d in the affirmative quick, fast and in a hurry!

As we headed up the winding road up the mountain to Ridge, I was eagerly anticipating our arrival because it was a spectacular day weather-wise.  And as I hoped, when we arrived,we were rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of the Bay Area.

Panoramic view of the South Bay from Monte Bello suite

Panoramic view of the South Bay from Monte Bello suite

The Monte Bello Suite patio was an ideal place to be on such a beautiful day.  There was only one challenge…

The wine was in this beautifully rustic room…

The Monte Bello Suite, situated off the historic Torre Winery Barn

The Monte Bello Suite, situated off the historic Torre Winery Barn – Image courtesy of Ridge Vineyards

After our all the members of our group arrived and we were all gathered around the table, Christopher Watkins, Ridge’s indefatigable ambassador and Tasting Room Manager introduced us a couple of members of the Monte Bello vineyard team –  Kyle Theriot, Monte Bello Viticulturist and Sam, whom I know from the Tasting Room, but who got his start Operations side of Ridge.

After some brief introductory comments by Christopher, the wine and the conversation began to flow.

Here are some factoids presented by Ridge for their #Harvest2012:

  • 282.5 ton grapes picked
  • First grapes harvested; Chardonnay/Last grapes harvested; 63-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Lowest ton/acre = Cabernet Sauvignon: 1.5 tons/acre
  • Highest ton/acre = Merlot; 3.63 tons/acre
  • .50 tons of grapes – 1 barrel – 24 cases – 288 bottles
  • 40% of vines harvested on Monte Bello are certified organic

There was plenty of good conversation about the Harvest, and of course the flight of five wines we were served ( not to mention some fine charcuterie and cheeses!)

Among the things I found more interesting were:

  • There is Zinfandel planted on Monte Bello!; The fruit goes into the Three Valleys bottling
  • Santa Clara County  was the epicenter of California viticulture before prohibition
  • One of the questions asked was “Are the grapes ever washed”?  I must confess I’d never thought about it before.  The answer was “No” because washing would wash off the native yeast.
  • The differences in how wine ages in a  half bottle (375ml) compared to a full bottle ( 750ml).  This came up because the ’92 Monte Bello we tasted was poured from a 375ml bottle.  Sam indicated that’s because it was felt the wine was showing better from the  smaller bottle.  Why?  Because, it aged faster in the smaller bottle.  Presumably, because of the relative differences in surface area for a given volume, wines in smaller bottles age faster than wines in larger bottles.

During the course of our conversation with the Monte Bello team, one another and the wine (you do have a conversation with your wine don’t you, or is it only me? 😉 this video was cued up:

It’s a fascinating look at the the grape picking process via a “canopy cam”. It was amazing to watch the skill and speed with which grapes were harvested…

As our dialogue continued, the topic of a “wine build to age” arose.  This is a question, I’ve wondered about many times.  I’ve wondered is the grapes? Is the barrels, Is it the length of time in barrel?  It turns out the answer is “all of the above”, and then some.  Of course the best fruit is picked, then Sam mentioned the importance of sorting said fruit on a contraption called a mistral sorting table.  The mistral is a sophisticated machine that sorts the fruit in such a way that only the cleanest, purest fruit gets crushed. A relative small number of wineries use mistral sorting tables (I’m sure they cost a bunch-o-money, so it’s cost prohibitive).  Once the fruit is picked, sorted and crushed, there are also differences in how the fruit is processed (frequency of pumpovers, percentage of new barrels used for aging, etc.) Fascinating stuff in my mind…

As for the tasting itself, my tasting notes follow:

  • 2007 Ridge Chardonnay Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Medium straw yellow color with creamy tropical, apple, mineral, and a hint of creme brulee aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-full bodied, with a creamy plush mouthfeel followed by apple, citrus, mineral, and sweet oak flavors. Medium-long finish. (92 pts.)
  • 2005 Ridge Geyserville – USA, California, Sonoma County
    Medium garnet color with black cherry liqueur, plum and dried herb aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied and focused with wonderful acidity and savory black cherry, raspberry, and vanilla flavors. Long finish.(90 pts.)
  • 2009 Ridge Merlot Torre Ranch Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Violet color with aromatic beautiful black and fruits, violet, and spice aromas. On the palate, it’s light-bodied, fresh, complex, and balanced with smooth tannins and blackberry, raspberry, cassis and mineral flavors. Long finish. (92 pts.)
  • 2009 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Garnet color with perfumed earthy black cherry, cassis, licorice, sweet oak and a bit of dark chocolate aromas (it really depends on when you sniffing it. It’s showing a wonderful complexity which is manifest in evolving aromas with time spent in the glass – hell even when the glass was empty the aromas were still very present and inviting). On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, complex and balanced with dusty tannins and black cherry, cassis, licorice flavors. Long finish. Double-decanted 30-45 minutes prior to tasting. Showing better than when I tasted a couple of months ago. Still young, but already a classic! (94 pts.)
  • 1992 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Medium garnet color with earthy, cassis, black cherry aromas. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied, fresh, complex, and balanced with well-integrated sweet tannins, and cassis, black cherry, and mineral flavors. Long finish. From 375 ml (92 pts.)

The burning question at our end of the table after tasting through the wines was “Do you prefer the ’92 Monte Bello,or the ’09 Monte Bello?”.  There were 8 of us who participated in the discussion.  What I found interesting about it is that the preference was based on gender.  All the men (3) preferring the ’92,and the women preferring the ’09. Hmmm…

It was a brilliant learning, sensory, and fun experience, and one I highly recommend!