This weekend was the final - or more accurately latest - assemblage of the 2008 Monte Bello. Right now the individual components are still in barrel; the staff have been evaluating each lot to see whether it should be included in the blend, if it adds or detracts from the whole. It's a difficult job, involving lots of blind tastings and group decisions. Having tasted some of the components in March we now get to see how things are progressing. But before we get to that...
2007 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
A decidedly mineral quality to the nose, with candied lemon and vanilla. First sample was too warm and just showed alcohol, the problem with pouring outdoors on a hot day. It's got a nice, rounded mouthfeel and flavours of lemon, melon, guava and wet stone. Quite an oaky finish. Recommended
2008 Monte Bello Barrel Sample
The current blend is 71%Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot. Neither the Cabernet Franc nor the Petite Verdot have made the cut, though in the case of the latter there has been much debate. The winemakers will continue to monitor its evolution and it may yet come around; if it doesn't then this will be the first Monte Bello since 1985 that the blend has only contained two grapes. Not a lot of change since the first assemblage; some additional parcels of Cabernet and Merlot have been added, but the decision was tough.
Nose of violets, plums and blackberries. Flavours of blackberry, plum and tart blackcurrant backed by smoke, meat and pencil shavings, with a hint of mint, eucalyptus and liquorice/anise on the long finish. Good acidity; tannin is evident but not overpowering or puckering. Surprisingly drinkable even now, but has the backbone to be a particularly long-lived vintage. Recommended
Now onto some older vintages. These wines were all decanted and then returned to their bottles prior to pouring.
1999 Monte Bello
72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Verdot. 13% ABV
The nose on this seems much older than you might expect; it shows a distinct note of Dijon mustard and a hint of what seemed like oxidation. On the palate it's rounded and quite concentrated, showing brambles, mint, eucalyptus and meat. Though it has good structure it seemed to be significantly more advanced in development of the three; if you hold any of these it would be a good idea to open one to make sure that you're happy with the direction that it's heading.
Note: See my notes on the retasting at Ridge
1997 Monte Bello
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot. 12.9% ABV
The low percentage of Merlot is explained by the fact that in 1997 Ridge bottled a Santa Cruz Mountains Merlot.
Nose of smoked meats and cassis. Rich, smooth and balanced with good acidity. Flavours of blackberry, blackcurrant and cedar leading into a long finish. A lovely wine that's yet to peak. Recommended
1995 Monte Bello
69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petite Verdot.
Lovely rich nose of roast meat, brambles, graphite and notes of blackcurrant and violets. A second sample from a different bottle showed more cedar. Great balance; smooth with a long finish. Far more youthful than the 1999. Recommended
2005 Monte Bello
Rich, spicy berry and slighly floral nose. Great blackberry and blackcurrant flavours backed by smoky, meaty notes and a good long finish. Unsurprisingly it's still very primary, showing the most tannins of all, but still very tasty. Recommended
Then onto some of the other Ridge wines:
2007 East Bench Zinfandel, Dry Creek
8% Petite Sirah. 15.4% ABV.
Nose of raspberries and fresh white mushrooms. On the palate there's lots of raspberry, white pepper and toast. Good, medium length finish. $30
2005 Nervo Zinfandel
4% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignane
A lighter berry nose than the East Bench. Concentrated and meaty with sweet black fruits. A really good Zinfandel. Recommended $33
2005 Lytton Estate Syrah/Grenache
Nose shows earth, bell pepper and black olive. Smooth on the palate, with black fruit, cardamom and orange peel and a savoury finish. $33