Cast your mind back to last May, and the final assemblage tasting at Ridge. This is one of my favourite events of the year, as it's a great opportunity to try some older vintages of Monte Bello.
This year they poured three vintages; the 1995, 1997 and 1999. The latter vintage in particular did not show at all as expected, as I wrote at the time. Following some discussion with Ridge's Tasting Room Manager Christopher Watkins, Wes Barton and I were invited back to reassess the 1999.
Ridge isn't open on weekdays except by appointment and for certain special events. One of these events, for wine club members, takes place on the first Friday of every month, so we arranged to turn up early and combine the two events. We were joined by Richard Jennings, a fellow local wine enthusiast whose palate Wes and I greatly respect.
We were fortunate that there had been a trade visitor earlier in the day, so we got to start with a couple of wines that had been opened for them.
2006 Monte Bello Chardonnay
This will be released on September 1st. List price is $60, but it will be available for $50 on the first weekend.
Nose of white flowers, lemon zest, vanilla and wet stone. Lovely flavours of creamy vanilla, lemon, white peach and a little chalk. The oak was showing a little harshly on the long finish. Definitely needs some cellar time to truly shine. 93
2006 Monte Bello
A powerful nose of smoke, blackberry, mint and slate jumps out of the glass. There is plenty of sweet brambly fruit, hints of smoke and mint and a very long, dry mineral finish. Wes had brought some of his home-made Elderberry jam because he's been noticing elderberry notes on recent vintages of Monte Bello; he was right, there was definitely some elder notes. As you'd expect it has great structure and will cellar well, though it would be good with steak tonight. With time it opened up further. Should be a classic Monte Bello. $140 94+
1999 Monte Bello
Okay, down to the reason we are here. Right from the start it was clear that this was very different from the wine we tasted last May. The nose shows similar characteristics to the 2006 - lots of brambles, mint and smoke - and more maturity as you would expect, but nothing like last time, no sign of oxidation at all.
Good brambly fruit, smoked meat and coriander seed, with lots of structure. The finish was not as long as the 2006 Monte Bello. Still got plenty of life. 92
We then joined the Jimsomare tasting, and switched back to a white
2005 Home Ranch Chardonnay
Home Ranch is a designation that Ridge uses when it has lots that didn't make the cut for the Monte Bello but they don't want to blend it into the Santa Cruz. As a result, Home Ranch wines aren't made every year.
There was more evident oak influence than on the 2006 Monte Bello. Lots of lemon & vanilla and some walnut. I'd have pegged this for a Varner. Very fruity; nice balance, just a hint of sherry on the finish. A few bottles are still available at $45. 90
Jimsomare Ranch is a 500 acre property lower down on Monte Bello Road. Ridge has been sourcing fruit there for around 40 years and manages the estate. It has 5 acres of Zinfandel vines that are over 100 years old, and an additional block planted in 1996. The climate in the Santa Cruz Mountains is cool for Zinfandel, so you don't get the over-ripe jammy characteristics that (for me at least) mar many Zinfandels.
2007 Jimsomare Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose was fruity but seemed atypical for a Zinfandel. Layers of deep, heavy fruit; blackberry, smoke and "Red Vines", with a longish finish. It triggered a memory of whinberry pie (a small English bilberry). $32 93
1997 Jimsomare Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains
Showing a more traditional Zin profile; a tart raspberry/cranberry nose, lots of smooth raspberry fruit and a good, long and balanced finish. Hard to believe that it's 12 years old, it seems so lively. Delicious. 94
1988 Jimsomare Zinfandel, Late Picked, Santa Cruz Mountains
Ridge uses the 'late picked' designation to indicate that the sugar levels were higher than usual at harvest. There may be a little residual sugar, but it's not a 'dessert' wine.
This had a really strange nose; very hard to describe, there's PlayDoh, grass and cigarettes. It's surprisingly tart, dry and tannic despite the touch (0.11%) of residual sugar, but there's not much fruit remaining. An interesting experience nonetheless.
Update: Richard has posted his notes on CellarTracker.