Ridge held a special event yesterday promoting their wine clubs. They have three different programs that you can participate in: ATP, Z List and Monte Bello Collector. I've been a member of the Monte Bello Collector scheme since it started, and was purchasing Monte Bello under their futures scheme prior to that, but I've never joined the other clubs.
Ridge's Monte Bello is widely considered to be one of the top wines (some would say the top wine) in California. While drinkable young, it has the potential to age that rivals top Bordeaux; it typically reaches its peak 15-20 years after vintage. The Monte Bello Collector program lets you taste the wine very early, when the individual components are still being blended, and to purchase futures at a significant discount (around 35%). Minimum purchase is just 2 bottles (or 1 magnum, or 4 halves)
Z List members receive two shipments a year, each shipment containing two (or more) bottles of three different Zinfandels.
The ATP (Advance Tasting Program) includes nine shipments a year of limited production single-vineyard wines. The shipments include Zinfandels as well as Rhone varietals and blends. Production of these wines is often so small that they are only made available to list members.
Participants in any of the programs get a 10% discount on all other purchases of current releases (15% on cases) as well as free tasting and admission to events like this.
My view is that if you live locally the Monte Bello Collector club makes the most sense. The commitment is as large or as small as you want it to be, you get a significant discount on the wines as well as the opportunity to taste at both the assemblage tastings (two of my favourite events of the year) and discounts on the other wines. Plus you can mix and match formats and even arrange to pick up rather than have the wine shipped. If you don't live locally then the Collector club still makes sense, but the Z List and ATP get you wines you wouldn't have access to otherwise. For details see the Ridge web site
Here are some tasting notes from the event.
2007 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Lovely nose showing peach, fig, mandarin orange and some oak. On the palate it's rich and complex, with vanilla and citrus on the finish. If this is the second wine then the 2007 Monte Bello Chardonnay ought to be spectacular. 92 $40
2007 Zinfandel, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley
Includes 8% Petite Sirah. The vineyard was replanted a few years ago with cuttings taken from Lytton Springs. This is only the second vintage from these vines.
Ripe nose, with raspberry and date. Big, rich brambly fruit with a herbal note. Good structure, tannin shows on the finish. 90 $30
2007 Zinfandel, Pagani Ranch, Sonoma Valley
Includes 5% Alicante Bouschet, 3% Petite Sirah.
Earthy, lighter nose than the East Bench. A cocktail of bright fruit with some liquorice root. There's less tannin but good acidity. Tasted by themselves I preferred the East Bench, but when paired with some delicious fennel salami from The Fatted Calf the fruit really stood out, whereas the East Bench seemed a little overwhelmed. 90
2007 Carignane, Buchignani Carignane, Sonoma County
Black fruits and mushrooms on the nose. Savoury, with some "red vines" fruit and good structure. 89 $28
2004 Grenache, Lytton Estate, Dry Creek Valley
Includes 16% Petite Sirah, 9% Zinfandel
Nose shows cream soda, redcurrant and earth. There's lots of tannin, good red fruit and nice acidity. A good food wine. 89 $25
2006 Monte Bello
68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Lovely nose of blackberry, blackcurrant and sage. As you'd expect it's really tight and young, but there's still loads going on; good fruit and great balance. The finish is dry and on the short side at this stage. Shouldn't be touched for at least 10 years. 93+
1992 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
An interesting demonstration of how well Ridge wines age. Bear in mind that this is the second wine, the lots that didn't make it into the Monte Bello Chardonnay, and isn't intended to be aged.
The colour was a nice bright yellow; I'd have expected a darker colour from an 18 year old wine. On the nose it was pure caramel; there was caramel and nuts on the palate. Showing a little oxidation and a light 'fino sherry' finish. A very interesting wine. I rarely get the chance to try whites this old and they typically disappoint, but this did not. 90