Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bloggers vs Bob - a tasting at Ridge

Chris Watkins, tasting room manager at Monte Bello and Ridge's blogger-in-chief, recently invited a few local bloggers up the mountain for what is hopefully the first in a regular series of events. As you probably know, the influential critic Robert Parker Jr recently reviewed some recent vintages of Monte Bello for the first time in several years. Chris thought it might be interesting to get the opinions of some of us wine blobbers as Mr Parker disparagingly calls us, and see how our opinions equated to those of His Bobness.

Never ones to decline an opportunity to drive up the beautiful mountain, my friend Wes Barton and I headed up on a glorious spring morning. Also in attendance were Thea "The Wine Brat" Dwelle, Amy Cleary, Gary "Iron" Chevsky and Liren Baker

I've added Mr Parker's scores where available. For the record I was pretty sure I could quote his scores for the Monte Bellos but couldn't remember what he'd scored the others beyond the fact that I thought they were all 90+

We began with a couple of whites. Jimsomare is the lower of the Monte Bello vineyards, lying below the fog line. The 500 acre ranch has supplied fruit for over 40 years and is currently under a 30 year lease. In the past Ridge have made both Cabernet and Zinfandel from the vineyard, but this is the first Jimsomare designated Chardonnay.
In 2008 the Chardonnay yields were quite good. During the selection for the Monte Bello and Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnays it became evident that a few lots showed a particular character that didn't fit the profile. In all around 8 barrels were identified, and as a result this one-time blend was created. As yet unreleased, it will probably be priced below the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the mid $30s.

2008 Jimsomare Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
14.8% alcohol. Typical pale straw colour that Ridge Chardonnays usually have.
Nose shows tropical fruit, lemon and fig. There's some minerality, but less than usual. On the palate it's creamy and smooth, with lemon and sweet green apple. Nice longish finish, with a hint of caramel. Showing well for a young Ridge Chardonnay - one to drink young. 91

2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
Nose shows lemon, pear and toasty oak. There's significantly more acidity than the Jimsomare, and more minerality, with less immediate richness and a crisp, lemony finish. This needs a year or two. 91+

Now on to some flights of Zinfandel. The East Bench comes from a vineyard in Dry Creek Valley that is newly replanted with cuttings taken from Lytton Springs. The first vintage was in 2006.

2008 Zinfandel, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley
Not yet released.
Light, herbal nose with raspberry and cherry notes. Lots of tannin, flavours of "red vines" and liquorice; there's some good bright acidity but a fairly short finish. 87 (RP90-92)

We were supposed to be tasting the 2007 East Bench too, but it was unavailable so the 2006 was substituted. Just out of interest, here's my note on the 2007 from a tasting in January:
2007 Zinfandel, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley
Ripe nose, with raspberry and date. Big, rich brambly fruit with a herbal note. Good structure, tannin shows on the finish. 90

2006 Zinfandel, East Bench, Dry Creek Valley
A more expressive nose than the 2008, with spicy oak and sweet berry aromas. In the mouth it's rich and smooth, with lovely raspberry and spice flavours. 89

Geyserville and Lytton Springs are the pinnacle of the Ridge Zinfandels. Two very different wines, each is a field blend which often contain less than 75% Zinfandel and thus are no longer explicitly designated as such. Both have an enviable track record for ageability; typically I find the Lytton Springs to be more approachable when young.

2008 Geyserville, Sonoma County
20% Carignan 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro
Smoky nose, with dark, brambly fruit. Full bodied and a good mouthfeel and nicely balanced. Complex flavours of raspberry and black fruits. Dry, astringent finish. Drink some time after 2012 92 (RP90-92)

2007 Geyserville, Sonoma County
22% Carignan, 18% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro
There are toffee, cedar and floral notes on the nose. A dark and brooding wine, with the additional Petite Sirah really showing. Lots of chewy tannin partially masks the black fruit; here's a wine that needs 3-5 years to show and will last 20+ years. Tough to rate; right now for me it's a 91+ but in time will most likely rate 2-3 point higher. (RP91)

2008 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley
21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignan
This had a lovely brambly, raspberry, spicy nose. Very fruit forward, with concentrated raspberry, black cherry and allspice. Showing well now but posessing enough structure to merit ageing. 92 (RP91-93)

2007 Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley
The nose is more integrated nose than the 2008, with dark brambly fruit and smoky oak. Good concentrated fruit and a fairly long, tannic finish.. More structured than the 2008, this needs 2-3 years. 92+ (RP92)

Then we switched to the local juice. Starting in the late 1970s Ridge began producing a second Cabernet Sauvignon called the Santa Cruz Mountains Estate. Lots that were considered too fruit-forward, less structured went into this second label.
Starting with the 2000 vintage the wine developed a specific identity, becoming a blend that typically contains around 40% Merlot and under 60% Cabernet. Consequently the Santa Cruz Mountains is no longer designated as a Cabernet Sauvignon.

2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot.
Big nose of blackcurrant, menthol and coffee. Lots of plum and blackcurrant backed by nice herbal notes. Great fruit without being too fruit-forward; nice structure - lot of tannin on the finish. A great food wine; approachable now with air but will repay cellaring. 93 (RP88)

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate
56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot 2% Petite Verdot
Nice bright nose - lots of blackcurrant. The small amount of Petite Verdot contributes some floral violet notes. Initially very tannic, though there's good fruit in the background. Nice notes of grilled meat and dried herbs. Needs time. 91 (RP91)

2005 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate
58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot.
Elegant nose; meaty, brambly and smoky, with a touch of mint. This is now nicely integrated; the tannins are much smoother than the younger examples. Tart brambly, blackcurrant fruit and a good, longish finish. Everything is in the right place. 93+ (RP92)

And finally a wonderful vertical of young Monte Bellos. We began with a barrel sample of the 2008 and ended with an interesting older example.

2008 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains Barrel sample
A blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot. None of the Petite Verdot or Cabernet Franc made the final selection.
Savoury nose; ash, brambles, red currant and meat. On the palate there are soft, silky tannins and smooth black fruit. Unsurprisingly it's still very primary. 91-94 (RP94-96)

2007 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
This was only opened that morning and on the initial showing I can see why Parker didn't rate it as highly as I did.
The nose showed smoked meat, black fruit, mint, pencil shavings. In the mouth there is concentrated black fruit but it's very tight and not showing anything like as well as it did the last time I tried it.
So having tasted though the rest of the line-up I came back to it. By then it had opened up quite a lot and was showing far more fruit and less of the tannin. Still very primary, but good delineation, nice black fruit and a long finish. I'm right, Parker is wrong. 95+ (RP92)

2006 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose is floral, with violets and black fruit. Silky tannins, great black fruit and nice herbal notes with a longish finish. 93+ (RP94)

2005 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
What a great nose this wine has. Intense and smoky, with rich black fruit. On the palate it's very concentrated and chewy. Wes had warned that the last bottle he had was closing down, but there was no sign of that here. Full bodied, rich and smooth, elegantly structured with great black fruit and a long lingering finish. Amazingly drinkable right now for a young Monte Bello, but try to keep your hands off it. A true classic. 96+1 (RP97+)

2004 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Interesting grassy, straw nose with some blackcurrant fruit. In the mouth it's tannic, herbal and earthy, with some bell pepper notes and a dry, medium length finish. This is the only release I've passed on since 2001; it will be interesting to see what happens in 10 years. 91 (RP91)

2003 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
The nose had an unusual 'grain silo' note, along with the typical black fruit and violets. Smooth rich fruit - blackcurrant blackberry, coffee and camphor. Tannins are pronounced on the finish. 94 (RP95+)

1996 Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Deep brick red colour. The nose has signs of brett, with earthy, barnyard and leather notes. There are layers of rich fruit; black berry, pomegranite, cherry. The hint of brett also provides interesting secondary flavours of leather and cigar box. Smooth, fine tannins. Long finish.
Still very youthful; hopefully the brett won't continue to develop and end up overpowering the wine. Worth keeping an eye on. 94

I'd like to thank Chris and Darren for hosting us and opening such an array of great wines. Here's hoping that this turns out to be a regular event.

1 Just as an aside, since I adopted the 100 point scale 96+ is the highest score I've awarded.