Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Monte Bello Dinner

I got together with some friends recently for a pot-luck dinner and tasting around a dozen vintages of Ridge Monte Bello spanning a few decades.

Most of the older wines were in great shape, though as you can see the cork on the 1973 was in a terrible state and it came as no real surprise to find the wine hopelessly oxidised.
We began with a 1999 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay - Light mineral nose, lemon thyme and light oak. Initially showed some sulphur, but that soon dissipated. Flavours of peaches, cream, and some mineral notes. Plenty of oak on the finish. Still very youthful. 93

First Flight

1973 Ridge Monte Bello
The fill level seemed a little low and we soon found out why; the cork had totally failed and wine was bubbling up around it. DOA.

1983 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet
The 1983 Monte Bello was declassified and all the fruit went into the Santa Cruz Mountains bottling. On the nose there's some nice black fruit, a little herbal, perhaps vegetal. There's perhaps rather too much acid for the remaining fruit; it's simple but pleasant, and not bad for a 25 year old wine from a weak vintage. 87

1984 Ridge Monte Bello
There's a lot going on here; earthy, brambly fruit and some smoky notes. On the palate it's big with loads of smooth black fruit. The tannins are almost fully resolved, and there's nice acidity. This got better with air over the next 15 minutes. 93

1986 Ridge Monte Bello
A brighter nose than the 1984, with lots of pencil box and brambles. Again there's nice rich black fruit and a bit more tannin than the 1984. However where the 1984 seemed to improve with air the 1986 seemed to decline. Perhaps tasting the 1984 after the 1983 gave it an advantage, but to me the 1986 didn't seem quite as strong. Though we didn't tally scores the group seemed to be pretty evenly split between the two. 92

Second Flight

1992 Ridge Monte Bello, served from 375s
Meaty nose, with blackcurrant and brambles. Rich smooth fruit, nicely balanced, very drinkable. Coming from a half bottle certainly helped, though there was some definite variation between the two. I was lucky and got the better of the two. 94

1996 Ridge Monte Bello
There was initially a little heat on the nose, which soon passed leaving dark berry, plum and blackcurrant notes. Stacks of rich black fruit, with a hint of mint.
There is still plenty of tannin as you'd expect, and it continued to improve in the glass. More elegant than the 97, and still evolving. 95

1997 Ridge Monte Bello
1997 was a riper year, and this shows on the palate. It's a more fruit-forward wine than the 1996 (though still very restrained by Californian standards) - layers of rich sweet fruit and a hint of smoke, with a longer finish than the 1996. For now I gave it the edge, though I think in the long term the 96 might be a better bet. 95+

1998 Ridge Monte Bello
Not declassified, but perhaps it should have been. Apparently Ridge pulled out all the stops to help the grapes ripen in this terribly wet El Nino vintage. A much lighter weight wine than any other in the flight, with cranberry and plum notes, and some green tannins. Seemed simple compared to the others, but reasonable. 88

Third Flight

Each of these had been double-decanted that morning.
2001 Ridge Monte Bello
Rather bright on the nose - cranberry, black cherry and blackcurrant on the nose and palate. I also got liquorice root. Plenty of chewy tannins backed with loads of acidity. Keep it locked away for at least a decade. 94+

2006 Ridge Monte Bello
I felt this was a slightly weaker showing than the last few times I've tasted it up at Ridge - perhaps they had it open much longer. Loads of structure, with a dark chocolate note that I didn't notice previously. I took the last quarter home and finished it a couple of days later; it didn't seem to have faded in the slightest, which bodes well for a long future. 93+

2007 Ridge Monte Bello
I didn't really take notes on the 2007; I've had it several times recently and I think it's delicious. There was some discussion as to whether it's got the same ageing potential as other vintages, but I remain confident that it's a 20+ year wine. 94+