Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ridge Bloggers tasting, March 2011

Has it really been 3 months since the last Bloggers' event? Once again, Chris Watkins invited a group of wine bloggers to a tasting of current, unreleased and library wines at the Monte Bello tasting rooms. A dozen of us braved torrential rains and hailstones; some of the regulars were joined by Chiara Shannon of K&L Wines, Melanie Friedman and Erin Grant.

Chris likes to have a different theme for each event, and this turned out to be a demonstration of how Ridge wines age over decades.

We began with a couple of the newly releases. Ridge has dropped the "Santa Cruz Mountains" designation in favour of "Estate" for both the Chardonnay and the red blend, which is now a fully fledged Cabernet.

2009 Estate Chardonnay
Nose shows peach, apricot, a touch of of almond and creamy vanilla. On the palate there's sweet white fruit up front, and a salty note. There's some bitterness from the oak and tannin on the finish; it needs a little cellar time. 90+

2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Earthy nose with blackcurrant, mint and herb. Tart fruit flavours of bramble and blackcurrant backed with earth and smoke. Good structure; firm tannins on the finish. Nice now, but will repay cellaring. 92

We moved on to a 10 year comparison of Geyserville - the newly released 2009 vintage and the 1999 from the library.

2009 Geyserville
The 44th vintage is a blend of 74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet and 1% Mataro.
The colour is a bright red-purple. The nose is tart, with a medicinal note. Flavours of cherry and redcurrant, with bright acidity. 91 It's a nice wine, but it was completely overshadowed by

1999 Geyserville
Blend of 68% Zinfandel, 16% Carignane and 16% Petite Sirah.
A deep brick red colour. Lovely mature nose and great flavours of dark fruit, dried cranberry, leather. There's amazing depth and a long finish. 94

This was followed by three impressive vintages of Monte Bello spanning two decades.

1985 Monte Bello
93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot
Similar deep brick red colour to the Geyserville.
Aromas of leather, dried fruit and hayloft; palate showed earth with some blackcurrant (but not a lot), and savoury, meaty notes. Still a surprising amount of tannin on the finish.
The fruit showed more clearly when tasted alongside food. After the tasting was over I went back and retasted all the Monte Bellos and was surprised by how the fruit showed - here's a 25 year wine that needs air to show its best. 95

1995 Monte Bello
The nose was musty and earthy, with notes of menthol. The palate showed lots of bright acidity and earth, hiding the fruit, and lots of tannin. It seemed shut down tight and I wasn't going to assign a rating, but revisiting after a couple of hours the fruit came out - great, rustic brambly and herbal notes. Clearly many years from its peak. 94+

2005 Monte Bello
This wine has always been a delight; the nose is big and fruity, with mint and earth notes. On the palate there's lots of intense black fruit - blackberry, blueberry and blackcurrant, with graphite, smoke and pepper - the finish just goes on and on. With air it got even better and showed a liquorice note. The best young Monte Bello I've tasted. 97

We then moved to two examples from the ATP programme, which focuses mainly on Rhone varieties.

2004 Lytton Estate Syrah
Cofermented with 10% Viognier, and blended with an additional 8% Grenache.
The nose shows spicy, peppery red fruit which follows through onto the palate. Notes of redcurrant, tobacco and allspice. 91

2006 Lytton Estate Syrah
The 2006 is not yet released. The nose is altogether more assertive than the 2004 and overall there's significantly more going on; lots of red fruit and spice with a long finish. Definitely one to watch out for. 94

Alan Bree then teased us with two blind wines from his extensive personal Ridge cellar. He firmly believes that all of Ridge's wines deserve cellaring and are typically consumed too young. We had no other clues as to what was being offered.

Both wines had a similar brick red colour to the 1999 Geyserville and 1985 Monte Bello, so my guess was that the wines were 10-15 years old.

The first had a light nose that suggested cigarette smoke. Nicely mature, with notes of sweet raspberry fruit and some good tannins. The raspberry and tannin made me guess a Zinfandel blended with Petite Sirah. (Dead wrong)

The second showed a slightly redder colour, suggesting that it was the younger of the two. There was a sour note on the nose that I didn't care for, but the flavour was surprisingly sweet. Again a raspberry note made me think it was a Zinfandel, but the tannins were much softer.

The wines turned out to be 1997 and 1998 Sangiovese, from Dry Creek Valley. The 1997 was blended with 17% Merlot, while the 1998 was 100% Sangiovese. I would never have guessed this as I was unaware that Ridge had ever made a Sangiovese. (Apparently they took over the vineyard in 1997 and replanted it in 1999.) Two fascinating wines, probably slightly past their peak despite the tannins on the 1997, but still interesting and tasty. I didn't score them at the time, but in retrospect I'd probably say 89 each.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

SCMWA Trade Tasting 2011

Here are some tasting notes from the SCMWA trade tasting last month. This is an annual event open to retailers, restaurateurs and media, which was held at Farallon restaurant in San Francisco.

Unfortunately my punishment for somehow angering the tech gods continues and I've been unable to find the iPod that I had used to record most of my comments. Thankfully I had sync'd it with my PC before it evolved legs, so the notes were safe, but somewhat inaccessible; Apple certainly doesn't believe in letting you have easy access to your own data and I was damned if I'd pay the necessary $25 for what seems to be the only available third party recovery application.

I finally got around to doing the necessary hackery myself to extract the data from its binary prison; it turned out to be a bit easier than I expected. And so, with apologies for the delay, here are my notes.

All wines carry the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation unless otherwise noted.


2007 Estate Chardonnay
This had a really smoky, oaky nose. Big, creamy and smoky with baked apple flavours. Good acidity. Long oaky finish, but despite all the wood I enjoyed it. 90
2007 Bald Mountain Chardonnay
This wasn't showing the oak anything like as much as the Estate Chardonnay, which is surprising given that it sees 100% new French oak and the Estate sees less. Nose shows creamy apples; notes of lime, salt and honeysuckle with a medium to long finish. Reminds me of Varner. 92
2007 Estate Pinot Noir
Light smoky, earthy nose. Earthy and austere with redcurrant and herbal notes. lightly tannic finish. 88
2008 Bald Mountain Pinot Noir
Smoke and maraschino aromas. Earthy but less austere than the estate with black cherry flavours and a medium finish. 90

Big Basin

2008 Homestead Syrah
Blend of 73% Monterey and 27% Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose has roast meat and blueberry. Rich and fruity with smoky berry flavours and a medium finish. 90
2007 Fairview Ranch Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands
Floral, berry nose. Fairly gentle tannins, smooth red berry flavors showing white pepper on the long finish. 91
2006 Rattlesnake Rock
The nose is very complex, showing smoke, meat, fruit and spice. Rich, smooth flavours of smoked meat, redcurrant and pomegranate, with a longish finish. 93
2007 Mandala
The nose suggests dusty old books, but on the palate it's sweet and spicy, with blueberry and blackberry notes and nice firm tannins on the finish. 92


2007 Chardonnay
Lemon and lime on the nose; flavours of citrus, oak and mineral notes. Oak seemed harsh on the finish; give it time. 87+
2007 Pinot Noir
Funky, earthy nose; spicy flavours of sweet cherry, cinnamon and cedar. Very good. 92
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Dusty blackcurrant nose. A rather concentrated combination of rich fruit, smoky oak and chewy tannins. 89+

Clos LaChance

2007 Chardonnay
Vanilla and apple on the nose; sweet baked apple and vanilla cream on the palate. Seems low in acidity, with notes of sweet caramel on the finish. 88
2007 Pinot Noir
Inviting nose of cherry pie; sweet cherry and allspice flavours. Oak came across as a little harsh - needs time. 88
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
Dusty bramble nose; flavours of blackcurrant, oak and underbrush. Promising. 89

Kathryn Kennedy

2000 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Leather and black fruit on the nose. Complex flavours of cassis, earth, leather and cedar; a big wine with a long finish. 94
2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Softer nose than the 2000. Showing lots of primary blackcurrant fruit; good structure, just needs time. 93
2007 Small Lot Cabernet sauvignon
Rustic black fruit, balanced oak, plenty of tannin, good finish. Cellar this. 93

La Honda Winery

2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma
Smooth gooseberry and grapefruit flavours; creamy, clean finish. 87
2008 "Sequence" Pinot Noir
Interesting nose - sandalwood? On the palate it's got lovely spicy redcurrant notes with silky tannins and a longish finish. 91+
2009 Exponent
Blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 18% Grenache and 14% Sangiovese
As the blend suggests it's an easy drinking red table wine; light fruity nose and soft brambly fruit. Only $15 at Beltramos; a good value midweek red. 88
2008 Salinian Block Cabernet Sauvignon
5 vineyard blend from small vineyards around the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Nose shows smoke, cassis and brambles. Bold black fruit, lot of tannin, dusty oak on the finish. 90+
2007 Naylor's Dry Hole Vineyard, Chalone AVA
Lots of cassis on the nose. Spicy blackberry, blackcurrant fruit, lovely smooth tannins, a rather elegant wine. 92

Martin Ranch

JD Hurley 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Rustic, with notes of blackcurrant and allspice. Tannins are silky and the oak is nicely balanced. 89
JD Hurley 2008 Zinfandel, Santa Clara Valley
Some nice tart raspberry flavours, but perhaps a little oxidized? 86

MJA Vineyards

Marin Artukovich recently relocated his winery from St Helena to Los Gatos. The winery has a tasting room on Ingalls St. in Santa Cruz and a Pinot Noir vineyard on Highland Way (the continuation of Summit Road) in Los Gatos. A second tasting room at the vineyard is scheduled to open next month. The winery has two labels; Serene Cellars and Davine Cellars (not to be confused with nearby DeVine Consultants). The winery produces Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from Napa and a Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir.
2007 Serene Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
An oaked Sauvignon Blanc. Creamy and low in acidity, with some gooseberry notes. 85


2008 Chardonnay
Lots of butterscotch on the nose. Flavours of creamy apple, with mineral and brine; clean finish. 88
2006 Merlot
Bright plum aromas, some smoke. Berry and plum fruit, oak seems nicely integrated. 88
2007 Merlot
Earthy nose, which comes across on the palate too. Sweet fruit, some spice and smoke. Tannic finish. 89


2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
The new name for the Santa Cruz Mountains blend; with more of the younger Cabernet vines now producing the balance of the blend has shifted and it can be called a Cab. The blend is 75% cabernet and 20% Merlot, with 3% Petite Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc.
Nose is brambly with a little smoke; rich flavours of cassis and spice. Terrific value. 93
2007 Monte Bello
Did not disappoint. I'm a big fan of this vintage, as you probably know. 95

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard

2009 Verdelho, Silvaspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa AVA
Impressive floral nose, kind of a cross between Sauvignon Blan and Viognier. Light bodied; floral and crisp gooseberry notes with caramel on the finish. 89


(Edited. Zinfandel vines aren't the oldest of their kind in the state but Cabernet Franc vines probably are. Thanks to Tony Craig for the correction.)
2007 Cabernet Franc
From vines planted in the 1920s; believed to be the oldest Cabernet Franc vines in the new world. Smoky blueberry nose. Concentrated fruit - blueberry, redcurrant and cranberry. Chewy, tart finish. Hint of cigar. 91
2007 Zinfandel
Sourced from hundred year old vines. Dark blackberry/raspberry nose. Good concentration. Lots of tart raspberry syrup, backed by great acidity. Rich intense flavour and a long finish. I really liked this. 93
2007 Montmartre
Blend of roughly equal parts Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Carignane, with a little Syrah. Light meaty, smoky nose. Most tannic of the three wines. A chewy, spicy fruit medley that will need time to show well. 90


2008 Chardonnay
Big, ripe nose with lots of vanilla. Rich and creamy with good acidity and flavours of red apple, lemon and lime. 88
2008 Chardonnay, Christie Vineyard
Rather shy nose, showing a little apple. Crisp apple and pear flavours, with the oak far less evident. 88

Thomas Fogarty

2007 Chardonnay
Nose of caramel and apple. Crisp apple, lime and brine. Mineral on the medium finish. 87
2008 Gewurztraminer, Scheid Vineyard, Monterey County
Consistently a great value wine and my favourite domestic Gewurztraminer.
Lovely spicy, floral nose. There's a hint of sweetness, nice citrus flavours, low acidity with a long, floral finish. 90

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Monte Bello component tasting

The annual barrel tasting at Monte Bello is an opportunity to get an early glimpse at the most recent vintage. 2010 was a particularly cool year punctuated by occasional heat spike; from what I've heard it was not an easy year for the local growers. The Monte Bello tasting showcases four distinct varieties, as well as the first assemblage of the Monte Bello blend.

We began with the 2007 Monte Bello Chardonnay, with its enticing nose of lemon, lime and honeysuckle. The oak is prominent, as is typical on the new releases; there's creamy lime and mineral flavours, but the oak takes over on the long finish. 93

The barrel sample of Merlot was somewhat unyielding. There was a nice nose of red fruits and floral notes, but on the palate it was structured and herbal, with taut acidity.

The sample of Cabernet Franc was the first harvest from recently planted vines, and will not be a part of the Monte Bello assemblage. The nose showed ash or fireplace, with notes of brambles and coffee beans. On the palate there was lots of tannin and some earth, but very little fruit.

Cabernet Sauvignon makes up the bulk of Monte Bello. This sample showed smoke, brambles and blackcurrant. On the palate there was smooth black fruit backed by earth, light tannins and a touch of dried herbs.

The final component of Monte Bello is Petite Verdot. It's a late ripening grape and thus does not always get ripe enough to be included in the blend, but when it does it adds spice and a violet note. Since 2010 was a cool year it was doubtful whether the fruit would ripen fully; the winery went to the trouble of laying reflective film between the rows to help the process; it worked. The sample had a great nose, with floral violet notes. On the palate there was rich, black fruit and good acidity with a smoky finish and good tannins that were not too pronounced.

So on to the first assemblage of 2010 Monte Bello. The initial breakdown is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merot, 5% Petite Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. The volet notes of the Petite Verdot were evident on nose; there were notes of fireplace and black fruit. At first tasting it seemed taut and tannic; there was some black fruit, meaty and mineral notes. It seemed particularly difficult to judge at this early stage; I got the impression that it's going to take longer than average to show itself fully. On second tasting, which saw much more air, the fruit became more evident. It does give the impression of being a long-lived vintage.

For comparison we then tasted a 1992 Monte Bello poured from 375ml bottles. This turned out to be an interesting example of how bottle variation is amplified with age; one sample showed cedar, leather, black fruit and herbal notes, with a rich, layered, earthy finish. In contrast a second sample from a different bottle was somewhat earthy; the nose showed barnyard and herbs, with black fruit, earth and leather flavours. Both were of excellent quality. 94

Down in the main tasting room they were pouring the newly released 2008 Monte Bello. It's come together nicely since the barrel tasting two years ago; the nose has violet, mint, meat and brambles. It's young and structured, with rich fruit and mint but overall seems slightly thinner than recent vintages. It will be interesting to retaste in a year or two. 92