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