Monday, March 26, 2012

Ridge Monte Bello 2011 Component Tasting

The annual Monte Bello futures tastings are the first glimpse that many of us get at the quality of the most recent vintage. 2011 was a tough year in California; a late, wet spring delayed budbreak; rain during flowering impacted the fruit set resulting in low yields; a cool summer increased the pressure of mildew and botrytis, and also meant that many regions struggled to get fruit to ripen.

The more experienced producers are used to difficult years, and this year they needed to tap that experience. There are lots of techniques that can be used to help the vines such as green harvesting (dropping fruit to allow the rest to ripen) and leaf pulling (removing leaves that aren't wanted). Then there are high-tech solutions such as reflective sheeting to direct sunlight back up at the plants. But even if you do all the work you're still reliant on the weather to do its share, and in 2011 it wasn't exactly cooperating.

On a sunny weekend in March Ridge opened the doors to their Monte Bello Collectors and gave us a taste of 2011. Barrel samples of the four varieties that make up Monte Bello as well as a taste of the first assemblage.

2011 Petit Verdot, Olivos Block. 12.2% Alcohol
I love the nose on Petit Verdot, and I'm always disappointed when it doesn't make the final blend. It opens with bright violet and blueberry notes, but the palate is disappointingly simple; light tannic fruit. This won't be in the blend, but should add some nice aromas to the Estate blend.

2011 Cabernet Franc, North Gate Block. 12.0% Alcohol
The nose shows lots of espresso coffee beans; that comes through on the palate too. It's got a green, leafy note to it and some tart brambly fruit. These young vines won't make it into the final blend, but another parcel will.

2011 Merlot, La Vasseur Block. 12.5% Alcohol
Merlot was hit particularly hard by rain during flowering, and the yieldsa are much lower than usual. There's not much going on on the nose. In the mouth it's rustic and tannic; plenty of acidity but very little fruit. Yet another block that won't be in the Monte Bello.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, La Vasseur Block. 12.8% Alcohol
Monte Bello has always been a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine, and this year looks like having the highest proportion of Cabernet in a good few years. But as with all the other varietal samples, this one hasn't made the cut, though is still under consideration. The nose is light, with wafer, berry and meat. On the palate it's lightweight, with flavours of blueberry, bramble, tobacco and smoke.

2011 Monte Bello, First Assemblage.
87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc.
The nose is rather shy at this stage, with smoke, tobacco and berry emerging with some coaxing. There seems to be a lot less fruit than in a typical Monte Bello at this stage; instead there's lots of coffee, graphite, tannin and cocoa. It's probably going to be a long wait for this to reach its peak. 90-92

The winery was also pouring some new and current releases

2009 Monte Bello
New release. There's an odd, volatile note in the nose and it seems lighter than usual. There's plenty of red fruit and loads of tannin. Sometimes Monte Bello can be approachable on release with some air, but this one seems to need a good rest. 92+

2009 Klein Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
One of three "Classic Vineyard" wines released earlier this year - they were presented at the December bloggers' tasting, which I missed. The other two are a Perrone Vineyard Cabernet Franc and a Torre Ranch Merlot.
Nose is smoky, with plenty of berry fruit. On the palate it explodes with cassis, bramble and blueberry, with a long finish. 93+

2006 Monte Bello
I've had this a few times and it continues to delight. Stuck between two vintages that generally have been more highly regarded, the 2006 stands well. Lots of graphite, smoke and rich, smooth blackberry and blackcurrant fruit it tastes great now and will only get better. 94

2009 Estate Merlot
Ridge don't usually bottle a Merlot on its own; any that doesn't make the Monte Bello tends to end up as a significant proportion of what used to be called the Santa Cruz Mountains blend. In 2009 they had enough fruit to make two Estate wines. The Merlot has a soft, floral nose and soft yet rich fruits - black plum and blueberry. Something to drink now while you're waiting for the others to mature. 91

2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Smoky, berry nose; lovely rustic blackcurrant and bramble fruit. 92

So in conclusion, the 2011 Monte Bello will probably turn out to be a very nice wine in time. However Ridge is such a reliable producer that you can say that about almost everything they make. I may be proven wrong, but I don't see this being one of the greatest vintages; at the moment it's my least favourite since 2004 and possibly since 2000. Right now they have some excellent wines from the 2009 vintage; in addition to the ones above there are also the superb 2009 Geyserville and Lytton Springs to consider. Because of this I passed on the 2011 Monte Bello and instead bought a mixed case of 2009s.

2011 was a tough vintage for growers. It will be an even tougher vintage for sellers. I certainly don't plan on buying anything without tasting it first.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Eighteen 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons

Last weekend a few of us got together to taste through as many of the local 2007 Cabernets as we could lay our hands on. The event was organised by Paul and Stef Romero of Stefania Wine, who were curious how their wines would stand up against similar wines from the region. The answer? Very well.

The wines were served in groups of three. Most of the people were not trying to take notes, so Wes Barton and myself soon found ourselves behind the rest of the group. As such the notes are somewhat brief, and are in the order the wines were poured. As far as I'm aware none of the wines were decanted or aired prior to pouring.

Our overall impression was that 2007 resulted in some very nice wines indeed. The group favourite was the
the Martin Ranch Dos Rios Vineyard, which was showing particularly well right now. Ridge Monte Bello and Mount Eden Estate did well as you might expect, despite being very young, and the Stefania Santa Cruz Mountains was just outside the top three.

2007 Mount Eden Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nice complex nose - initially cassis, mint and smoke with some mushroom emerging. That mushroom and cassis showed up again on the palate, with drying tannins on the finish. Good depth, and lots of structure.

2007 Cooper Garrod George's Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose was sweeter than #1, with sherbert and bramble.Fruity with bramble and boysenberry, plenty of tannin
eucalyptus coming out time.

2007 Chaine d'Or, Santa Cruz Mountains
Aromas of raw meat and dust.Tight, dry. grippy tannins - clearly needed air. Noticeable green pepper note, with some nice brambly fruit.

2007 Kathryn Kennedy 'Small Lot', Santa Cruz Mountains
Soft nose with nice black and red fruits. Smooth fruit - redcurrant and blackcurrant. I was thinking Saratoga or Santa Clara Valley.

2007 Ridge Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains
Bright berry nose - blackberry and blackcurrant. Lots of blackcurrant cordial, tannin and - particularly - oak. Way too young.

2007 Martin Ranch Thérèse Vineyards Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Very perfumed nose, sweet smooth fruit, drying tannins. (By this point I was way behind, so my notes started getting terser.)

2007 PM Staiger, Santa Cruz Mountains
Smoky, brambly nose. Smooth, sweet fruit. While enjoyable, this seemed the least complex of all the wines poured.

2007 La Honda Lonehawk Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Hint of volatile actidity on the nose? Lots of bramble and blackcurrant fruit, and lots of chewy tannin. I was guessing the Kennedy Small Lot.

2007 Stefania, Santa Cruz Mountains
Interesting nose; for some reason it made me think of a toilet puck. Structured berry fruit and lots of mouth-coating tannin. Needs time, but should be great.

2007 Ahlgren Bates Ranch, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose of barnyard and herbs, with the alcohol showing, but on the palate there was sweet redcurrant, turning oaky on the finish.

2007 Stefania Uvas Creek Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Earthy and ripe plum. Lots of sweet peppery blackcurrant fruit, tannin and earth.

2007 Woodside Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose dominated by smoky oak. Rather intense with hints of graphite and spice backed by smooth tannins.

2007 Thomas Fogarty, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose showed smoked sausage. Smooth, sweet cassis; I wouldn't age this, it's good now. I think this was the least expensive wine in the lineup, having been found at Sunnyvale Costco for under $20.

2007 Domaine Eden, Santa Cruz Mountains
Elegant, feminine, light. There's smooth red fruit and bright acidity. I guessed Cooper Garrod, so was only a couple of miles out.

2007 House Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose is earthy and smoky. Seemed very tannic; there's some good black fruit there but it needs time.

2007 Ridge Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains
Rich nose showing caramel and eucalyptus. Light with some bright black fruits but decent structure.

2007 Martin Ranch Thérèse Vineyards Dos Rios Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley
Nose made me think of breakfast cereal. Lots of sweet caramel and black fruit, with nice chewy tannins. Quite the crowd pleaser.

2007 Creekview Vineyards, Santa Clara Valley
Nose of black fruit and eucalyptus; good intensity but very tannic at the moment.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 San Francisco SCMWA Trade Tasting

The SCMWA holds a couple of annual trade tastings, open to wine buyers, restauranteurs and media. It's a good opportunity to taste the new releases. The most recent event was held last month at the Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco. I deliberately skipped Ridge as I knew I'd get the chance to taste them at the Monte Bello event, and by the time I got to Kathryn Kennedy they had stopped pouring. In all I think I hit most of the tables. Here are some rather brief notes, alphabetically by winery, in the order poured.

2009 Chardonnay, Central Coast
A fairly typical example of Monterey county Chardonnay. Not over oaked; creamy apple and vanilla with just enough acidity. 86
2009 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, Regan Vineyard
Bright cherry nose; flavours of cherry, cranberry and cinnamon, with a hint of sweetness. 90
2009 Lodi Zinfandel
Ripe nose of raisin and prune are matched on the palate by raspberry and date, with some woody tannins. 85
2007 La Vita
A blend of three Italian varieties - Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Refosco.
The nose is smoky and rustic. The first thing that you notice are the chewy tannins, but there's good dark fruit and plenty of acidity behind that; it just needs time. 91+
2010 Gewürztraminer, Viento Vineyard, Monterey County 
No surprises here; a typical floral, spicy nose and flavours of lychee and honeysuckle. Some sweetness and quite a long finish. 88

Clos LaChance 
2010 Sauvignon Blanc 
Nice tart grapefruit nose. Crisp, light citrus flavours - refreshing, but the finish is a little quick. 87
2008 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Nose showed butterscotch and toffee apple. Flavours of butter, vanilla and apple, perhaps some slight oxidation. 86
2008 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Great nose - allspice, clove and cherry. Lovely clean, sweet fruit, nice dash of oak. 91
2009 Estate Zinfandel
Aromas of raspberry syrup and star anise. Concentrated raspberry flavours, earthy and spicy. Good value. 89
2007 JoLi Meritage 
Dusty currant and earth on the nose. Quite intense fruit - bramble, cassis, some tobacco. Good structure. 91

Clos Tita
2009 Estate Pinot 
Unusual nose; glacé cherry, dried herb, asphalt. Flavours of cherry liqueur, blueberry, herbs and something else that I just couldn't quite identify. Yeah I know, some use that is in a tasting note. 87

2009 Viognier 
Lively floral honeysuckle nose. Flavours of peach, pear and apricot. 89
2007 Cabernet Franc, Francville Vineyard
Brambly, leafy nose. Blackcurrant with notes of cigar and earth. 89
2007 Syrah, Finley Vineyard
Nose showed smoked meat and earth. Black fruit, salty bacon, plenty of tannin. 89+

La Rusticana d'Orsa 
Marilyn and Frank Dorsa have around 4 acres of up to 10 year old vines, with all five Bordeaux varieties represented. The wines are made at Mount Eden, but with only a couple of hundred cases made they are very hard to find at retail
2007 Cinque
Enticing nose of black fruit with a hint of eucalyptus and licorice. Plenty of rich fruit and cocoa, with soft tannins. Very drinkable. 91
2008 Cinque
The nose is a lot less forthcoming than the 2007. Good black currant and bramble fruit, with a touch of bell pepper and a good finish. 90
2009 Cinque
Not yet released. Light, smoky fruit on the nose. Lighter weight than the other vintages, but with lithe fruit and nice fine tannins on the finish. 90+

2008 Hammer Syrah
Gamey nose, with bacon and plum. On the palate there's bright, sweet fruit - pomegranate? 89
2008 Petite Sirah, Mendocino
White flowers and black currant on the nose. Surprisingly balanced and elegant for a Petite, with good depth of fruit and a hint of earthiness. 90

Mount Eden 
2009 Chardonnay, Wolff Vineyard, Edna Valley
The Wolff Vineyard chardonnay always represents pretty good value at around $15, and this is no exception. Light, crisp apple nose; flavours of sweet green apple and citrus. 88
2008 Chardonnay, Saratoga Cuvee
Lots of toasty oak on the nose. Apple and vanilla flavours, with a prickle of tannin on the finish. 89
2009 Estate Chardonnay
Shows some interesting tropical fruit on the nose; pineapple and guava. Rich and creamy yet complex with lots of fruit and a long finish. 92
2009 Estate Pinot Noir
Black cherry and smoke on the nose. I don't think this was aerated much if at all; it seemed very tightly wound. Taut cherry fruit, orange peel and spice. 92++
2010 Domaine Eden Pinot Noir
The Domaine Eden wines come from the old Cinnabar vineyard in Saratoga. Personally I found the early vintages disappointing, but it looks like Jeffrey has finally got things the way he wants them. This is a real winner. Although the nose seems lighter than the estate it still shows some nice spice, which follows through to the palate where it's matched by lovely cherry and berry, and supported but not dominated by some oak. At around $35 this is a terrific value; I plan to load up on it. 94
2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Nose shows eucalyptus and great black fruit. Rich flavours of blackcurrant and bramble; there's good tannin on the finish, but it's approachable now - if you must. 94
2008 Domaine Eden Cabernet Sauvignon
Like I said above, I've found the early Domaine Eden vintages disappointing, though maybe that's largely a case of having too high an initial expectation. This isn't a bad wine, it's just such a long way away from the Estate. The nose is softer, with berry and iodine notes. The fruit is lean and the finish is quick. 89
My understanding is that most if not all of the Cabernet vines are gradually being grafted over to Pinot Noir.

2009 Chardonnay
From a vineyard in Saratoga. Nose showed Asian pear and wet stone.
Sweet apple and pear with a saline, mineral note. Light acidity. 88
2007 Merlot 
Good nose of damson, bramble and oak. Rich, chewy fruit and a longish finish. The oak needs some time to integrate, but a decent value. 90
2009 Tre Rosso Cali
Blend of estate Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Dusty nose, with some blackcurrant. Powerful bramble and currant fruit, with good structure. The best wine Naumann has produced to date, and good value at under $30. 93
2007 Late Harvest Merlot
Lots of sweet, ripe fruit on the nose, also oak and a hint of VA. Lots of black fruit, raisin, date and oak. Some residual sugar, but not overpoweringly sweet. 90

Denis was also introducing his second label, Damselfly

2011 Rose of Petite Sirah
Barrel sample; Floral and fruity nose, Crisp and fruity with flavours of boysenberry. 88
2009 Pinot Noir, Domani Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Complex nose - rose petal, earth and cherry. Good rustic cherry fruit backed with nice acidity. 91
2009 Malbec, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Alta Mesa
Aromas of blueberry pie. Fruity - blueberry and bramble - with firm tannins on the finish 91
2009 Syrah, Zayante Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains
Smoky, meaty nose. Interesting gamey flavours, with black fruits. 92
2009 Petite Sirah Machado Creek Vineyard Santa Clara Valley
Black fruit, liquorice Great rich fruit. Nice controlled tannins. Caramel herb prickle if tannin 92
2009 Damselfly Sangiovese Santa Clara Valley
Earthy, herbal nose. Rather tannic with a hint of tar and some floral notes. 88
2009 Damselfly Petite Sirah, Monterey County
Mineral (sulphite?) note on the nose, Good fruit, smooth and easy drinking. 88

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard/Quinta Cruz
Jeff had a wide selection of wines from both his brands.

2010 Verdelho
An aromatic, acidic grape native to Madeira and perhaps best known as the primary component of one of the island's classic wines. It's also grown extensively in Portugal where it's used in white port and to make dry wines. Internationally it is increasing in popularity, particularly in Australia. It's slowly growing in popularity in the US with around 100 acres planted, mostly in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties.
Crisp, floral nose. Dry, floral and lemony, with light acidity and a good finish. 89
2009 Tempranillo
100% Tempranillo. Redcurrant and caramel nose. Chewy and concentrated with red and black fruits, and ganache. Medium finish. 91
2008 Tempranillo Reserve
The reserve spends longer in barrel and is blended with some Touriga and Graciano.
Nose of fireplace and earthy fruit. Lots of smoky, earthy black fruit. 91
2009 Touriga
A blend of Touriga Nacional & Touriga Francesa - two of the main port varieties.
The nose is a little faint, with some black fruit, but on the palate it's rich and plush. While dry, it clearly shows the characteristic fruitiness of port. 90
2009 Graciano
A Spanish grape which is a component of Rioja, Graciano is rarely bottled alone which is a shame.
Bright, floral nose with a hint of smoke. Rich red fruits on the palate - raspberry, currant and strawberry - intense yet lithe, with a tannic finish. 93
2008 Baileys Branciforte Ridge Pinot Noir
Nose of woodland and cherry. Good cherry fruit, with some herbal notes and a rich, earthy finish. 92
2009 Branciforte Creek Pinot Noir
Shows cherry and cranberry on the nose. Bright flavours of cherry and raspberry, also with a rich, long finish. 92
2009 Grenache McDowell Valley Vineyard, Mendocino 
Light berry nose, Rich raspberry and pepper. 89
2009 Petite Sirah, Pierce Ranch, San Antonio
Light, smoky nose. Rich black fruits, well managed tannins and a chewy finish. 89
2008 Bobcat Red
Aimed at the restaurant by-the-glass market, this seems to be a blend of leftovers that weren't good enough for the regular bottlings. There's a light pot-pourri nose and smoky fruit cocktail flavours with a hint of band-aid and a quick finish. 81

2009 Muns Vineyard
Nice smoky, floral nose. Lithe cherry and berry flavours, with some earthy notes. 89
2009 Tondre's Grapefield
Nose reminds me of cherry liqueur. Rich fruit flavours - raspberry and cherry - with a long finish. 90

2009 Viento Vineyard Gewürztraminer
Floral, lychee nose. Good spicy flavours with lots of lychee and a hint of residual sugar. 88
2010 Chardonnay, Santa Cruz Mountains
Creamy vanilla, lemon and lime, with soft acidity. 87
2008 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains
Smoky, slightly medicinal nose. Spicy cherry - clove and cinnamon - and a long finish. 91
2008 Petite Sirah, Santa Cruz Mountains
Cider and oak on the nose. Rich, concentrated black fruit and good structure, only slightly marred by some heat. 90
2006 Rusty Ridge Zinfandel Santa Clara County
I'm normally a big fan of the Rusty Ridge Zinfandel, but this didn't quite measure up to previous vintages.
Earthy, raspberry nose, concentrated yet rustic raspberry flavours with chewy tannins. 89

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Almost complete Ridge Geyserville vertical - part 3

The third part of the Geyserville retrospective featured the vintages from 1988 through 1995. The group was joined by a special guest - Eric Baugher, assistant winemaker at Monte Bello. He joined Ridge in 1994 and so had worked on three of the vintages that we tasted.

It quickly became evident that the eight wines poured were all remarkably consistent. There were no Late Harvest outliers, no tired vintages, no flawed wines. What we got were eight superb examples of rich, well crafted wines which evolved and blossomed in the glass. Trying to choose between them was futile; each had its charm and every one was a delight. In the end the tasters submitted their rankings, but the final results were so close that the differences were statistically insignificant.

1988 Ridge Geyserville (82% Zinfandel, 5% Petite Sirah, 13% Carignan) 
The nose was dusty and oaky; at first I thought I got a whiff of cork taint, but it didn't persist. The palate showed tart raspberry and ham; I ranked it towards the end but it finished 2nd overall.

1989 Ridge Geyserville (75% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Sirah, 3% Carignan)
Complex nose showing soy sauce, meat, smoke and dried herbs. Nice raspberry flavours, with smoky oak and a rich, long finish, becoming more earthy with time. I really liked it; it finished 3rd overall. 

1990 Ridge Geyserville (64% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 18% Carignan)
Compared to some of the others the nose on this was faint; notes of bramble and camp fire. Flavours of waffles, liquorice and bramble, with tannins that had softened with time but were still very evident. A youthful wine perhaps not yet at its peak. Finished 4th.

1991 Ridge Geyserville (50% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, 30% Carignan)
Initially the nose seemed musty, with ripe fruit and wood emerging with time. Plenty of sweet loganberry, perhaps a touch more residual sugar than the rest. It finished 8th, despite being Eric's first choice.

1992 Ridge Geyserville (65% Zinfandel, 15% Petite Sirah, 20% Carignan)
Opening with fresh earth and dark raspberry, an unusual camphor note developed with air. On the palate it showed opulent raspberry fruit; the Petite Sirah seemed particularly evident in the blend. Nicely balanced with light tannins it was the overall first choice.

1993 Ridge Geyserville (60% Zinfandel, 12% Petite Sirah, 22% Carignan, 2% Mataro, 4% Alicante Bouschet)
Deep nose of berry, cigar and orange peel; lots of black fruit - boysenberry, bramble and currant. Some tannin evident on the finish. 5th place.
1994 Ridge Geyserville (68% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah, 20% Carignan, 4% Mataro)
Nose showed tart cranberry; flavours of raspberry and oak. Seemed a lighter, simpler example of the style. Overall 6th.
1995 Ridge Geyserville (62% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 15% Carignan, 5% Mataro) 
At first the nose showed berry and smoke, but a savoury shiitake mushroom note soon developed. In the mouth there was lots of black fruit, particularly black cherry, and more of that savoury mushroom. One of my top three, it finished 7th.

As I said at the outset, there wasn't much to separate these wines. The results reflected that; for every person that had a wine as their first choice another had put it as their last. This is testament to the overall quality; averaging 20 years old not one was fading or flawed. from the previous tastings only the 1980 and 1987 could have held their own; the 1968, 1977 and 1978 from the first tasting would clearly have been outliers.
At some stage there will be two further flights, covering the vintages from 1996 to the present; I hope to attend those too and will report back.