Sunday, March 19, 2017
|Ridge Monte Bello tasting room|
|The 4 mile drive up to Monte Bello was even more interesting|
than usual due to heavy spring rains this year
|View west from Monte Bello towards Rhys Vineyards|
|Paul Draper and Eric Baugher|
A recurring theme with both Baugher and Draper is experimentation and basing decisions on blind tasting. This encompasses everything they do. Determining the varietal composition of Monte Bello. Deciding which vineyard blocks should be considered. Informing which winemaking technique is best suited to the grapes their vineyards grow. They set up an experiment, test it blind, and decide what to do based on what they taste.
See also: Visiting Kosta Browne
The scale and attention paid to the famous Monte Bello bottling is worth discussing. The Monte Bello winery produces about 9,000 cases total (plus or minus depending on vintage). Of that, about 4,500 cases are Monte Bello proper. Of that, about half is sold to their mailing list and club members. That leaves only a couple thousand cases of the stuff to go around. Keep that in mind next time you're trying to decide whether to splurge on a bottle of Monte Bello: There's not much of it in cirulation through normal distribution channels.
The process of making Monte Bello starts with hand sorting of grapes. No optical sorting is used (it removes character and depth says their blind tasting). And at these volumes they can afford to hand sort. As a point of comparison Opus One with roughly 5x the production of Monte Bello does leverage optical sorting.
All Bordeaux varieties are de-stemmed. Monte Bello is aged for 16-22 months in ~91% new American oak. The result is a wine that averages 13% alcohol (+ or - depending on the vintage) built for longevity.
According to Baugher, Monte Bello is at its best 20 years after bottling. In my experience, great wines like this also show well in their youth, albeit without the integrated secondary characteristics that reward patience.
I mentioned that I've enjoyed Monte Bello more young (3-5 years after bottling) than after mid-term cellaring (say 8-10 years after bottling). Baugher wasn't surprised by this. Perhaps like the "dumb phase" that Chateauneuf goes through before emerging, it's probably best to let this age for the long haul if you're going to age it. If you're going to drink it at around 10 years (or younger) you'll want to decant it liberally.
I enjoyed a taste of '15 Monte Bello from barrel (absolutely leaped from the glass aromatically) and the more reserved (at this point) '16. What a treat.
Overall, getting a chance to tour the winery with Eric Baugher was tremendous. He's got this quiet confidence about him that's in line with the Ridge brand. For example, regarding critics he said they don't need to alter their winemaking style to please critics since "Ridge has been around longer than any of them".
2015 Estate Chardonnay $55
Stony minerality with lemon and light feral notes. Pretty.
2014 Lytton Springs $40
A field blend with pretty red fruit and nice grip. Outstanding.
2014 Pagani Ranch $40
Approachable. A great "starter" wine, in a good way.
2014 Estate Merlot $55
No green here at all. Toasty oak on the finish. Grippy.
2014 Estate Cabernet $60
Really satisfying, complete wine with formidable tannins.
Then we got to the Monte Bello. One just about to be released and one with some age...
2014 Ridge Monte Bello $175
Aged 22 months in 95% American, 3% Hungarian, and 2% French oak. This is one of the most stunning wines I've ever tasted. Despite it's youth it's an absolute delight to drink. The balance of texture and gorgeous red fruit make this a compelling wine. Although it's constituent components are individually identifyable they're so appealing that once integrated this should be a tremendous Monte Bello.
1992 Ridge Monte Bello
13.5% alcohol. 80% Cabernet, 20% Merlot. Very pretty on the nose with candied cherries, leather, and cedar. Fully integrated and very clean. A delight to taste this at 25 years of age.
A visit to Ridge Vineyards is something I've always wanted to do. Getting to know what makes their brand special exceeded my high expectations.
After tasting the incredible 2014 I immediately did a Wine-searcher search for Monte Bello. Being a deal hound I thought for sure I could buy it for significantly less than retail but it turns out it actually is really scarce and hard to find discounts on.
One option is to join their Collector's Club where you buy Monte Bello as a future at a discount. For example, if you join and pay right now you'd get the 2016 Monte Bello for $105 rather than $175. You wouldn't receive it until 2019 but it is a way to get a significant discount on the wine. And I have a feeling they're not going anywhere and their prices are only going to increase.
They've got other wine club options as well. Their Z list is for Zin fans. And their ATP (Advanced Tasting Program) is for people interested in more esoteric bottlings. Joining all 3 gets you additional benefits.
I stopped by a local MA retailer. These are the bottlings we tend to see in our region:
As I was driving down the mountain after my visit I couldn't help but compare Ridge to Apple - whose new "spaceship" campus is visible from the vineyards. They're both admired brands that make unique products that are often imitated but rarely duplicated. True California pioneers.
|View from Monte Bello towards Silicon Valley|