S U N D A Y: T H E F U L L M O N T E
By George Heritier
1999 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello Chardonnay: I’d been dying to try this debut bottling, so I picked one up just for this tasting, and wasn’t disappointed in the least, even at $50 a pop. It’s a medium straw color, with lovely creamy pear flavors and aromas adorned with toasty oak and a hint of maple syrup as it opens. Satiny soft on the palate, and not at all fat or flabby, the acidity is perfectly balanced, and the finish lingers long. Not as intense as some of Ridge’s Santa Cruz Mountain bottlings, this is an extremely elegant Chardonnay, one that impressed this taster almost as much as many of the Cabernets.
1982 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (Declassified Monte Bello): Somewhat cloudy bricked ruby garnet, with a pretty perfumed soft creamy chocolate, red currant, cassis nose and flavors to match. Tannins are mostly resolved, with good acidity, but Alan Kerr didn’t like this, saying, "Tired, and a little touch of bitterness." While it’s certainly past its prime, it’s also certainly drinkable, and I would dispute one taster’s assessment that it’s "DOA."
1983 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon (Declassified Monte Bello) : Slightly rusty dark garnet, with a pure cassis Cabernet bouquet accented with a floral nuance and a little nip of cedar. Mr. Kerr added, "A little aquarium," and "cooked cherry pie filling." Not tannic, good acidity and a long finish.
1984 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Ever so slightly rusty dark garnet, with classic cassis, plum Cabernet flavors and aromas; hints of maple syrup and leather. Not very tannic, with good acidity and a long finish, some named this beauty as their favorite of the bunch.
1985 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Slightly cloudy bricked dark garnet, otherwise this is almost perfect. Kerr agreed, describing cassis liqueur character and adding, "Absolutely stunning; just a little more full than the ’84."
1986 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Slightly rusty dark garnet with some silky tannins, good acidity and the same basic profile as the last two, but also "some funky compost on the nose," according to Kerr. Kim added impressions of "almost a piney cat pee thing going on that I don’t like; like garlic perspiration." This was only a slight detraction for this taster.
1987 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Corked. Bummer.
1988 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Bright cherry red, in a lighter style, with red currant, sweet cherry jam, light spice and a hint of garlic sweat. Mild tannins, good acidity, short to medium finish, and a touch medicinal, according to the Zinfan.
1989 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Deeper garnet than the last, but leaner in style, and still quite tannic. CZ noted "stemmy red fruit, a blast of ribena, touch of mint, tea and lead pencil in the finish."
1990 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Opaque garnet, thick and viscous, and the most tannic wine so far; wild black cherry, black currant flavors and aromas, showing hints of chocolate and excellent balance.
1991 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Beautiful dark garnet, with wonderful, sublime chocolate cassis character; the word "seductive" was created to describe this wine. It disappeared quickly; my brief notes read "to die for."
1991 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Jimsomare: Bruce L’s addition to the lineup; dark garnet, and "a step down in weight, but quite lovely," according to Alan. It shows some underbrush and herb over full, rich cassis Cabernet character.
1992 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Ever so slightly cloudy dark garnet, with a bit of maple syrup over cassis and plum; not too tannic, with good acidity and a long finish. Not quite as lovely as the ’91, but lovely nevertheless.
1993 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Pretty dark garnet; drifting towards the chocolate character again, like a slightly lighter version of the ’91. Just gorgeous.
1994 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Deep dark garnet; hint o’ mint over deep dark cassis laced with herbs on the nose. Flavors echo and expand with some silky tannins, good acidity and a long finish. Notes of malted milk and maple syrup emerge with air. A wonderful wine that’s showing very well already. "All about structure," according to Ben Luebbers.
1995 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Deep dark garnet, with a slight note of the barnyard on the nose; dramatically expansive with huge plum, cassis and maple syrup character. Starting to taste young with this model.
1996 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Deep dark garnet; dense and intense chocolate, cassis and plum. Remarkably approachable.
1997 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Deep dark garnet, with incense- like Draper perfume. Much like the ’96, only more of it.
1998 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Finally, a wine that’s REALLY too young. Deep dark garnet, with deep young cassis, plum and black currant character. All about promise; no bad vintage here.
1999 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello: Deep dark garnet with a pinky purple rim; maple syrup, chocolate, cassis and plum character. Chewy in comparison to the earlier models, with intense concentration. So much promise.
So there you have it. Here was an amazing opportunity to taste through an incredible lineup of the best that Mr. Ridge has to offer, and everyone made the most of it. To me, Monte Bello has the best of both old and new world styles, with its beautifully rich, pure Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, but without the excess oak treatment that so many Left Coast models do.
A few hours into the festivities, food was served, and everyone raved about Chef Kerr’s expert touch. Besides the Monte Bellos, the participants brought a bottle or two, so there was almost enough wine for everybody. Yeah, right! In my zeal to record impressions of the MBs, I missed a ‘91 Chave Hermitage that was, by all accounts magnificent. The same went for a ‘96 SQN Against the Wall. Still, I can’t complain, because besides the main event, there were such wonderful offerings as a ’99 Pride Claret, a ’96 Paloma Merlot and a ’93 Domaine l’Aiguelière Coteaux du Languedoc Montpeyroux Côte Doree that more than held its own against the big California fruit bombs.
It was another fabulous day of wine, food and friends, even if seats were at a premium. ("I’ve got about 1,000 bottles here and another 2 lockers in town," Russell confided, "that’s why we don’t have furniture.") I didn’t hear any complaints, however, because everyone in attendance was blown away by the scope of what had taken place, whether they had only come for the day, or had taken in all three.