Ridge Monte Bello sensational

Having written about them a few times in the past, I've often considered Ridge to be America's finest winery. Never mind gorgeous views from the mountain-top, never mind the showing at the legendary Judgment of Paris (and a victory at the re-tasting 30 years after). All that aside, look at what's in front of you in the glass!

Never before had I enjoyed their wines as much as I did this time, when I was presented with a special occasion to (re-)taste some of Ridge's greatest wines. Simply sensational!!!

Chris Watkins, the tasting room manager, set up the following venerable line-up for a handful of us: 1985 Ridge Monte Bello, 1989 Ridge Monte Bello (magnum), 1995 Ridge Monte Bello, 2005 Ridge Monte Bello, and 2003 Ridge Estate Cabernet (Monte Bello's little brother).

The 1985 was amazing - fresh, earthy, savory, with black olives, hints of eucalyptus, pine and herbs (without appearing vegetal or green), loads of dark, blackcurrant fruits and echoes of graphite. Silky elegant texture and great acidity. Serious and dark. It's in a perfect place for drinking now. $350/btl.

The 2005 was sensational (this time I must agree with RP), even better than I remember from two years ago. Reminding me of Barolo in texture, feel, hauntingly fragrant sweetness... other than the flavor itself being obviously a Cab. (The wine is absolutely dry, of course). Elegance and intensity, with no sign of heaviness. I checked back - it wasn't the first time "Barolo of Cab" thought had come to me. In fact, another winery that reminded me of Ridge -- Dunn - one of my California all-time faves - had evoked the same exclamation during a magnificent tasting atop of Howell Mountain (in Napa) a couple of years prior. The 2005 Ridge Monte Bello seduced with a combination of fragrance, mouthfeel, acidity, sweet strawberry and inky cool blackcurrant overtones, and always a background of olives, herbs and earth. Tannic, but with ripe fruit coating the structure, making the wine super enjoyable even now. Long long finish. All within a moderate 13+% alcohol. Polar opposite of the "big Napa cabs". It's also quite distinct from Bordeaux in that great Bordeaux seem to exhibit more cedar, tobacco and leather nuances, and perhaps more spice. The 2005 was obviously young, but oh-so-appealing! $200/btl.

1989 magnum was also fantastic. A bit more fruit than 1985, a bit less complexity than either the '85 or the '05. Coffee, slight animal, dark earth, gorgeous texture, great fruit and olive, fully coating the palate and persisting with a long finish. Relative bargain - in the $350 range for a magnum. Great deal for a Monte Bello at its peak of maturity!

The 1995 was good, but still somewhat closed and tight, with noticeably less aroma and thinner texture than others. Good acid, olive and spice. Still tannic. It will need more time. $350/btl.

The 2003 Santa Cruz Estate Cab was fabulous - such a bargain - $55 list, but can probably be had for under $40 on wine-searcher. Even though it's positioned as Monte Bello's little brother, this wine has most of the attributes of the flagship. The 2003 was showing that same Barolo-like sensibility, though a touch sweeter (strawberry and honey) than the 2005. Olive and touch of herbs, again. But with plenty of acidity, the sweetness just added to the lip-smacking appeal. Fabulous!

Chris was clever enough to offer these wines along appetizers that accentuated various key qualities in the wines: olive tapenade, some kind of savory fig spread, tarragon infused strawberries, cured meats, and a cow and a goat cheeses.

On the first pass of the tasting I ignored the food, but after that, I allowed myself some leeway. These were such perfect matches to the wines that soon I threw blogging rigor out the window and simply enjoyed the damn feast - thanks to Chris for obliging a few generous re-fills to further cement my conviction of these great food wines!


May I just say that I am very, very jealous? I wish I could've attended this tasting.

Although MB has a special place in my heart, I have to agree that the Santa Cruz Estate Cabernet is an exceptional bargain. For my money, it's the best cab out there.

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