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Ridge Monte Bello Dinner: 1973-2007

July 7, 2010

RIDGE MONTE BELLO DINNER: 1973-2007 – Chez Julie, Menlo Park, California (6/20/2010)


Ridge is our local Santa Cruz Mountains jewel–making world class Cabernets (and Meritage, the flagship Monte Bello) and beautifully crafted Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and other varietals for over 40 years. And they somehow pull it off even with American oak! I became a Monte Bello collector when I moved to the area four years ago, and I always enjoy the annual tastings of the Monte Bello components and final assemblage up at Monte Bello. So someone suggested, at the last Ridge Monte Bello assemblage tasting, that we do a vertical Monte Bello dinner. Julie graciously offered her place, and we did the food pot luck. The company was a sure fire hit, the food was very good, and most of the Monte Bellos showed well, although I’ve had better bottles of some of these vintages on other occasions. I do think of this as the night of reduction, because the ’99 Monte Bello Chardonnay we started with was frightfully reductive, and the ’83 Guiraud we ended with was also terribly reductive (much more so than lovely bottles I’ve had of the ’83 in the past). Nonetheless, we lovers of Ridge were together, the Monte Bellos showed pretty well, and it was fascinating to compare vintages and weigh the impact of the cepages of different years, especially with major Santa Cruz Mountain geeks like Wes and Dave on hand.

My WOTN was the ’07 Monte Bello, which I think is going to be a truly classic MB with 10 or so years in the cellar, followed by the ’06, ’01, ’97 and ’84. Our oldest, the ’73, was, unfortunately DOA. For more specific comments on the flights, see below.

Bubbly starter

With sausages and Padron Chilies to start

Ridge Chard


This was a reductive wine. Probably the most sulfurous and reductive California wine I’ve ever tasted. I see that Jancis Robinison noted the high level of reduction when she tasted it in ’09. I don’t know what went wrong here, maybe someone slipped with the bag of SO2 for this batch, but it was not good. Beginning of the “Night of Reduction.”

  • 1999 Ridge Chardonnay Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Light green-tinged yellow color; highly reductive, sulfur, citrus nose; sulfur, tart citrus, lemon palate with medium acidity; medium finish (81 pts.)

Mature Monte Bello Flight

The ’84 easily took this flight. The ’73 had a scary looking, soaked cork, and smelled oxidized and maderized as soon as we opened it. The ’83 SCM Cabernet is declassified Monte Bello fruit from a rough year in the Santa Cruz Mountains when grapes up to Monte Bello standards weren’t achieved. According to a February 1999 New York Times interview, winemaker Paul Draper explained: “We sent the [1983] wine to our mail order customers as Monte Bello, then decided it didn’t live up to the standard we set for that wine. So we gave the rest of the vintage the name of our second wine, Santa Cruz Mountains. Then we wrote, to the mail order customers and told them that if they’d send back the wine labeled Monte Bello, we’d send them two cases of the same wine labeled Santa Cruz Mountains. Most did, but a few figured that the bottles labeled Monte Bello would be worth something one day, so they hung on to them. The ’83 you have today is Santa Cruz, formerly Monte Bello.”

The ’84 was youthful, has decades more to go, and hit all the right notes, even though it wasn’t the absolute best bottle of ’84 I’ve tasted. It also contained the most Cabernet Sauvignon of any of the Monte Bellos we were to sample that night.

  • 1973 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Bricked medium red color with clear meniscus; oxidized, maderized nose; oxidized, maderized, iodine palate; medium finish NR (flawed)
  • 1983 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Medium bricking red color with pale meniscus; tart cassis, cedar, tobacco nose; tart red plum, cassis, dill palate with firm, sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot) (89 pts.)
  • 1984 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Bricking medium dark red color; nice, plum, berry, herbal, loamy nose; lovely, youthful cassis, red plum palate with light cedar notes; medium-plus finish (group’s WOTF; 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot) (93 pts.)
  • 1986 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Bricking medium red color; nice mushroom, herbal nose; herbal, marjoram, mushroom, tart red fruit, dill, tomato paste, cedar palate with firm tannins; medium-plus finish (90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot) (91 pts.)

2nd Monte Bello Flight


This was a stronger flight. The ’92 and ’96 were quite herbal; the ’97 and ’98 were rich and more blackberry/black fruit oriented. The ’98 vintage was a rough one for ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, so this Monte Bello contained more Merlot than usual, and showed a lot of the plummy character one expects from California Merlot. They were all good and should continue to age and put on tertiary flavors and additional complexity.

  • 1992 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    From 375 ml – bricking medium dark red violet color; tart red plum, dill, olive nose; tart red plum, cassis, dill, chocolate palate; medium finish (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot) (92 pts.)
  • 1996 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Dark red violet color; hrbal, marjoram, thyme, dill nose; a little tight but plush, tart plum, herbal, red plum, marjoram palate; medium finish 92+ pts. (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot) (92 pts.)
  • 1997 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Dark red violet color; ripe plum, berry, blackberry nose; tart berry, blackberry, black plum palate with sweet tannins; medium-plus finish 93+ pts. (85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc) (93 pts.)
  • 1998 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Dark red violet color; mature, earthy, plum, dried plum, salty plum nose; tightish, tart, salty plum, mineral, tart blackberry palate; medium-plus finish (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc) (92 pts.)

Young Monte Bello Flight


This was the best flight of the night. The ’06 showed the best of the few times I’ve had it. I’ve been a big fan of the ’07 since I first tasted the components, and it continues to be very appealing, even at this young age, but with great structure that should make it a long ager. The ’01, which was Ridge’s 40th anniversary Monte Bello, is also very strong.

  • 2001 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Dark red violet color; tart plum, VA, black fruit, menthol nose; nice ripe black fruit, charcoal, blackberry, menthol palate; medium-plus finish 93+ pts. (40th anniversary vintage; 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot) (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Very dark red violet color; blackberry, green herb, charcoal, chocolate nose; tasty, tart berry, blackberry, chocolate, menthol palate; medium-plus finish 94+ pts. (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc) (94 pts.)
  • 2007 Ridge Monte Bello – USA, California, San Francisco Bay, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Very dark red violet color; tart blackberry, black plum, black fruit, charcoal nose; tart black fruit, tart blackberry, black plum, herbs palate, balanced and structured; medium-plus finish 95+ pts. (decanted for 4 hours; 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc) (95 pts.)

Rivesaltes & Chocolate


Tom had said he was making a chocolate angel food cake for us, with capuccino ice cream, so I grabbed a sweet wine I though might work with the chocolate. This one did. Rivesaltes, of course, is a vin doux naturel, which is made in all different colors and styles, with everything from Muscat to Grenache Noir, and with or without skin contact. This one was made from Grenache, and was reminiscent of Port, but without quite the alcohol. It is fermented in cement and old barrels, then left outside to literally “weather” the storm of the elements all winter and spring before being bottled and allowed to settle for a year before release.

  • 2004 Château Mossé Rivesaltes Vignes des Causses – France, Languedoc Roussillon, Roussillon, Rivesaltes
    Bricking medium dark red violet color; berry, VA, raspberry nose; berry, raspberry, blackberry, port-like palate, but lighter in alcohol; long finish (89 pts.)

Sauternes Finish


The Suduiraut was easily the wine of the flight, and the best ’90 Suduiraut I’ve tasted. The ’83 Guiraud was cursed with reduction, so was nowhere near as good as much less reductive bottles I’ve tried.

  • 1983 Château Guiraud – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    Medium dark apricot color; reduction, tart apricot nose; tart apricot, kumquat palate; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)
  • 1990 Château Suduiraut – France, Bordeaux, Sauternais, Sauternes
    From 375 ml – dark orange color; apricot, dried apricot, botrytis, dried orange nose; apricot, dried apricot, baked orange palate; long finish (93 pts.)

Many thanks to Julie for hosting us, and everyone for their lovely food and wine contributions.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rich Gibbons permalink
    July 8, 2010 12:05 am

    Who was the animal who removed to 2007 foil? : O

  2. July 8, 2010 8:45 am

    My notes are up at http://scmwine.blogspot.com/2010/06/monte-bello-dinner.html – I think we are in broad agreement, though you liked the 1998 much more than I did.

    We were late arriving and the Chardonnay had been open a while. I got some initial sulphur notes, but it didn’t seem overpowering.

    Glad you liked the Suduiraut. It’s from a lot I bought that were recorked by the chateau in 2005 (says so on the cork, though I didn’t know that when I bought them). Some of the others have been a bit variable in quality and (unsurprisingly) all show significantly more maturity than the 750s I’ve tried previously.

    • July 9, 2010 10:50 am

      Dave,
      Thanks for your comment, and your notes. It does look like we generally agreed, except on those couple bottles. I hold to my comments on the Chard, as I expected and hoped the reduction would blow off, so kept going back to it over at least 45 minutes, and was really shocked at how sulfured it remained, especially on the palate. It was starting to remind me of my old chemistry set when I was a kid. 😉 And thanks for bringing the Suduiraut.
      –Richard

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