Tasting Notes: 15-Vintage Monte Bello Vertical! (Milestone and Milestones!)

Well, this is a bit of a milestone post for what is still quite a young blog; it’s the 200th post! Accordingly, I want to do something a little special to mark the occasion, and this is what I have to offer:

I very recently had the astonishingly great pleasure of sitting at table with Paul Draper, Eric Baugher, David Gates, David Amadia, Nicole Buttitta, Karen Schmidt, and Shun Ishikubo of Ridge, and Guillaume Bienaime and John Sanders of the very fine restaurant Marché in Menlo Park, to taste through 15 vintages of Monte Bello! Needless to say, it was one of the more extraordinary tasting experiences of my life. My only regret is that we didn’t have all day to sip and savor! But this was work …

So, given the rigor and intensity of the tasting, combined with the unavoidable time constraint of a morning tasting on a workday, we had to move pretty seriously and rapidly through the offerings, and accordingly my notes are somewhat brief and a bit riffy, but I hope they give you at least a reasonably in-focus picture of what an utterly astonishing palate experience this was … sprinkled throughout are some observations from Eric Baugher as well, who very kindly gave me a copy of his notes as a resource.

We tasted the wines in groups, the first of which was a foursome comprised of the 2000, the 2002, the 2004, and the 2005 Monte Bellos. First though, for a proverbial wetting of the whistle, we sampled the 1999 Monte Bello Chardonnay. Mon Dieu! What a delicious wine!

1999 Monte Bello Chardonnay

Warm and nutty on the nose, with hints of caramel, butterscotch and vanilla, and a rich and complex tropicality. Mouthfilling and pleasantly viscous without being at all cloying. Mid-palate weight is intensified by strong minerality and a hint of bread-y yeastiness. The finish is long and woody, yet shows lots of bright acidity. Starting to develop secondary and tertiary maturation characteristics, but still delightfully youthful …

Ok, back to our inaugural foursome: 00, 02, 04, and 05 …

2000 Monte Bello

Elegant and playful, yet deeply concentrated, exhibiting bright notes of pomegranate and cranberry layered over a compellingly dark sub-strata redolent of cocoa, leather, fennel, and cigar-box; notable for the juxtaposition of weight and beauty, deep coloration and vibrant concentration …

2002 Monte Bello

Muscular, viscous, and tannin-forward, with rich notes of tar and earth coating a core of crisp bright red fruits and spicy dried fruits; cherry on the red side, black currant on the dried side … definitely youthful and fragrant, but notable for depth of both strength and length …

2004 Monte Bello

Minty and eucalyptal, with strong hints of cherry and menthol; very vibrant and herbaceous, with deep layers of cassis, leather, and tobacco … very elegant and complex, resolving nicely, and showing classic Monte Bello minerality …

2005 Monte Bello

Big, fruit-forward, and intensely structured, with a vast and complex array of fruit profiles brimming away in the bouquet and infusing the body … loads of mountain fruit character, led by a rich blueberry layer and followed by a delightful violet-laden florality … hints of cassis and blackberry, with a saturated peppering of clove and cardamom over nicely chalky tannins …

Not a bad way to lead off a flight, not by any stretch of the imagination! From there, we proceeded to our next foursome, this time a close look at some key vintages from the nineties: 1991, 1992, 1995, and 1997.

 

1991 Monte Bello

I’ve waxed rhapsodic about this vintage many times before, sometimes to almost embarrassing effect (dig this post!), and this tasting did nothing to dissuade me from the very firm conviction that my affections are most decidedly not misplaced. It’s just wonderful, a fully completed circle, every component perfectly placed, a ballet of integration, reconciliation, and harmony; ripe but tempered, complex yet approachable, dark but fruitful, buoyant yet earthy. A treat to taste …

1992 Monte Bello

Astonishingly complex aromatics, very expressive, with a rich perfume. Elegant but well-structured, with very juicy, concentrated fruit. Nicely compressed juxtapositions of licorice and violet, and cigar and pine. Very present acidity and lively fruits transition from a dense middle through to a long and enticing finish …

1995 Monte Bello

Very firmly structured, and defiantly structure-forward. A nice touch of earthiness, and big fruits paving the way for controlled and subtle acidity. Nice blend of forest floor and wet stone co-mingling with hints of cola and black licorice, making for an overall powerful and complex offering …

1997 Monte Bello

Showing remarkably youthful still, and still opening up accordingly. Fully structure-forward, and still flexing its impending complexities … Starting to develop deep mountain fruit characteristics amongst the already present Monte Bello minerality, and clearly heading for a deep and seductive mid-palate around a nicely earthy core …

This foursome was followed by what I think we all collectively agreed was the surprise grouping of the bunch, a five-wine vertical of 80’s era Monte Bello: 1981, 1984, 1985, 1988, ands 1989. I say surprise because this decade as a whole has suffered some disparagement in the past, but to our collective palates, this was easily the most difficult group to pull favorites from; they all showed magnificently!

 

1981 Monte Bello

Deep, deep notes of fudge, chocolate, and cocoa, below an nearly-as-dark-layer of tar and chipotle, sewed together with a decadent chord of umami notes. Loads of black fruits, firm tannins, and still-lively acidity, and showing secondary and tertiary characteristics redolent of balsamic and molasses …

1984 Monte Bello

A very pleasant mintiness on the nose, with lots of red fruits and a hint of menthol and eucalyptus. A near feral intensity to the fruit layers, dominated by an almost sweet cherry character. Intense, pungent, and powerful, with great structure and length …

1985 Monte Bello

Woodsy, and very complexly so, with hints of caramel, vanilla, and cream blending with a slight citricity to almost evoke a caramel apple, wooden stick and all … Tremendously bright and youthful acidity, very fresh and young, with a subdued yet complex bouquet followed by a creamy blue-fruit laden middle and an herb-and-spice laden finish …

1988 Monte Bello

Archetypal “old-world” aromatics showing a concentrated mosaic of black cherry, cola, cedar, leather, and earth, with a concentrated mid-palate blending wild mountain fruit and exotic spice; perfectly resolved and structured, with still-youthful acidity and tannin …

1989 Monte Bello

Lots of fascinating structural components on offer, including dried currant, olive, and tobacco on the nose, and cedar, clove, and anise at entry. Complex without being weighty, with multiple layers of mineral, spice, and sweeter fruits mid-palate, closing with a firm and structure-forward finish …

The final grouping was a two-wine group, and this was really the treat of the bunch, both for the rarity, and the caliber! We first tasted the 1978 Monte Bello, and then the 1968! Unbelievable …

 

1978 Monte Bello

Decadent hints of stew, blood, and iodine simmering in the aromatics, meaning meaty, but not in an umami way, more Wellington-esque … Wonderful second and third tier characteristics on display, including clove, sandalwood, tobacco, and cedar, modulating sweet and concentrated fruits into an earthy and complex body, finishing very lively and vigorous …

1968 Monte Bello

Just astonishing, a 42-year-old wine, and yet still showing so much power, complexity, and concentration. Lots of classic mountain minerality, dried fruits, and sweet sauce notes (plum and balsamic), with a structurally enticing duskiness foreshadowing a rustic mid-palate, and closing with a completed-circle reappearance of marrow-like notes couched in a wrap of sandalwood and cigar …

And that was it for the tasting. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. And while I recognize that the purchase of an older-vintage Monte Bello is not an every day investment, I heartily encourage you all to find a way to sample some of the these older vintages, whether through purchases, or via one of the special tastings that we host in our tasting rooms., It’s an experience that will not leave you for a long, long time …

And thank you to the powers that be for letting me be a part of such an extraordinary tasting!



Categories: Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Food & Wine Pairing, History, Merlot, Monte Bello, Paul Draper, Petit Verdot, Tasting Flights, Tasting Notes, Varietals & Blends, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine Tales, Winemaking

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2 replies

  1. What an absolutely incredible list. We had a team tasting at Snooth last week that included the 1994 Monte Bello – it was absolutely haunting. Here’s the lovingly tattered bottle (I think I’ll keep it forever!) — http://twitpic.com/141dnw

    Love this post. I’ve added “tasting the 1968 Monte Bello” to my life list!

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  1. James Laube, Wine Spectator, And The 1997 Monte Bello! « 4488: A Ridge Blog

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