Now THAT was a tasting! An 11-vintage vertical of Monte Bello, tasted blind, with a challenge; try and guess the appropriate chronological order. Needless to say, we put our bloggers to work!
Not to mention our staff, who were charged with the responsibility of opening, decanting, and tasting all those bottles!
Here at Ridge, we’ve just released a veritable treasure trove of Library Monte Bello, based on innumerable internal tastings and endless analyses as regards prices and inventories. The end result is a truly spectacular arsenal of back vintage Monte Bellos the likes of which are rarely seen. So it seemed like a good idea to debut some of the key releases with our bloggers.
Accordingly, we tasted the following Monte Bellos: 1977, 1978, 1981, 1985, 1990, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2000, and 2006. Plus, just for good measure, I threw in a barrel sample of the new 2010! Which makes 11. Our Monte Bello goes to 11.
To match the drama of the tasting, we hosted our bloggers in a brand-new, never-before-seen tasting environment! (Stay tuned to this story, cuz this is gonna be big!) It’s a stunningly beautiful room, with every inch dialed in to support not only a sumptuous showcase for the glorious surroundings of our vineyards, but a highly engaged, sensorially analytical tasting experience as well. It was such a pleasure to host and taste in there, and I look so forward to introducing you all to this amazing new space!
One of the key assets to the room is full media capability, which came in very handy for this tasting, as we were able to very successfuly monitor all the Twitter activity the tasting generated. Thank you Twitterfall!
Tasting with Wine Bloggers is a somewhat unique experience; a living duality of funk and finesse, devoutness and derangement. On one hand, these are very, very serious tasters who do what they do for no reason other than that they are passionate about it; they are not “professionals” in the traditional fiscal sense of the word. On the other hand, they are stranger, more eccentric, and often more opinionated than your “traditional” journalist. In short, they are both fun and funny, and they are also often somewhat singularly socialized, peculiarly impassioned, and both silent and loquacious in equal measures.
For this tasting, heads went down right away. The tasting was afoot.
Regrettably, I didn’t get an inordinate amount of time to mull over tasting notes; I was busy with the planning, implementation, and hosting duties; we’ll have to wait for our bloggers to chime in with their observations, but I can certainly give some quick notes and impressions:
1977 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
Having tasted some 60+ different bottles of this wine during a large member event recently (the Monte Bello Final Assemblage Event, held for our Monte Bello Collector members), I can firmly state that a) I am a big fan of this vintage, and b) this was a very good bottle. It is mature, certainly; not a lot of primary fruit, and fully dominated by secondary and tertiary herb & spice components, but it’s also zestful and spicy, elegant and stylish, and very well put-together. One recommendation, if you’re serving this wine, give it a VERY gentle decant, and serve within 20 minutes.
1978 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
One of the greatest of the 70s vintages, showing no signs of degradation; still a lot of fruit, good if subdued structure, and a real tangible decadence that is devoid of anything cloying; rather, it’s discreetly sensual and quintessentially refined. Same recommendation as above as regards decanting; this won’t need much more air …
1981 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
An internal staff favorite, for sure, and with good reason. Loads of low cedar and tobacco in the nose, plus a healthy dose of plum, black currant, and black pepper. Great juice, light and playful on the palate, with a round, sweet finish. For whatever reason, I find this to be a very romantic wine; it drinks like soft music, cuddles like Sunday night movie night, flickers like candles and kisses with sweet languidity.
1985 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
One of the great and archetypal “old world” Monte Bellos, with lots of lead/graphite minerality, red and brown wood notes, and some great earthiness balanced against a voluminous body. Remarkable too for the density of the fruit.
1990 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
A vintage that’s come in and out of focus for me over the years, but which showed very well in this tasting. Lots of the cool-climate Monte Bello characteristics; a sort of eucalyptal herbality, a comparatively leaner mouthfeel, and tremendously vital acidity, but all this combined with big, rich fruit, and lots of mountain brambliness and dark berry … still young, though no longer discordant. One blogger guessed it as a late 90s vintage!
1994 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
Didn’t love the first bottle we served of this; while the taste was fairly enticing, the nose bordered on off-putting, and didn’t reallyseem to want to blow off. So we opened and prepared a second option, and found much better aromatics, though truth be told, the first bottle had in fact blown off much of its funkiness by this point. That said, the second bottle was the one we went with. Much more seamless, with fruit balanced against spice, tannin against acid, and while rusticity is definitely still a big part of this wine’s personality, it was well-integrated into the overall construct with the second bottle.
1995 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
I’ve written quite a bit about this wine of late, so the short version is that FINALLY this wine is starting to show itself. One of the biggest, most intense, more dramatically structured Monte Bello vintages ever, this wine is finally starting to allow some of its prettiness to emerge, in the form of some lovely lilac and lavender notes, overlaying a wealth of rich blue fruit and some dark cocoa and chocolate notes.
1999 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
This is a vintage that just seems to continue its ascendancy every time I taste it, and it very much seemed to capture the imaginations of the bloggers as well. This is a wine that, put simply, is in fuego. All its harmonic components are in sync, all its melodies in harmony. Given that it’s a vintage that has, in the past, been the subject of some speculation as regards a posited lack of ageability, it’s particularly wonderful to see it showing so fresh, and so lively. It certainly still shows some of the chewier dried fruit characteristics that have held hallmark status in its profile all along, but wrapped as they are now in luscious fruit and well-coated tannins, its hard to say anything other than that this is a happening vintage.
2000 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
Oddly enough, by comparison to the above, this is a vintage that didn’t seem to engender much commentary from the bloggers in attendance; strange given the exalted status of this wine, courtesy of its legendary showing in the Young Cabernet portion of the Judgement of Paris re-enactment. Given that the tasting was blind though, of course no one would know the vintage, and perhaps free of its associative powers, it simply didn’t bring the excitement? I decided to taste this wine again, in the privacy of my office, to really try and get a handle on this mercurial and much-debated, oft-misunderstood vintage. Given the seriousness of the endeavor, I called on the ol’ typer:
And this is what we came up with:
(please click to see the full view)
And so, continuing on …
2006 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
One of my personal favorite vintages, and one that seemed to go over quite fine with the gang as well. So young still, but already evidencing foreshadowings of the complexities to come; I think this is going to be one of the greats, showing all the multi-tiered layerings that have always been the hallmark of “classic” Monte Bello vintages …
And lastly, I am happy to report that, by almost all measures, the 2010 barrel sample was a total hit. VERY, VERY excited about this vintage, as all at Ridge are …
And so that’s that, another fine wine bloggers tasting notched into the neck of our bottle. Thanks Bloggers! Until next time, excellent quaffing to you!