Monte Bello Collector Event/Final Assemblage Tasting: Part I, The Vintage Pack Vertical – 1995 Monte Bello, 1997 Monte Bello, & 1999 Monte Bello!

We’ve just had quite an event here this past weekend, our Monte Bello Collector Final Assemblage Tasting, and among the many treats on offer was the opportunity to try the three selections that comprise our new Vintage Pack offering: the 1995 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, the 1997 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, and the 1999 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.

I’m a big fan of the nineties in general for Monte Bello, and this chance to have a look at some of the vintages from the second half of the decade was quite special. Despite being run pretty ragged over the course of the weekend trying to keep up with the pace of the event (thank the powers that be for having such a great staff on hand to keep everything working so smoothly!), I did manage to sneak a little time to sit down and really contemplate these three wines. Here are my notes:

1995 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello

Appearance: Deep, inky black plum middle with a perfectly glowing raspberry-toned halo … Fairly svelte and swiftly moving legs coursing over an elegant and thorough bowl glaze …

Aromatics: Great notes of cinnamon and clove; a strong autumnal character. Very present notes of cedar as well as a hint of menthol and some black licorice …

Front: Strong berry notes right away, quite fruit-forward; surprisingly present but gentle acidity balanced against very soothing tannins …

Mid-Palate: Medium to bright red fruit notes begin to emerge, as does some bright cheek acidity, which is timely, as the adhesion of the tannins begins to intensify slightly …

Finish: Lovely residual vibrancy from the ever-so-slightly tangy acidity …

Summary: I’ll summarize by playing off a slightly vexing review from 2000 by one of my favorite writers, Stephen Tanzer, who wrote of the 1995 Monte Bello:

“… Comes across as quite austere due to its strong acids and slightly tough tannins. Has intensity, but will this wine ever truly blossom in bottle? Reminded me of a lot of old Bordeaux that showed fascinating aromas but never quite delivered in the middle palate. Draper has defended this wine from the outset, but I’ve never yet been convinced.”

If this is what it tasted like in 2000, then I would definitely say it has “developed” in the bottle! The acids are no longer strong per se, I rather found them quite mouth-wateringly elegant. And the tannins are certainly no longer tough (I described them in my original notes as “soothing”!). I think I can agree that the mid-palate may not yet be delivering all that is hoped for, but judging by the progress of this wine on other fronts, I don’t think it’s a foolish bet to bank on continued expansion and expressiveness in the middle.  At the risk of sounding like a company man, I think I’m with Paul in defending this vintage!

1997 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello

Appearance: Hues and tones of blackberry, plum, and black cherry, with a beautiful translucent strawberry-toned limn … Classic legs and glaze; elegant, yet strong …

Aromatics: Ripe, rich plumminess, some cocoa, strong hints of boysenberry, a little leatheriness, a little black tea, some baked blueberry pie, just a trace of forest floor; incredibly unique all around …

Front: Very light tip-of-tongue acidity, and nice wide side-tongue acidity. Not much fruit or tannin right out of the gate; a little closed at the front …

Mid-Palate: Fascinating potpourri of dried flavors; dried cranberry, dried apricot, dried lilac and rose petals; some black cherry notes as well. Also, some hints of anise, roasted nuts, and just a fleeting debut of eucalyptus … tannins are largely concentrated in the mid-palate, as are the dominant fruit notes of black cherry and black plum …

Finish: Very elegant, no heat, and supple tannins, which, despite their seeming restraint, are still taking the driver’s seat over the acids, which are currently riding shotgun…

Summary: Altogether fascinating for its complexity, with an underlying question of balance as regards tannins and acids; in a review also from 2000, James Laube of Wine Spectator wrote that the 1997 had “tannin to lose,” so if that was the case then, then I think this wine is continuing to move in a great direction, as the tannins have clearly been re-calibrating in relationship to the acidity. Meaning the answer to the underlying question noted above should be a positive one!

1999 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello

Appearance: Very rich coloration; rich, inky pigment with a belly of black plum and black cherry, and a clear and bright halo of raspberry … Quite thin legs, but a very firm and adhesive overall glaze …

Aromatics: Dominated by varying tiers of cherry, with underlying layers of cocoa butter, truffle oil, and white pepper. Very earthy overall … and I swear, there is even a faint trace of candied ginger!

Front: Tons of youthful tannins right up front, complementing a very spicy character; quite vivacious acidity, with a granular, crushed-rock sort of minerality showing through as well …

Mid-Palate: Intertwining strains of mandarin and blood orange, joining some dried apricot, and the always reassuring notes of plum and dark cherry …

Finish: A short-to-medium duration for the fruit overtones, and a longer-lingering presence from the rich tannic architecture …

Summary: Appropriately showing the “youngest” of the three, but highly notable for the depth, concentration, and singularity of the earth and spice components. For my final compare-and-contrast with notable wine writers, we’ll this time turn to Steve Heimoff, who wrote in Wine Enthusiast back in 2005, “Will be very good, but don’t touch it until 2014,” which seems to confirm the youthful character of this fine vintage. And by the way, he then went on to give the wine a 95 point rating!


And that’s my Vintage Pack notes! More on the Collector Event soon …

Categories: Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello, Tasting Notes, Varietals & Blends

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. Still working on that “re-visit” on the ’99, but in the interim, I thought I’d note that in Fall of ’08 Paul did a close tasting of this vintage for a MBC brochure, and gave it another 5-15 years of development. I’m hoping this is more evidence on the side of youth as regards this vintage, which of course probably makes a re-examination all the more necessary! Again, more soon …


  2. I’ll be more than happy to take you up on that offer.

    I’m confused too; I’m not the only person who thought the 1999 was tasting somewhat mature. As Wes Barton noted in a comment on my blog, “If I tasted the ’99 blind, I would’ve guessed ’70s”. I believe that he was there early on Saturday; I was there mid afternoon. So I don’t think it’s bottle variation, but how about case variation? Is it possible that the case opened for Saturday’s tasting had suffered from poor storage?


  3. Seriously, you thought the 1999 was showing the *youngest* of the wines?

    I was up at the winery on Saturday for the Monte Bello final assemblage tasting and was very surprised how far advanced the 1999 tasted. The 1995 was superb; still very youthful and vibrant, the 1997 was excellent and well into its stride – give it 5 more years to peak, but the 1999 came across as a much older wine; I recently tasted a range of 1979s and the 1999 would not have been out of place in that lineup.

    I’d recommend that anyone holding the 1999s taste one soon to get a handle on how it’s progressing. If you wait another 5 years before checking it out you might regret it.

    My full notes are on my blog at

    • Wow, what a great response! Thanks so much for giving such engaged information! Of course, we obviously disagree on the ’99, but I’m happy that we seemed to basically match up on the other two vintages, at least based on your comment; I’ll have to go read your full notes! More soon, of course, and thanks again!


    • Follow up:

      Hello Dave! I’ve just posted this on your blog, but thought I’d re-post here as well:

      Thanks for your insightful comments on these wines, and for being in attendance for the event! Regarding the ’99, you note “oxidation” in your review; I’m wondering about the condition of the particular bottle you tasted from? As you pointed out in your notes on the chardonnay, pouring in the heat we saw this past weekend is a real challenge, and despite the rigor and attention on the part of the staff, we all remained worried all through both days about how the wines would show.

      I posit this as a possibility even more because of how different my experience was; for the most part, we seemed to agree on the other wines, so I don’t think we’re at any great odds palate-wise, which again is why I’m wondering about bottle condition?

      I’m thinking you ought to join me on a weekday for a private re-visit of the ’99!


      Christopher Watkins
      Tasting Room Manager
      Ridge Vineyards/Monte Bello


  1. 1999 Monte Bello: The Rematch! « 4488: A Ridge Blog

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