The Big Sleep -or- The 1977 Monte Bello Arises -or- Fly On The Wall To A Dispatch From The Wine Front

This post is essentially a “guest” post, meaning it features a wonderful write-up on a tasting that included the 1977 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, composed by one Michael Walbrecht; I have included his write-up below, as well as two photos that Michael very kindly sent along (one of the ’77 in the glass, and one of Robert Bettis, another attendee of the tasting, and also a member of our ATP Wine Program!) . Thank you Michael, for sharing your experience with us!

Emerging from a long slumbering sleep – The 1977 Ridge Monte Bello

There is only a handful of California wineries that have been producing long enough and with high enough quality to have a 1977 vintage wine that remains drinkable, and not something more appropriate as dressing on tonight’s dinner salad.  Most of these are the stalwarts of the U.S. wine industry: Diamond Creek, Caymus, Ch. Montelena, Silver Oak, Phelps, Mayacamas, and Ridge, to name a few from the select list.  Furthermore, the chances that a bottle of 1977 is still drinking beautifullyfrom any of these titans of wine are somewhere between you purchasing a time-share condo in Pyongyang and Giada De Laurentiis cooking up some mushroom risotto at your house this evening.  When you consider that the 1977 vintage is not a “classic” vintage for California Cabernet, plus throw in the vagaries of storage conditions, cork integrity, and 32 years of age, you find yourself left with only a remote chance of enjoying the bottle beyond being able to brag to your friends that you “tried it.”


Enter the annual Kahn tasting in La Canada-Flintridge, California.  A wine event held each spring that concentrates on classic California reds.  The line-up never disappoints, and this year included Caymus, Insignia, La Jota, Silver Oak, and Heitz, to name just a few.  The two oldest of the group were a 1974 Silver Oak North Coast and a 1977 Ridge Monte Bello, both rare in their own right. 


The ’74 Silver Oak, from a cellar in Seattle, Washington, was still drinking nicely, but had lost some of its vigor after 35 years.  I have to hand it to Justin Meyer (God rest his soul), as the wine still had great tannins and structure, a beautifully aged appearance, and exhibited tobacco on the nose and dark notes of leather and bramble for at least two hours.  A wonderful wine.  It was a great contrast to the younger 1986 Silver Oak that was also on the bill that evening.


The ’77 Monte Bello, which came from a cellar in Walnut Creek, had been under the control of the owner’s family and stored in a climate-controlled space since its release in 1979.  The fill on the bottle was good, and the cork was compressed and hardened, but was only saturated a portion of the way up.  There was a relatively modest amount of sediment in the bottle, which we took as a good omen.


Most impressively, the color was still deep, dark purple with just a bit of brick along the edge – it could have passed for a wine one-half its age.  Upon gentle decanting, the nose and flavors were closed up, which was unexpected.  We erroneously believed that the Monte Bello would be ready to drink as soon as it hit the air, and drop off rather precipitously inside the first hour.  Instead, it took at least an hour for it to open up, and was really hitting its stride after two hours, and remained approachable at four hours.  If the nose of the ’74 Silver Oak was tobacco, the nose of the ’77 Monte Bello was a Montecristo cigar straight from Fidel’s pocket.  Although the fruit was undoubtedly showing some age, it presented beautifully with dark cassis and berry flavors, along with deep spice, leather, and a bit of oak.  The dark flavors elicited a “Nectar of the Devil” summation of the wine.  In the off chance you have any ’77 in the cellar, the wine is clearly ready to drink, although will probably remain solid for a few more years.    

 Michael Walbrecht, June 9, 2009 



Categories: Cabernet Sauvignon, Events, Monte Bello, Tasting Notes, Wine Tales


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