Impeccably Excellent Monte Bello Vertical: Tasting Notes By John Tilson

Are you familiar with The Underground Wine Letter? If not, I heartily recommend it to anyone with an interest in fine wine. It’s written by John Tilson, who is a much revered (and rightly so!) collector of, and commentator upon, fine wines. From his bio:

John was founder and managing editor of The Underground Wine Journal  and co-editor of Rarities. He has been collecting and tasting wine for over 35 years and is recognized as one of the first unbiased wine authorities published in the United States.  As a prominent investment manager, wine was always a true passion, rather than vocation, consequently, Tilson has had neither hidden agendas nor obligations to fulfill.  In his  tastings and trips to global winegrowing regions, he tastes thousands of wines every year. While John is very knowledgeable in California and multiple European wine regions, he is renowned for his Burgundy expertise and palate, having collected, tasted and written about the region and its wines for more than three decades.

Did you ever happen to read The Underground Wine Journal when it was being printed in hard copy? Quite old school it was, and very excellent …


Anyhow, to get to the point, John Tilson hosted an extraordinary dinner back in April of this year, billed as a “Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Retrospective Dinner,” and from it we now have a brilliant tasting note record of what was sampled that fine night. It’s one of the more comprehensive looks at contemporary Monte Bello vintages I’ve seen in some time, and for those of you out there who are either sitting on back-vintage Monte Bellos wondering how they’re progressing, or are considering investing in some Monte Bello in the near feature and are wondering which vintages to be considering, I heartily recommend reviewing Mr. Tilson’s notes, as they offer a genuinely engaged, intelligent, and passionate critical overview of Monte Bello from 1984 through to the 2008 as-of-yet-unreleased vintage (minus a couple vintages along the way …).

The descriptions of the dinner itself are excellent as well, as is the brief but very insightful “history” of Monte Bello that Tilson provides. The dinner menu alone is essentially a clinic in wine and food pairing; dig the offerings!

The dinner commenced with House-Smoked Copper River Salmon and Carpaccio of Jicama and Golden Beets, a delicious backdrop for the 1999 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay.

The second course, Wild Mushroom Lasagna and Braised Fennel & Sunchoke Coulis, was beautifully matched with Monte Bello Cabernets from the vintages of 2004, 2003, 2001 and 2000.

Four Monte Bello wines from 1999, 1998, 1997 and 1996 were perfect complements for a Crisp Sous Vide Pork Belly and Farmers Market Baby Beets & Beetroot Coulis.

A fourth course presented Roast Squab with Foie Gras Stuffing and Apple, St. Andre Brulee Crostini & Huckleberry Essence, accompanied by Monte Bello wines from 1993, 1992, 1990 and 1989.

Four vintages of Monte Bello, 1987, 1986, 1985 and 1984 were an exceptional match for Roast Venison Loin, Sun Drenched Cherry Crust, Chanterelle & Fingerling Potato Galette, Stuffed Zucchini Blossom & Fava Beans.

A wonderful finale, Raspberry Semifreddo & Poached Pear Canola with Assorted Chocolates, was complemented by Alain Renardat Vin du Bugey “Cerdon” Sparkling Rose.

You can find all the tasting notes and commentary here. And I’ll leave you with the concluding paragraph from Mr. Tilson’s write-up, just to wet your proverbial whistle, as it were:

American wines have no classification as they do in Bordeaux, because they do not have the history.  Except at Ridge. Ridge has the longest history of producing the best Cabernets of any California winery existing today.  If any wine ever earned the right to be a first growth, it has to be Ridge Monte Bello.  Others may follow, but for now there is only one!   If there is a wine that one could feel very confident in buying every year, it is Ridge Monte Bello.

Hear hear! And cheers! And thank you John Tilson for the extraordinary record of an extraordinary event sampling extraordinary wines and food!

Categories: Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Food & Wine Pairing, History, Monte Bello, Paul Draper, Press Reviews, Tasting Notes, Varietals & Blends, Vineyards, Viticultural Salmagundi, Wine Blogs, Wine Tales, Winemaking

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