Well, it was a heck of a tasting. Pardon the colloquialism, but it was a heck of tasting …
Last Thursday was the debut of our new Wine Blogger’s Tasting Series, and if I do say so myself, I think we got off to a rather fine start!
I would very much like to thank our special guests for attending, and bringing their respective realms of expertise to bear on our offerings. A number of them have already posted their responses, and needless to say, I’ve been thrilled to hear how positive an experience it seems to have been for everyone. You can visit these posts by clicking on the following links:
And as to what I’d like to say next, well, how about “Wow!”? I mean, what a tasting flight! Essentially, and as noted previously (found here), what we did was look at the same flight of wines that were recently reviewed by Robert Parker for the Wine Advocate, which means not only did we taste mini-verticals of three of our primary zinfandel designations, but we also tasted an extraordinary spectrum of Monte Bellos, including a barrel sample of the 2008! (There were a few other little treats thrown in as well, as you’ll see from the above posts …)
And at this point, I’d like to offer a profound thank-you to Eric Baugher, VP of Winemaking here at Monte Bello, for pulling the barrels sample. Cheers Eric! What a special treat for all …
So, all that said, I’d like to dive into some tasting notes. I’m going to relay my thoughts on the Monte Bellos first, with the zinfandels to come in a follow-up post timed around their release the first weekend of April. (See here for more on that …)
So, here goes!
2008 Monte Bello (barrel sample; not yet bottled)
Extremely succulent aromatics; ripe, concentrated, rich with blackberry and blueberry sweetness, mitigated by a pleasantly non-herbal leafiness; more forest than garden, and just a touch of decadent cassis … Loads of minerality at point-of-entry, plus tremendous organic-matter-presence: skin, seed, stem, etc.; accordingly, a gloriously “old-world” front-palate … Tannins chalky but powdery through the mid-palate, only showing adhesion towards the finish; lots of bramble and briar fruit notes, and one of the more elegant displays of youthful acidity I think we’ve seen from a Monte Bello in recent vintages … A slightly darker layer starts to emerge towards the close; bits of cocoa, leather, and perhaps most notably, bittersweet chocolate, all making their presence felt, in what is currently still an appropriately short finish, but one that promises rich rewards down the line …
2007 Monte Bello (Fall 2010 Release)
By comparison to the above, the aromatics exhibit a stronger sense of herbality; mint, eucalyptus, etc. … Hints of cocoa as well, plus cool spearmint, all counterbalanced by strawberry leaf and even a hint of red licorice … Lean at point-of-entry, and exhibiting a poignant expressiveness from the acidity, this wine begs for the table at this point; higher-fat dishes, heavily and earthily-herbed cream sauces, gamy meats, deeply marinated and fleshly sexy mushrooms … Fruit tones start to emerge mid-palate; strident cherry, brightly fresh yellow-flesh plum, even a trace of pickled radish … which leads us to the back-palate, which starts to hint at a singularly fascinating display of exotic spices … in the end, however, youth and power rule the day at this early date, and while all above are tantalizing, this is still very structure-forward; beams and girders, elbows and knees …
2006 Monte Bello (Current Release)
Aromatics here make for a notable parade of juxtopositional diversity; southern tropicality against northeastern blue-black sweetness; west coast eucalyptality against southernly hemispheric savoriness; eastern seaboard herbality against valley-alley central-coast heat … in short, a parade of all that is, in fact, California … The approach concentrates immediately, delving into viscous waters and sweet fruits; acid takes a back-seat at this point, and adhesion rules the day on the tannin-side of the aesthetic equation … Gates to the castle once traversed, however, a surprisingly buoyant display of harvest-berry tones chime through the tannins that otherwise hold the youthful palate somewhat in reserve … Finish-wise, essentially more of the same, with the tannins being still reasonably obfuscatory at this juncture; glimpses of the future on offer seem to foreshadow a rather more genteel Monte Bello; seamless, supple, and elegant …
2005 Monte Bello
If 2006 was the poet, 2005 is the boxer; meaning, this vintage offers just a tremendous display of muscularity and fruit-forward power … The front is immense; absolutely gobs of fruit on offer; ripe, succulent, fleshy, utterly mouth-seducing. A lot of girth, certainly, but also positively one of the most approachable, generous, opulent Monte Bellos we’ve ever seen. That said, despite all that hospitality up front, no quarter is given on structure; tannin, acidity, herbality, fruit, alcohol, all of it is there, and it’s all there at levels necessary for longevity. And perhaps even more miraculously, given all the heft and vivacity, the wine is most definitely balanced; acid against tannin, fruit against spice, etc. If the holy grail for Monte Bello, as we look towards the future, is an increase in approachability and pourability without any sacrifice of longevity, then this may be the definitive proof-of-concept.
2004 Monte Bello
Fantastic spread of autumnal spice right out of the aromatic gates, particularly driven by nutmeg and clove … lots of cedar and mid-tone tobacco as well, plus a touch of Rooibos tea (with the emphasis placed squarely on the “red leaf” factor) … The longer and deeper the sniff, the more I found strains of persimmon, kumquat, and a rather unexpectedly mentholated version of blueberry’s sweet-meets-stem fruit-and-wood profile, making for an enticingly jumbled entreatment … As a long-anticipated kiss might, however, the front-palate banishes all romantic doubt to the past; the point-of-entry here is so sublime, so integrated, so forcefully convincing yet gallantly unobtrusive, it’s almost a relief to swallow … Far less structure-forward than its predecessors, this is a subtly fruit-driven offering that speaks quietly, but carries tremendous force… Put another way, this is a rather more pretty rendition of the Monte Bello aesthetic, but don’t let the grace and elegance fool you; this one will tame you, given half the chance …
2003 Monte Bello
Heavily concentrated aromatics: leather, spice, cassis, clove … in certain respects, all the usual suspects … But boring accordingly? Not likely! Add the layers of cocoa and currant, the chocolate-zuchini-cake and teriyaki okra, the deeply, deeply-aged sweet-and-treacle taste of a true Modena Balsamic … then match this up against the peerless forestation of mountain-fruit, the wild-yeast wildness, the dry-farmed dryness, the limestone minerality, the valley-meets-the ocean dichotomy, and you’ve got the 2003 Monte Bello … Not a muscle-wine by any means, this is probably the most unassuming point-of-entry of all in the flight; a polite Monte Bello early on, that only begins to flex its seriousness and depth with time … Put another way, it’s a writer who arrives early at the release party for another writer’s book; who stays mostly in the background, who drinks just enough for loquaciousness, but not enough for spectacle, yet somehow finds themselves garnering more and more attention as the night goes on; for days afterwards, no one in attendance can recall what the party had been for, but all involved find themselves repeating quotes from the unassuming mystery guest. The 2003 Monte Bello is that guest, a wine that doesn’t call attention to itself, but can’t be forgotten once experienced.
And that’s the story! If you’re a California Wine Blogger, or a Wine Blogger who might be in our area for the next of these events, then please let me know if you’d be interested in attending. And again, thanks to all who joined us, you made it an extraordinary happening!
(photographs by Darren Gardner)