A Chardonnay Vertical? Oh, no you didn’t! Oh, yes I did!!!

(spoiler alert: this post is going to end with an opportunity to taste for yourself the chardonnay vertical i’m about to wax poetic on …)

Chardonnay and Vertical. Not sure you see those two words together that often. Cabernet & Vertical, sure. Bordeaux & Vertical, sure. Ridge & Vertical even, sure again. But Chardonnay & Vertical? Maybe not so much.

But why not?

I had a conversation just the other day with Fred Swan (he of NorCalWine.com fame), who wrote me to ask if a chardonnay I’d recently had him taste had been decanted. Fantastic! That’s another two words you don’t hear too often in the same sentence: Chardonnay & Decant. But because Fred is the real deal, he knows that Chardonnays often should be decanted. Why? Same reason why a vertical. Because if it’s a good, well-made, complex wine that is going to grow, develop, and mature over time, than a) it’s likely to benefit from decanting when it’s young, and b) it’s going to be both delicious and educational to taste it in a vertical.

So, absolutely a chardonnay vertical! And not just any chardonnay vertical! Dig this:

2003 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Chardonnay

2004 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Chardonnay

2005 Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay (#2, Wine Spectator Top 100)

2006 Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay

And how does one get to experience this exalted tasting?

To answer that question, I’ll have to take you all the way back to February 6, 2009. Do you remember that day? It was the morning after we learned that Olympian Michael Phelps had been caught smoking marijuana. Dublin’s airport had just been closed because of snow. We were on the verge of confirming A-Rod’s steroid use. It was heady times, to say the least. Up here on the mountain, we were en route to launching a legendary event, but on that cold, wet day, things weren’t looking too auspicious. It was to be our very first First Friday event; something we’d never, ever done before. But things didn’t look good. It wasn’t just raining. It was DUMPING! It was a monsoon! A maelstrom! All the wine we’d opened, all the bread we’d sliced, all the cheese we’d readied, it was all to be for naught. Surely no one would come.

But from out of the whipping shrouds of black and gray, out of the spastic tendrils of fog and mist, they came. Dank, damp, huddled figures; bemused and soaking, but present. All told, some 40+ folks made it up Monte Bello Road on that nasty February evening, and accordingly a legend was born; the sweet wine song of First Friday. If you’ve not been, a rite of passage awaits, an indoctrination, an awakening.

You just have to be a member. Or a friend of a member. And you just have to RSVP, so we can make sure we’ve got enough delicious wine, bread, cheese, tapenade, hummus, charcuterie, etc., to keep you and your palate happy.

So, the point of all this gibberishing is this; the July First Friday event is unique. Because it’s too hot to send member shipments out, we accordingly don’t schedule a July release at all; meaning, there is actually no pick-up opportunity at the event in question.

But we want you to come anyway!

Come together. Right now.

So what do we do? Well, every year, for the July FF edition, we try and come up with something singularistically quadruple-groovy to entice your participatory attendance.

Thus, the Chardonnay Vertical …

Your mama’s alright, your daddy’s alright, it just seems a little bit weird. Surrender.

Full disclosure, there is not much of any of these wines left, and the inventory train is already running light on freight …

You been a good ol’ wagon, daddy, but you done broke down.

Meaning, this is your chance!

You’re going off the rails on a crazy train.

Come join us. Be a member. Become a member. Befriend a member. Do whatever it takes. But join us.

My notes:

2003 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Chardonnay

Comprised of the first 17 barrels to go out under the Monte Bello designation since the 2000 vintage, the 2003 was a welcome addition to the portfolio upon arrival. With well over 5 years of bottle age now upon it, the color has deepened to an intensely concentrated gold. The aromatics percolate with weighty notes of lychee, pineapple, beurre blanc and apricot, wrapped in a swaddle of sweet summer corn and warm winter caramel. The wine still retains much of its mountain acidity, though the viscosity has developed some heft. The movement across the palate has admittedly simplified somewhat; in that it doesn’t carom around betwixt the various sensors the way it might have done so in its youth, but this is more than made up for by the dignified compression of all the multi-tiered complexities.

2004 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Chardonnay

Lighter in hue than its predecessor, and possessing a comparatively lighter, more delicately playful mouthfeel, this is an exquisitely fruit, mineral, and acidity-driven wine; archetypally mountainous in character, quintessentially cool-climate in profile. Apricot dominates the aromatics, with hints of fig, quince, and especially poached pear chiming in. The acidity is concentrated in comparatively narrower fashion than the ’03, less in the cheeks and more on the tongue, but has a lengthier finish that showcases a greater degree of minerality. Side-by-side, these two offerings afford the taster a textbook case study of vintage variation; both are well put together, both are complex, rich, and flavorful, but each has very different personalities that will play differently for different palates.

2005 Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay

Oddly enough, despite all the critical hype that has surrounded this wine in recent years (#2 on Wine Spectator’s year-end Top 100 list!) it’s not an offering I’ve tasted with much regularity, so I was quite pleased by this opportunity looming on my horizon. In the glass, the wine displays an intensely golden color, and its legs evidence a staunch viscosity. The aromatics put forth a quite singular intersection of nothing so much as cantaloupe and peanut brittle, hammocked by a sort of crèche of poached tropical fruit, mango especially. Quite fascinating, and truly unique. The flavor profile spreads wide across the palate immediately upon entry, with little tip-of-the-tongue action but lots of cheek activity; not a tremendous outlay of acidity, but some good and fleshy fruit, and a pleasingly mitigated sweet oak dose. Mid-palate is dominated by opulent apricot characteristics, which round out into a sort of pastry effect in the finish; brioche-y yeasts, and a rich and sweet apricot spread. A truly singular wine.

2006 Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay

Appropriately paler in the glass that the rest of the ensemble above, the hues are positively aureate; splendidly vibrant, and bright with dancing flaxen highlights. High-toned on the nose, citrus notes are clearly present; a sort of lime-ade summer freshness skipping about in the grass. A somewhat unexpectedly weightier mouthfeel perhaps suggests (based on how the more mature offerings above are showing) a wine in transition, making its move from a more youthfully crisp, acidity & mineral driven offering towards a wine of greater gravitas, depth, and heft. In its current form, an almost dangerously approachable wine; soft, inviting, sensuous, and even a tad deceptive; like being drawn into the aural beauty of a soft and gentle song, seemingly lullaby-esque in its simplicity, only to realize later the words tell of sacrifices, dangers and redemptions of the most desperate sort. The finish is still coming together, and while the complexities are evident as regards the layers of fruit, spice, yeast, acid, and viscosity, the wine still seems slightly, adolescently discordant. Abundantly promising, but perhaps another year away from full maturation. That said, I personally would drink it now; it’s delicious.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?


July First Friday. Dig.

Categories: Chardonnay, Events, Monte Bello, Offerings, Santa Cruz Mountains Estate, Tasting Notes, Varietals & Blends, Virtual Verticals, Wine Blogs

Tags: , , ,

5 replies

  1. Dear Chris, I will be delighted to welcome you to these shores AND to share a bottle or five with you. You seem to be the only one who has picked up on this, maybe because the disttribution list is small; maybe I am the only one this side of the pond!

    Who else is out there?

    • THAT … would be wonderful! I particularly like that bit about the five bottles … and until then, thank you for reading, and keep the tales coming!

  2. Oh do PLEASE try to keep up!
    I have hosted many such tastings for MANY YEARS and yes, recently did a vertical Ridge Chardonnay (2002,1997 & 1992) and, on the same night, a horizontal Zinfandel (Geyserville, Lytton & Paso Robles 2001).
    Yes, I have sufficient stock to host a RECTANGULAR tasting (=both horizontal AND vertical) of Ridge Geyserville, Lytton Springs and Paso Robles from 1987 to 1998. Oh yes then Geyserville & Lytton from 1999 to 2008 as I cannot get Paso Robles over here.
    Then there are the Petit Sirahs 1987 – 2002; SCM Cabernets from 1996 to 2007; and not forgetting Monte Bellos from 1992 to date. That is what happens when you become a collector!

    If any of you Ridge fans want to make the trip over the hils, the plains and then the ‘pond’, given sufficient notice you will be made welcome!
    Tom Wise

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