Paul Draper, CEO of Ridge Vineyards and legendary winemaker, visited Stockholm some 1,5 weeks ago invited by their importer Vinunic, to moderate two tastings, of which I attended one. We tasted four wines that the importer will start selling in a couple of months, and three older vintages of their Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated flagship wine, Monte Bello.
For a general background about Ridge and their wines, see a longer post that I recently wrote based on a Decanter Masterclass with Paul Draper in November 2011, when we tasted Monte Bello of the vintages 2008, 2006, 2005, 1997, 1995, 1992, 1984 and 1978. So there was an overlap of one vintage – 1997 – between these two tastings. When we’re talking about 16 years old wines, tasted slightly more than 1,5 years apart, it can be difficult to separate what’s Winetomas variation and bottle variation, respectively.
Ridge Estate Chardonnay 2011
11 months in oak (and 3 more months on the lees, partially in oak), of which 14% new oak and 61% three to four years old; 92% American and 8% French oak. Detailed information from Ridge.
Nose with ripe yellow fruit – yellow apples, citrus, some tropical fruit – rather buttery oak note, some vanilla.
Full-bodied, ripe citrus, yellow apple, slightly oily, good acidity, some mineral. Good balance but too me an obvious New World style, more so than my few impressions of Monte Bello Chardonnay.
Drinkable now, can be cellared. 89 p
Ridge Lytton Springs 2011
82% Zinfandel, 16% Petit Sirah, 2% Carignan, 14.4% alcohol. For the 2010 vintage the following applied: 14 months in 100% American oak, of which 20% new. Detailed information from Ridge.
Deep red colour with some purple notes.
Nose with sweet red and dark fruit, including blackberries, hints of dried fruit, some chocholate. Slightly sweeter in the nose than Geyserville.
Palate with ripe and sweet berries, cherries and some blackberries, medium – tannins, good acidity, spice, some alcoholic fire. Good balance for a Zinfandel.
Accessible now, can be cellared. 88 p
Ridge Geyserville 2011
78% Zinfandel, 16% Carignan, 4% Petite Sirah, 1% Alicante Bouschet, 1% Mataro (=Mourvèdre), 14.0% alcohol. 12 months in 100% American oak, of which 24% new. Detailed information from Ridge.
Rather deep red colour with some purple notes.
Nose with sweet red and dark berries, hints of dried fruit, some perfume nots. Slightly more discrete nose than Lytton Springs.
Palate with ripe and sweet red berries, good concentration, medium(-) tannin, spice, hints of alcoholic fire. More balanced and polished on the palate than Lytton Springs.
Accessible now, can definitely be cellared. 89 p
I should mention that I’m not really a big fan of Zinfandel. To many Zins have way too much alcohol and “disjointed” aromas all over the place, including some notes that you can live without. I’ve on occasion been distinctly underwhelmed by supposedly high-end Zinfandels (I won’t go so far off-topic as to mention names, but one with starts with a “T” comes to mind). These examples from Ridge, on the other hand, were really good for the variety, and after this tasting, Geyserville will find its way into my cellar. The wines show the typical characteristics of Ridge’s wines in terms of moderate alcohol – and just above 14% is definitely moderate for Zin (alas) – as well as good acidity and freshness. I don’t think it is by chance that these wines are blends rather than varietal Zinfandels. Rather, Ridge have found a “formula” that gives better wines by blending in some other varieties of southern French and Spanish origin.
These wines can definitely be cellared, but are they really suitable for extended cellaring in the same way as the Cabernet-dominated Ridge wines? Opinions seem to differ. I usually like mature wines, but I have too little experience from mature Zinfandel to really have a well-founded opinion in this case.
Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 13% alcohol. 22 months in 100% American oak, of which 16% new.
Deep red colour.
Nose with ripe and sweet blackcurants, some liquorice, some violets, nuanced nose, balanced oak notes with some chocolate and coffee.
Palate with ripe blackcurrants and red berries, very polished medium tannins, good acidity, aftertaste with berries and tannins.
Polished style, definitely accessible already now, but based on previous experience I can’t rule out that it enters a “dumb phase” in a few years. 90 p
Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is the “second wine” of Monte Bello, but in similarity to many other producers’ second wines, they aim for a slightly different and more accessible style.
Ridge Monte Bello 1994
Medium red colour with a lighter edge with some brick colour.
Nose with clearly developed notes with barnyard and leather, blackcurrants, dark plums, a hint of dried fruit, and a hint of tar.
Medum bodied++, palate with blackcurrants, noticeable spice, earthy or gravelly notes, rather well integrated medium+ tannins, rather good acidity.
Well developed, accessible, but can take more cellaring since the tannins are rather present for a 19 years old wine. 92 p
The 1994 is more developed than the 1997, it is clearly Bordeaux-like with some right bank vibes.
Ridge Monte Bello 1997
Medium red colour with a lighter edge.
Nose with clearly developed notes with barnyard and some leather, spice, blackcurrants.
Full-bodied with ripe and concentrated blackcurrants on the palate, very well integrated and polished tannins, spice, long aftertaste. Very polished and elegant style.
Good development, can take much more cellaring. 95 p
This wine showed much more pure fruit notes and was less “gravelly”, i.e., smoother and more polished, than the 1994 or 1999, which contributed to my opinion that the 1997 clearly was the best wine of the three at this tasting. It definitely came across as Bordeaux-like. By the way, 1997 was the vintage that led to the style that later have characterised many Californian wines, with high grape maturity and high alcohol. Ridge didn’t allow the alcohol to run amok in this vintage, but I still think that this is a wine that shows the style I expect from a top vintage that showed good grape maturity. That impression was clearer now compared to the last time I tasted the 1997, in November 2011, when I scored it 92-93 p.
Ridge Monte Bello 1999
Medium to deep red colour, slightly lighter at the edge.
Developed nose with barnyard and leather aromas, blackcurrants, rather noticeable tarnotes, spice.
Full-bodied, blackcurrants on the palate, good concentration, spice, rather noticeable medium++ tannins, long and slightly tannic aftertaste.
Good development, can need some more years to peak. 93 p
All three vintages of Monte Bello were very Bordeaux-like, both in the nose and on the palate, and this is meant as high praise. They also showed well integrated oak notes.
Not everyone at the tasting agreed that the 1997 was the best, but on the Wintomas blog it is actually Tomas’s own impressions of the day that decides the scores awarded and what else is written. All three vintages had their fans. Att the show of hands I think that roughly the same number preferred the 1997 and the 1999, and slightly fewer preferred the 1994. There may have been some bottle variation (they must have opened at least two, possibly three, bottles of each wine), because a number of 1994 fans were seated together at the other table. On the other hand, groupthink should not be ruled out at wine tastings.
The journalist tasting the day after, with completely different vintages of Monte Bello (2012, 2011, 2009, 2006, 2005, 2004), has been described in English by Barolista.
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.