Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to a barrel tasting at Ridge Vineyards in Cupertino, California. Ridge is located near the top of Monte Bello Ridge up in the Santa Cruz Mountains – thus the current name of the winery, Ridge, and the name of their most special wine, Monte Bello. It was started in 1885 and made its first vintage in 1892 under the Monte Bello Winery label.
Ridge’s most historic moment was probably in the 1976 so-called Judgement of Paris. This was a taste-off of Californian versus French wines where the blind tasters, much to their horror, chose a Californian wine over a number of French wines and, for the first time in history, it was admitted that good wine was being produced outside of Europe. Ridge’s 1971 Monte Bello came fifth out of ten wines, ranking second of the Californian vintages. The tasting was re-enacted 30 years later due to the 1976 judges’ claims that Californian wine would not age well and the French vintages would win if tasted again thirty years later. In simultaneous tastings, which took place in Napa and London, Ridge’s Monte Bello 1971 was voted the best wine by a mile with a combined score which was 18 points more than any other wine.
This historic estate wine is made each year and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, although percentages of each will differ year to year. We were celebrating the members only tasting of the 2012 Monte Bello straight from the barrel. The wine will go on to be aged and released at a later date, but this was the final assemblage of the wine.
I was pleasantly surprised at how drinkable the 2012 Monte Bello was already, it was fruity and flavorful and not at all brash or sharp in the mouth. It was fresh and young and I can imagine that, as the flavors develop, the outcome is going to be a very good wine – especially if you can let it sit in your cellar for 30 years!
There was a great atmosphere around the winery with several areas to enjoy the ten wines on offer for tasting. There was also some great charcuterie, cheese and bread available from local artisans which were all delicious and were, of course, the perfect complements to an afternoon of wine tasting. All the staff were very knowledgeable and happy to elaborate on the wines for you and answer any questions.
Other notable wines we tasted at the event were the 2011 Estate Chardonnay, the 2008 Monte Bello and the 2006 Ponzo Zinfandel which is made from grapes grown in the Russian River Valley just like the 2009 V. Sattui Gilsson Vineyard Zinfandel I posted about recently. Given how much I liked the Sattui Zin, it’s probably not surprising that I liked this one a lot too. However, it was really very different – less dramatically fruity and generally more subdued and softer in the mouth. It almost tasted cooler, like the climate it’s grown in, with a subtle minerality, but maybe it just had less of an alcohol warmth than the Sattui. Ridge has a number of single-vineyard Zinfandels which are made from vineyards across California and each produce very different tasting Zins. If you’re a Zinfandel enthusiast, you should definitely check it out.
It was my first barrel tasting, but I hope there will be more in store for me because it was a fantastic day full of sunshine, friends, great wine and delicious food! I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.