I still need to finish the write-up of the exam, now fading fast as a distant memory. I also want to write a bit about the upcoming CMS exam. But you know, I recently celebrated my birthday, and had an awesome bottle of wine, and that’s far more interesting than any other topic on the agenda.
So once upon a time I lived near a wine merchant who had a small but perfectly curated shop in London. His selection was on the high end of things, and while he also had some value wines for everyday drinking, I suspect he remained in business through a small group of regular customers who picked up a dozen cases of their favourite listed Bordeaux every year as well as the odd case of Krug when they were throwing a party. While there were wines that he highlighted every week from the New World, they came and went, while the bulk of wines on display week in and week out were almost entirely French.
That said, he always had one or two shelves which had some wine from California, and Ridge was commonly seen on it. I’m not sure exactly when I noticed he had the Monte Bello 1992 in particular, but it would have been roughly ten years ago. I bought two bottles, and having had one last year, we opened up this one last night.
So I don’t know a whole lot about the wines of California, despite having spent a fair amount of time there in the days before I cared so much about wine. I can, however, remember my first bottle of Ridge in the days leading up to the millennium at a restaurant in Colorado. They had a dozen listed on their extensive wine list, and unfortunately it took the sommelier a few tries to bring out the exact bottle I was after. However, the effort was worth it in the end.
Ridge is something of a legend in the annals California wine. The Monte Bello vineyard produced its first vintage in 1892 (which makes this bottle the 100th anniversary), but Ridge Vineyards itself was founded in the 1960s by a group out of Stanford University. Paul Draper was hired in as the winemaker. From very humble beginnings, he quickly established Ridge Monte Bello as a world class wine, with the 1971 being featured in the Judgement of Paris tasting.
Ridge makes a number of wines, with the Monte Bello being a Cabernet dominated Bordeaux red blend. I just had a quick look at their site and was surprised at how many other wines they have – I would have listed their Lytton Springs and Geyserville Zinfandels, but they also have ten other Zinfandels and other varietals with which I’m not yet familiar. While they do some “estate” wines, the emphasis is very much on single vineyard productions, with each expressing as much about that particular property as possible. I believe the Monte Bello is still their flagship.
So this bottle, as I said, already had a fair amount of age on it when I picked it up almost a decade ago, and I managed to put it away for another decade. While in theory I wish I had been able to keep it under better conditions, it was subjected to a cross-equator move, spend some time in storage in a less than ideal environment, and undoubtedly was stood upright for a little too long on at least on occasion. However, it’s brother bottle that was opened last year had shown well, and I retained high hopes for this one even though it took two attempts to get the entire cork out of the neck. We had it decanted (we BYO’d this to a restaurant) and as you can see from the side of the bottle there was a fair amount of deposit.
The wine itself was still very dark in colour, with a lovely brick rim. Over the last few months we’ve tasted a fair amount of wine, but I can’t remember the last time I had one that was a full 20 years old. So while a recent 10 year old Bordeaux had signs of ageing, the colour of it was nowhere near as brick as this Ridge.
On the nose was a wide spectrum of lovely secondary characters. There was tobacco, spices, chocolate, and even a hint of coffee. The fruit wasn’t entirely gone – it had turned into a perfume of sorts. On the palate was much the same – very rich. It was so different as compared to drinking a wine when it’s released, that I had to stop myself and actually try to refer to the WSET tasting guide. Nothing about the acidity or tannins made me consider them, but when I concentrated on both I was glad I did. The acid was actually still very zingy, and the tannins were definitely there. I didn’t initially notice either because everything was so perfectly balanced. I don’t know for how long they had been that way, but the tannins were silky and incredibly well integrated. An absolute joy to drink.
Having a look at the label, this blend is 80% Cabernet (Sauvignon – pet peeve when people don’t use full variety names), 11% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot. I can’t say I could pick out the influences of the constituent parts, but they fit together wonderfully.
I wish I had taken a photo of the back label as well, because the note from Paul Draper from 1994 when it was bottled said something along the lines of it’s fine to drink now, but will continue to develop further complexity over the next 20 years. That’s quite a bold statement for any winemaker to put out there, but in this case he was absolutely right. It was such a thrill to open up such a bottle and to have it at just the right time. And it’s certainly a bit of a wake-up call in terms of having a look through my cellar as to what I should be drinking now lest I let something slip past its peak.