While I’m most certainly ashamed at my infrequent posts lately, I was downright thrilled to be invited back to another wine bloggers tasting at Ridge Vineyards this past weekend. Unfortunately, the sun does not shine when I go up on that mountaintop, but luckily there wasn’t any hail this time.
The tasting was on Sunday, so the tasting room was open. Given that, we conducted our tasting upstairs in “the barn”, fittingly so as we learned that the theme of the day was a bit of Monte Bello Ridge history. The Estate wines produced by Ridge come from various old school wine properties along the mountain. Ridge has just released the first vintages of some special bottlings, the Beta release, of wines produced from blocks on three original family properties on the mountain, including one from the family who had built the very barn in which we sat. These wines were the highlight of what we would taste.
I won’t go too far into the history itself (but I will share this link), although it is quite fascinating to think about how in the world these people built barns, wineries, and planted vines on top of this ridiculous mountain without a car to get to the top! I suppose the view beckoned to them as well, and beautiful it was. The Torre family barn was actually where the first 8 vintages of Ridge wine were made.
After whetting our palate with some delicious 2008 Estate Chardonnay, we started with the 2009 Klein Cabernet Sauvignon. (Unlike most Ridge Estate wines, these wines are solo varietals, rather than assemblages). Up on Monte Bello, cab tends to be elegant and not as tannin intense as merlot, which goes against what we typically think about these two varietals. This wine proved that this is absolutely true. It was a bright purplish-red and had a fruity nose. It had strong acid and mild tannins. There was some fruit, sour cherries, and it was very fresh and readily drinkable now. A very good food wine, so rare in a California cab.
Next we moved onto the 2009 Torre Ranch Merlot. Continuing to prove the differences in the varieties grown on the mountain, this full red wine was much fuller on the nose, had less overt fruit and a bit of leather. There was a lot more structure than the cab, very sturdy. Lots of tannins, black pepper and a long finish. It was only when I drank it immediately following a strong soft cheese that the flavors were tamed back down to that typical smoothness that is characteristic of merlot.
Feeling clever, this was when I took my first opportunity to sit down at one of the vintage typewriters that tasting room manager, and the day’s organizer, Christopher Watkins, had brought in from his personal collection. A little something to take us back to the time of these original families. I typed up this tasting note:
Last of the new trio was the 2009 Perrone Cabernet Franc, a grape which also tends to have high acid on Monte Bello Ridge. The wine was very fragrant and complex, with no one scent jumping out at me. I could taste the acid and it had great tannins. It wasn’t fruity, but had much more earth and minerals than the other two. The wine was even a little smokey. It drank very nicely, and like the cab, I could happily drink this wine now. We wondered how these wines would age, especially this one as it loses its acidity.
We’re only halfway done with the tasting! Next up a short vertical of the Estate Cab, 2003, 2004 & 2005. A great example of how “the same wine” can really vary from year to year. The 2005 tasted years younger than the other two. They were very pleasant and easy to drink, in fact the 2004 had such an amazing nose, perfect balance and good mouthfeel, I could easily sit and drink and drink that wine! The 2005 needs more time. A lot more.
Lastly, we ended as we did at the last tasting I attended, with a mystery wine pulled from the personal Ridge wine library of one of my fellow bloggers. I am absolutely terrible at blind wine tasting, especially for older wines given how few opportunities I’ve had to taste them! My notes go as follows: Toasted nose, mild spice cabinet, no fruit, no clue! Has acid and structure, but not overwhelming tannins. I guessed an Italian varietal (no doubt influenced by the mystery wine being Sangiovese last time) from the late 90’s. It turned out to be the 1994 Monte Rosso Zinfandel (which is Sonoma Valley fruit) that Ridge produced that one and only time. I’m giving myself credit for the Italian varietal part (since Primitivo=Zinfandel) and at least I landed in the right decade!
Can’t wait until next time. There is hardly a better way to learn about, and experience, wine than in such a beautiful place practically in my backyard (and up a mountain).
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