The history of Ridge Vineyards begins in 1885, when Osea Perrone, a doctor who became a prominent member of San Francisco’s Italian community, bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge. He terraced the slopes and planted vineyards; using native limestone, he constructed the Monte Bello Winery, producing the first vintage under that name in 1892. This unique cellar, built into the mountainside on three levels, is Ridge’s production facility.
At 2,600 feet of altitude, Monte Bello is surrounded by the “upper vineyard.” In the 1940s, William Short, a theologian, bought the abandoned winery and vineyard just below the Perrone property; he replanted several parcels to Cabernet Sauvignon in the late 1940s. From these vines – now the “middle vineyard” – new owners Dave Bennion and his three partners, all Stanford Research Institute engineers, made a quarter-barrel of “Estate” Cabernet in 1959. That Monte Bello Cabernet was among California’s finest wines of the era. Its quality and distinctive character, and the wines produced from these same vines in 1960 and 1961 (the grapes were sold to other wineries), convinced the partners to re-bond the winery in time for the 1962 vintage, Ridge’s first commercial vintage.
The first Zinfandel was made in 1964, from a small 19th Century vineyard farther down the ridge. This was followed in 1966 by the first Geyserville Zinfandel. The founding families reclaimed the Monte Bello terraces, increasing vineyard size from 15 to 45 acres. Working on weekends, they made wines of regional character and unprecedented intensity.
By 1968, production had increased to just fewer than 3,000 cases per year, and in 1969, Paul Draper joined the partnership. A Stanford graduate in philosophy, recently returned from setting up a winery in Chile’s coast range, Paul was a practical winemaker, not an enologist. His knowledge of fine wines and traditional methods complemented the straightforward “hands off” approach pioneered at Ridge. Under his guidance, the old Perrone winery (acquired the previous year) was restored; the finest vineyard lands leased or purchased, and the consistent quality and international reputation of the wines established. In fact, early on in 1970, the late English wine writer, Harry Waugh, a former director of Chateau Latour, visited Ridge and, on tasting the 1959 Monte Bello, called Ridge “the Chateau Latour of California.” I was privileged to have known Harry. He was one of the greatest tasters of all time and one of the most honest. In addition he was a very kind and unpretentious man. He wrote about wine in a way you could understand. Quite unlike the new wave of 100 point boys, whose writing is as extracted and over the top as the wines they profess to love, he was straight from the “what you see is what you get” mold. Harry, to use a play on his own words, was a Latour/Ridge of a man. His opinion was widely respected by my friends and I at that time and it is one that continues to this day. The world could use more Harry Waughs!
In 1986 Ridge was purchased by the Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company. This was the beginning of a partnership that has worked beautifully. Paul Draper was named CEO shortly after the purchase and was given the mandate to make Ridge the best it could be. This partnership allowed Ridge, under Paul”s direction, the freedom and financial resources to expand and become the great organization that it is today. Today Paul Draper continues as CEO and Winemaker. He is joined by Eric Braugher, Vice President – Winemaking Monte Bello; John Olney, Vice President – Winemaking Lytton Springs; and David Gates, Vice President Vineyard Operations. Together this outstanding team is responsible for the wine from the vine to the bottle.
The Ridge Monte Bello (originally Monte Bello Cabernet; until 1975, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon) is the wine that introduced Ridge to the world; and the world to Ridge. Today it is a blend of Bordeaux varietals in which Cabernet Sauvignon still predominates. Exhaustive tasting of test blends during assemblage determines how much, if any, Merlot, Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc will be included with the Cabernet Sauvignon in the finished wine. Almost every vintage (an unbroken chain from 1962 on) has something substantive to recommend it. Each decade has its high points, but year after year Monte Bello proves to be a consistently outstanding wine, with great structure, complexity and balance. And the wine develops for a very long time.
Ridge Monte Bello’s original prominence worldwide came when the 1971 vintage was entered in the famous Judgment of Paris Tasting of 1976. In this blind tasting, it came in 5th out of 10 wines, behind Stag’s Leap, Mouton Rothschild, Montrose and Haut-Brion. In the Paris Tasting 30th Anniversary Reenactment that took place in the Napa Valley and in London on May 24, 2006, again in blind tasting format, judges on both continents awarded top honors to the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello.
On a recent visit to Ridge I tasted a wide range of wines both from barrel and bottle. Following is background information on Monte Bello and tasting notes on recent vintages and a few older ones. This is followed by notes on other Ridge wines from recent vintages (including notes on barrel samples and wines to be released September 1), notes on some older Ridge wines, and my concluding remarks.
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello
The estate vineyards on Monte Bello Ridge total some 125 acres. Some 82% is planted to Bordeaux varietals – 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. Another 14% is planted to Chardonnay and 4% to Zinfandel. After a very long time, Ridge just obtained permission from the local government to plant another 36 contiguous acres. Some 24.2 acres will be planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, 4 to Chardonnay, 1.8 to Petite Verdot, and 6 to Cabernet Franc. This is great news as one day there will be more Monte Bello. And, as a huge fan of Cabernet Franc, I am particularly delighted to see that the percentage planted to this varietal will increase significantly. The vines vary in age from over 60 years to as young as recent 3 year old plantings. The vineyards planted to Bordeaux varietals are in 24 separate parcels. In most years at least 19 or 20 go into the Monte Bello bottling, while at least 2 to 3 need to be de-classified each year.
I have often written about the consistency of Monte Bello. So I am basically repeating below what I said in the article from December 15, 2009. To read that article click here . And, although updated, it is consistent with my beliefs about Ridge that go back to the very early days spanning over 40 years.
There can be no question about the outstanding quality and consistency of the wines from the superb Ridge Monte Bello property that have been made by Paul Draper for nearly 40 years. The best Monte Bellos rank with the best wines in the world and can last as long as the greatest French wines. Great soil, old vines and low yields are the ingredients of Paul Draper’s recipe for success. Also, not to be missed is the fact that Paul has kept the style of wine true to his conviction to make wine of power and strength, but with balance and the ability to age, instead of over-extracted wines meant for immediate gratification. One measure of this is the alcohol content which for Monte Bello over some four decades has ranged from 11.5% to 14.1%. Contrary to some big numbers critics, higher alcohol does not mean better wine. There is no correlation of alcohol to quality within the range achieved at Ridge over this extended period of time. Great wines have been made towards to lower end, towards the higher end, and in the middle. For more on the Ridge philosophy please click here . For more on Ridge and how it differs from many other wines see my article What Is Wine? .
If you prefer wines that follow the current fad of high alcohol and super-ripe flavors, Ridge Monte Bello is not for you. But if you prefer wine that ages gracefully and gains complexity and complements fine cuisine, these are definitely for you. The wines are balanced and harmonious with alcohol generally in a range of 13% to 14% (within the range of 11.5% to 14.1% mentioned above). Over two thirds of Ridge Monte Bello is sold direct from the winery and to importers in Europe. The balance is sold to US retailers. Each year there is a futures offering with discount pricing. This is through a special collectors program that you can join by going to the website www.ridgewine.com . This is a program I highly recommend. It is the best program of its type that I know.
American wines have no classification as they do in Bordeaux, because they do not have the history, except for Ridge. Ridge has the longest and most consistent history of producing the best Cabernets of any winery in California. If any wine ever earned the right to be a first growth, it has to be Ridge Monte Bello. Others may follow, but for now there is only one!
All I can say this time around is that Ridge Monte Bello somehow just keeps getting better and better. The new wines are some of the best ever and the old wines just keep evolving and improving with each passing year. Like the great Bordeaux wines of yesteryear, Ridge Monte Bello almost always needs at least 10 years to really start showing its stuff. And longevity of 30-50 years seems to be about the norm. But who knows? It could be even longer. Vamos a ver!
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Tasting Notes
2010 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello (Barrel Sample).
This was an unusual year. The summer was the coldest in 50 years. But a heat wave in October produced perfectly ripened grapes which Paul and Eric believe is some of the finest fruit ever harvested. The blend is 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. The color is very dark and the perfume shows intense fruit with just a floral note and a kiss of spice. The wine is rich and full, loaded with intense fruit, and structured with balanced tannin. This seems sure to be yet another of the all time great Monte Bellos – Extraordinary Potential.
2009 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello (Barrel Sample).
The 2009 is composed of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 8% Petit Verdot. It is a beautiful, supple wine with a dark color and ad deep perfume of cassis and blackberry fruit and just a faint touch of vanilla and spice. On the palate the wine is already showing a rounded lushness and is very flavorful with a long finish – Outstanding Potential.
2008 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
Tasted as a barrel sample December 15, 2009 Click here to see note , I felt the wine had exceptional potential. Now in the bottle and slated for a September 1, 2011 release, I am even more convinced of the potential for this wine. Since the 1985, this is the only Monte Bello that is only Cabernet Sauvignon (72%) and Merlot (28%). It is simply stunning with a deep perfume of cassis and mulberry with cedary, spicy, exotic nuances. The wine has it all – great flavor, fruit, depth, intensity, and balance. There is lots of supple fruit with a faint exotic nuance and a hint of cedar and spice. Lush and supple, but with a firm structure underneath and balanced tannin, the finish goes on and on. As good as this wine is tasting now, it will be even better with additional bottle age. This is a fabulous Monte Bello – Extraordinary. $145 September 1, 2011 Release
2007 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
This 2007 is 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. The year was characterized by a cool summer and a warm October. The wine is a classic combination of elegance and power that will evolve over many years. It is dark in color with a subdued nose of cassis and cocoa and a faint spiciness. There is lots of fruit and the wine has richness with very good underlying structure and balanced tannin. This is one to leave alone for several years and let it develop – Outstanding Plus. $145 Library Release from the winery
2006 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
This wine is 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc and the alcohol is 13.5%. The 2006 vintage produced low yields and this wine shows exceptional richness. It is dark in color with a great perfume of cassis fruit and a faint floral, cedary nuance. On the palate it is very rich and concentrated with layers of spice tinged fruit and is very pure with impressive length. The wine is balanced in all respects and needs only time to soften and develop complexity – Extraordinary. $150 Library Release from the winery
2005 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
This wine is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet France and the alcohol is 13.4%. Like the 2006 vintage, 2005 produced a very small crop of only about 1 ton of grapes per acre. It will be most interesting to watch the evolution of these two vintages over a long period of time. I’m sure that both of these wines will be superb long after I am gone. At this point, the 2005 is a bit more restrained. But, by no means is this the time to start drinking either wine. Both need at least another 5 years. Dark in color the 2005 has a deep perfume of cassis with hints of spice and cedar. It is rich and full, but with great structure underneath. The finish has impressive length and just now there is a bit of tannin to be resolved. Be patient. This will be gorgeous in time – Outstanding Plus.
1995 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
This 1995 shows a real terroir reminiscent of Graves in Bordeaux. It is dark in color with lots of cassis perfume showing earthy, cigar box nuances. It has gorgeous rich cassis fruit with complex hints of earth, spice, and cigar box and it is flavorful with intensity and structure. Still not at a peak, I would think another 5 years or so should be beneficial and allow the wine to soften a bit more. Nonetheless, it is delicious to drink now – Outstanding Plus. $300 Library Release from the winery
1984 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
The 1984 Monte Bello is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot. The alcohol is 12.9%. It has long been an outstanding wine that I have been privileged to drink many times over the years. Now approaching 30 years of age, it just seems to be getting better and better and this bottle is exceptional. There seems to be no hurry to drink it, but there is no question in my mind that the wine has now reached a peak. It is dark in color with an amber tone and an amber edge. The perfume is gorgeous with cassis, cedar, and spice and faintly earthy, floral notes. Supple and lush with lots of complex flavors of cassis, mulberry, cedar, spice and a faint earthy complexity, the wine is seamless and beautifully balanced with a very long, lingering finish – Extraordinary
Other Recent Vintage Ridge Vineyards Wines
Including Barrel Samples and Bottled Wines To Be Released September 1, 2011
2010 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville (Barrel Sample).
At Geyserville after a very cool summer there was a warming trend allowing the grapes to fully ripen. However, the old vines produced a crop that was only 50% of normal. This looks to be a very great Geyserville in the making. The color is dark and the perfume is intense and faintly exotic. Likewise, the fruit is intense, lush and balanced. What a treat it will be to taste this wine after bottling and watch it evolve – Outstanding Plus Potential.
2o10 Ridge Vineyards Grenache/Syrah Lytton Estate (Barrel Sample).
This is an equal blend of Grenache and Syrah. The color is dark and there is an intense perfume of blackberry fruit with a faint smokiness. The wine is rich and full with excellent fruit and balance – Outstanding Potential.
2010 Ridge Vineyards Syrah Lytton Estate (Barrel Sample).
This Syrah is blended with 10% Viognier. It is dark in color with a subdued nose showing blackberry fruit and a touch of spice. It has lots of fruit on the palate with an underlying tannic structure. It will be interesting this watch this evolve – Very Good Potential.
2009 Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc Estate (Barrel Sample).
Wow! This is really something. The wine has a very dark color and a knock-out perfume of Olallieberry fruit. It is intensely fruity with layers of complex fruit flavors. Lush and rounded, but with a good underlying backbone this wine is simply brimming with potential. It very well could evolve into a classic representation of this underrated varietal – Outstanding Plus Potential.
2009 Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay Estate.
No Monte Bello Chardonnay was made in 2009. This Estate bottling is a lovely wine with a light yellow gold color and a nice perfume with hints of spice and pear and an underlying floral citrus nuance. The fruit is very pure and balanced with a nice citrus tinge on the finish – Highly Recommended. $40
2009 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Ponzo Vineyard Russian River Valley.
This Zinfandel is made from a relatively cool climate vineyard. Some 2/3s of the fruit comes from vines over 60 years old. The wine is 98% Zinfandel and 2% Petite Sirah. It is dark in color with a deep perfume of plums and blackberries. On the palate the fruit is layered. Plums and blackberries are intermingled with a kiss of spice. Supple, lush and rounded, the fruit flavors are very pure and have a bright crispness on the finish. It is delicious – Outstanding. $28
2009 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville.
This represents the 44th vintage for Geyserville. This is a great example of a long term relationship between the growers (in this case the Trentadue family) and Ridge. The average age of vines here is 45 years with the oldest vines over 120 years old. The vineyard is mostly Zinfandel with some Carignane and lesser amounts of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouchet, and Mataro. This 2009 is yet another stunning Geyserville in a long line of great wines. It is composed of 74% Zinfandel, 17% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouchet, and 1% Mataro. The color is dark and the wine has a stunning perfume of plums with an exotic nuance and a touch of spice. It has lots of rich, supple fruit again with an exotic nuance and a faint spiciness. There is a lot of depth and flavor and the wine is nicely balanced with a good backbone and a long finish. This Geyserville is delicious now, but will improve for many years and enjoy a very long life thereafter. This is one to buy! I have been buying it in nearly every year since the 1970s – Outstanding Plus. $ 35
2009 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel East Bench.
This is one of only a few single varietal wines made by Ridge. It has been made as a single-site Zinfandel since 2006. The estate owned vineyards are situated on the high bench land that overlooks the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma from the east. This 2009 is dark in color with a deep blackberry perfume showing underlying briary, peppery nuances. It has lots of faintly spice tinged berry fruit with a faint briary quality. The wine is balanced and has a lovely fresh fruit quality with a subtle crispness – Highly Recommended. $26
2009 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles.
This wine is made from the historic Dusi Ranch Zinfandel vineyard in Paso Robles. It is the only wine made by Ridge Vineyards from the Central Coast. Ridge’s first wine from Dusi Ranch was in 1967. The vines here are all Zinfandel and over 80 years old. Today the vineyard is farmed by the second generation of the Dusi family. This is yet another great example of the long term benefits of a coordinated effort between the farmers and the wine makers. The old Zinfandels from this area are legendary. But a lot of the old vineyards disappeared during prohibition. Dusi is one of the survivors. The wines are characteristically very rich and intense. This 2009 is a great example. In this vintage, the Zinfandel fruit was blended with 5% Petite Sirah to give the wine structure. Dark in color the wine has a deep blackberry perfume. It is rich and intense with layers of fruit but is also supple and lush and balanced by a bright acidity on the finish. This large scaled wine is probably best drunk over the next several years to enjoy the full intensity of the fruit – Outstanding. $30
2008 Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate.
This is an outstanding wine and a great value. With this vintage the Santa Cruz Mountains designation is dropped to emphasize the fact that the wine is made from Estate grapes grown on Monte Bello Ridge. So in one sense it could be considered a “baby” Monte Bello. But, that does not really do the wine justice for its pedigree and quality goes well beyond this designation. This 2008 is gorgeous. It is made from 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. It is dark in color and has a deep perfume showing lovely blackberry and cassis fruit with a touch of spice. On the palate the wine has depth, balance, and complexity. It is lovely to drink now, but will be even better with a few years age and keep well beyond – Outstanding. $40
2009 Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah Lytton Estate.
Ridge is one of the pioneer winemakers of Petite Sirah. The first was a 1970 made from Mendocino grapes. Then in 1971 grapes from vines planted in 1911 were harvested from the York Creek Vineyard in Napa Valley. This resulted in the legendary 1971 Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah. I first tasted it right after it was bottled and was mesmerized by the intensity and balance in the wine. I last tasted the wine probably 10 years ago. It was fabulous then and showed no sign of decline. (And, realizing that it had been so long since I had opened a bottle, I decided to try a bottle from my cellar. My note on that wine appears near the end of this article along with a note on another old Ridge Petite Sirah.) Ridge made many great Petite Sirahs from York Creek over a period of 40 years. Ridge also worked with old vines Petite Sirah in the Geyserville vineyards as well as in the Lytton Springs vineyards. Petite Sirah was the most widely planted varietal in the interplanted “Zinfandel” vineyards of the late 19th century. After the purchase of the original Lytton Springs vineyards in the 1990s Ridge replanted the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. By 2002 there was an abundance of Petite Sirah and the first limited quantity bottling of Lytton Estate Petite Syrah was made and sold only from the winery. With the 2009 vintage the now mature vines produced enough wine to have a national release. It is an impressive debut. Dark in color the wine has a deep cassis like perfume with floral, spice nuances. Lots of rich intense fruit on the palate is balanced by structure and well integrated tannins. The alcohol is 15.2%, but that is seamlessly melded into the very pure fruit. The result is a wine that is balanced and harmonious. It is certainly drinkable now, but with several years bottle age it should soften and evolve – Outstanding. $30
2009 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs.
The Lytton Springs vineyards are located in Sonoma between Healdsburg and Geyserville. The first vines were planted here in 1901. Ridge made its first wine from here in 1972 and in the early 1990s purchased both the eastern and western parts of the vineyard. The vineyard is mostly planted to Zinfandel with a large portion of Petite Sirah and lesser portions of Carignane and Grenache. This 2009 is 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, and 5% Carignane. The wine is dark in color with a nice perfume of berry fruit, spice, and a faint floral note. On the palate it is flavorful and rich with good backbone. After a bit of time in the glass the wine begins to soften. It has complexity and depth and will benefit greatly from a few years bottle age. If you drink it now it is best to decant the wine an hour before serving. But be sure to save a few bottles to drink later – Outstanding. $35 September 1, 2011 Release
2009 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Pagani Ranch Sonoma.
Ridge has made wine from Pagani Ranch since 1991. The 30 acres of vineyards are on the eastern side of the Sonoma Valley and are 85-110 years old. They have been farmed by the same family for four generations. It is consistently one of my favorite Ridge Zinfandels. I love its rich supple texture and luscious fruit which is often accented with an exotic tinge. And it ages beautifully. This 2009 is made with 80% Zinfandel, 14% Alicante Bouchet, 4% Petite Sirah, and 2% Carignane. The wine is dark in color with a gorgeous perfume of plums and blackberries, a hint of exotic fruit, and a touch of spice. It is rich and round with a tremendous amount of complex fruit again showing the hints of exotic fruit and spice. The wine has 15% alcohol, but it is not heavy, syrupy, or hot. In a word it has BALANCE! The marriage here between the farmers and the winemakers is a match made in heaven! If you have not yet tasted a Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, what are you waiting for? This soon to be released wine is a great start – Outstanding. $35 September 1, 2011 Release
2009 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel York Creek.
This is a gorgeous Zinfandel. It is 93% Zinfandel and 7% Petite Sirah from grapes grown in the York Creek vineyard which is located in the Spring Mountain District of Napa Valley. The color is dark and the wine has a gorgeous perfume of blackberries with a tinge of spice. It is deep and rich with layers of fruit showing a faint exotic nuance. Rounded and lush, this gorgeous Zinfandel is delicious to drink now and over the next 5-10 years – Outstanding. $30 September 1, 2011 Release
2008 Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay Monte Bello.
Only 750 cases of this wine were made in 2008 from 17 acres of vineyard. It is a gorgeous Chardonnay. With a light yellow gold color the wine has a deep perfume of peach and apple fruit with floral, spice notes. It is rich and flavorful with lots of spice tinged fruit and a lovely suppleness accented by a long crisp finish – Outstanding. $60 September 1, 2011 Release
2007 Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains Estate.
This wine is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot. It has a dark color and a lovely perfume of plums and cassis with a faint spiciness. With lovely supple fruit the wine is balanced and harmonious with faint tinges of vanilla and spice. It drinks well now and should evolve over several years and last well beyond – Highly Recommended.
Other Older Vintage Ridge Vineyards Wines
1999 Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay Monte Bello.
The first Ridge Chardonnay was the 1962 which was made from a small parcel of Chardonnay vines planted in 1949. In each year up to 1984 a small amount of Chardonnay was made and sold under the Monte Bello label. In 1985 younger vines began to produce a quantity of grapes that overwhelmed the yield on the old vines that had dropped to a miniscule level. The Chardonnay was then made and sold as Santa Cruz Mountains. By 1999, the young vines had matured and allowed the production of a Monte Bello Chardonnay. Today, a small amount of Mont Bello Chardonnay is made in most years and the rest is label as Estate. I first tasted this 1999 over two years ago at the Ridge Dinner. Click here to see note  I noted then that the wine was probably at a peak. Well, I may have been a bit premature in that assessment. Today the honeyed character of the wine is still there, but it is augmented by other elements. I would say the wine has evolved beautifully over the last couple of years and is even better now. Light gold in color it has a honeyed, citrus perfume with tinges of butterscotch and caramelized apple and a faint spiciness. On the palate there is lovely supple fruit with hints of baked apple, spice, and a faint honey butter quality. This is balanced by a long citrus tinged finish – Outstanding Plus.
1987 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Geyserville (Magnum).
What a treat! This is simply an unbelievable wine that has evolved over some 25 years and now has been completely transformed. Made from the old vines planted in the late 19th century the wine is 88% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Sirah, and 8% Carignane. It has a deep color with an amber tone and amber edge and exhibits a great perfume of cedar, spice, and cigar box. It is seamless on the palate with great complexity. Cedar and spice are deftly intermingled with a subtle and intriguing underlying hint of sweetness. It has the characteristics of a great old Bordeaux made in the old style. This is very encouraging. For now younger people who have an appreciation for these kinds of wines may not have to worry about the new style of extracted Bordeaux. Ridge has not changed. So younger people can buy young vintages of Ridge Geyserville and wait 20 or 30 years! And as an added bonus, they can buy a case or cases of Geyserville for the price of a bottle of Bordeaux. But, come to think of it, this value proposition is something that should appeal to wine drinkers of any age! At any rate, this 1987 Geyserville is a great wine – Outstanding Plus.
1987 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Lytton Estate (Magnum).
This wine was made from the ½ of this vineyard where the vines were then 35-40 years old. It is 82% Zinfandel, 13% Carignane, and 5% Grenache. It has a deep color with and amber tone and an amber edge and a cedary perfume. It is elegant and balanced with a cedary nuance and a subtle tinge of sweet fruit. This is very claret like in style and shows the ability of these old vines to produce wines that age gracefully over a long period of time – Highly Recommended Plus.
1971 Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah York Creek.
This wine came from my cellar where it has been since release. After writing about Ridge Petite Sirah in this article, I was curious as to how this bottle was evolving. This was the first Petite Sirah made by Ridge. From 1971 to 1979 the Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah was made form the oldest vines (planted in 1911) in the Devils Hill section of the York Creek Vineyard. York Creek Vineyard is located in the Spring Mountain district of the Napa Valley. Now 40 years old, this amazing wine shows no sign of decline. It has a dark color with a faint amber edge and an intense perfume with hints of dried leaves, flowers, and spice with just a hint of cedar. The flavors are cedary with an underlying floral, spice quality and a subtle hint of berry fruit. Balanced and flavorful this is a terrific old wine that defies identification of its origin. It is not so much Rhone-like as it is something more difficult to identify. It is, on the one hand Burgundian (particularly in the nose). And, on the the other hand, Claret-like (particularly on the palate). It is, in a word, unique. And, after being opened for a day with only about a quarter of the bottle left, it was even better – softer and rounder, showing more fruit and flavor nuances. This a legendary wine for the ages – Extraordinary.
1982 Ridge Vineyards Petite Sirah York Creek Devils Hill/Lake.
When I decided to open the 1971 York Creek Petite Sirah I thought it would be good to do a comparison with another older Ridge Petite Sirah. I chose this unusual wine which is an ATP (Advance Tasting Program) selection. The ATP selections are limited production wines sold direct from the winery. And, like the 1971 York Creek Petite Sirah, this wine has been in my cellar since release. In 1980 Ridge began naming the Petite Sirah from York Creek Devils Hill for the section of the vineyard with the oldest vines that had been the source of previous York Creek Petite Sirahs. Dynamite Hill and Lake are the other two sections of York Creek Petite Sirah. In 1982 this wine was made from 60% Devils Hill Vineyard and 40% Lake Vineyard. The contrast with the 1971 is quite pronounced. In my first note in tasting this wine poured directly form the bottle I observed: “This 1982 is dark in color with a faint amber edge and it has a gorgeous perfume that is primarily floral with a faint underlying smokiness and a faint hint of spice and dried herbes de Provence. The wine has amazing fruit that is very pure. The first impression is that this fruit might be lush and rounded. But, that is not the case at all. The fruit is there, but the wine is firm and tight and the finish is crisp. How will the wine age from here? To me, this kind of old wine where the fruit is not matched by balanced tannins and acidity is an enigma. The wine is nearly 30 years old. Will it ever come into better balance? I don’t know. But with the purity of the fruit still in the wine I think its worth keeping.” But, guess what? With about two thirds of the bottle left the next day, the wine blossomed. It rounded out and showed the same intensity of fruit, this time with balance and more complexity. Like many old wines, sometimes all they need to come alive is air. Other times air is a death sentence. It’s always a guess. But, my instinct, based on the purity of the fruit, in this instance was correct. The wine was magically transformed with air and it should have a long future ahead – Outstanding.
What I said earlier about the Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello just getting better and better also applies to virtually everything I tasted. The 2010 wines tasted in barrel have great promise. Some may turn out to be among the very best wines ever produced at Ridge. But there are also many great 2009s as well as 2008s. Buying Ridge Vineyards wines is a no brainer. I have been buying the wines for over 40 years and the number of great wines produced during this period is astounding. Made in a consistent style the wines are balanced and complex with the ability to age for very long periods. In fact, they generally age much longer than the conservative estimates for aging listed on the back label. If you haven’t already done so, you really need to sign up for new wine releases – www.ridgewines.com . In addition to the Collector’s Program mentioned earlier for Monte Bello futures, Ridge has other programs and you can pick the one that suits you best. Do it today. You’ll be really glad you did!