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On a recent visit to Ridge Vineyards I met with Paul Draper, CEO/Winemaker, and Eric Braugher, VP Wine Making Monte Bello, and tasted some 2011s out of barrel as well as some bottled wines from 2010 back to 1992. The 2011 vintage presented some challenging weather conditions, but, as usual, Ridge Vineyards achieved great success. The 2011 Monte Bello is a great wine and will stand out even more in this difficult California Cabernet vintage.

Below are the tasting notes on wines tasted at the winery from barrel and bottle as well as notes on new fall releases. Ridge Vineyards is one of California’s greatest wineries with a 50 year history of making consistently superb wines. I have been visiting Ridge and collecting and drinking the wines since the late 1960s. For many years, my view has been that if there was to be a California first growth (analogous to the first growths of Bordeaux) Ridge would be at the top of the list (to read a more comprehensive article on Ridge and its history click here [1]).

 2011 Wines Tasted From Barrel

2011 on Monte Bello Ridge was a cooler year with a warming trend into harvest. The harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon was particularly successful. The proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blend is 88% which makes it the highest percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon since the early 1980s. The production was normal and the alcohol is 12.7%.

2011 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
Wow! This is an impressive young Monte Bello. It is very dark in color and exhibits a stunning perfume of complex black fruits with hints of vanilla, spice, and cedar. The wine is rich and very concentrated with great purity and balance. This should be a great Monte Bello – Exceptional Potential   

2011 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville.
The final blend had not been done at the time of my tasting. The 2011 vintage again produced a lower than average yield. The sample I tasted was very elegant and flavorful with good underlying structure.

2011 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles.
The vines here were planted in 1923. This vintage has produced a wine with great purity of fruit and an intense perfume. It is rounded and supple and will have great youthful appeal – Outstanding Potential.   

2011 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Pagani Ranch.
This vintage is comprised of 81% Zinfandel, 14% Alicante Bouchet, and 5% Petite Sirah and Carignane. It is a rich wine with concentrated fruit and a nice underlying spiciness. There is also a subtle exotic nuance and the wine in balanced with a long finish. This should be really gorgeous – Outstanding Potential. 

2011 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Heart’s Desire.
This is a new wine for Ridge Vineyards. It is made from 100% Zinfandel from a small plot of the oldest vines within the Geyserville vineyard. It will be sold only from the winery. This looks to be very special. The wine has a gorgeous floral tinged berry perfume with hints of spice and layers of very pure fruit on the palate. It is balanced and has depth and complexity with a long lingering finish – Outstanding Plus Potential.


 2010 and 2009 Wines Tasted From Bottle

2010 Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay Estate.
This in the current Chardonnay release and represents 75% of the 2010 Chardonnay crop from the estate vines on Monte Bello Ridge. It is light yellow gold in color and has a lovely perfume with a spice tinge and floral citrus nuances. It is rounded and supple with hints of pear and a floral nuance with a nice citrus undertone. The fruit is accented by a touch of spice and the wine has a lovely, crisp, lingering finish – Highly Recommended.   $40   


2010 Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay Monte Bello.
This wine is made from a severe selection of the best Chardonnay fruit representing 25% of the 2010 Monte Bello Ridge harvest. The wine was bottled just 6 months ago and will not be released for another year. It is the best Chardonnay I have ever tasted from Ridge Vineyards and is not to be missed.
Light yellow in color the wine has a stunning perfume with citrus and peach intermingled with faint hints of spice and a floral nuance. It has great flavor and intensity with a marvelous balance. The fruit is rich and supple, yet the wine is not at all heavy and maintains a great degree of finesse. The flavors are complex with citrus and peach intermingled with floral notes and hints of spice and honey. The finish is long and lingering. This is a profound Chardonnay that combines power and elegance which is a rare combination – Extraordinary.   

2009 Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate.
This is the current release. Made with entirely estate grown fruit consisting of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon and 23% Merlot this Cabernet continues to show beautifully. It is very dark in color and has a lovely perfume with hints of cassis and cedar. It has lovely cedar tinged blackberry fruit and a firm underlying backbone. Enjoyable now, yet the wine has the structure to develop over many years. This is a real value in the Ridge line up – Outstanding.     $40 

2010 Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate.
This wine will be released next year. Like the 2009 it is a real winner and an excellent value. It is made with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, and 1% Cabernet Franc. The color is very dark and the wine exhibits a deep perfume of cassis and blackberry with faint hints of spice. The fruit is very pure and the wine has concentration and depth with a firm underlying structure. It is delicious now, but will definitely be a wine that will repay many years of bottle age – Outstanding.  


2010 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
Tasted from barrel last year here is what I said: 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.

After bottling, this year the wine is again extraordinary. The color is very dark and the wine has an intense perfume of spice tinged black fruits with a cedary floral undertone. The fruit is concentrated and very pure with lots of depth and layers of flavor. This is a wine with great underlying structure that will continue to develop over a very long period of time. It is classic Monte Bello – Extraordinary.  


Older Wines Tasted

The 1992 and 1993 Monte Bellos are very similar wines. They have been drinking beautifully for the last 10 years or so and continue to age gracefully. They will hold for a very long time to come. (To read notes on older Monte Bellos
click here [2]). The 2002 I have not had recently. It is evolving beautifully and should also be very long lived.

2002 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
This is a rich full wine with lots of depth and concentration. The color is dark and there is s gorgeous perfume of cassis and cedar. Still evolving the wine has lots of fruit and is balanced and flavorful with cedary nuances – Outstanding Plus.  

1993 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello (half bottle).
Made with 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, and 7% Petit Verdot, this wine has a deep color with some amber at the edge. It has a lovely cedary perfume and is soft, supple and rounded with great elegance and flavor – Outstanding.  

1992 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
This wine is made with 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, and 9% Petit Verdot.
It is dark in color and has a lovely perfume of cedar, cassis, and plum. It is lush and rounded with lots of cedary tinged fruit. It is drinking beautifully – Outstanding Plus

 Fall Releases

These are some of the latest Ridge Vineyards releases (to go to the Ridge Vineyards website and learn about their great wine clubs with special benefits and pricing click here [3].)

2009 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello.
This wine has evolved even better than I expected when I first tasted it from barrel. It is made from 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. The color is very dark and the wine has a stunning perfume of plums and blackberries with cedar and spice nuances and a faint floral undertone. The wine is rich and supple with great concentration and depth and the fruit is layered and complex with faint cedar notes. This is a vintage where there is tremendous early appeal, but this Monte Bello will show at its best many years into the future – Exceptional.     $150 

2010 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs.
Made with 67% Zinfandel, 23% Petite Sirah, 7% Carignane, and 3% Mataro, this is a delicious wine. It is dark in color and has a deep spicy blackberry perfume. It has lots of blackberry and plum fruit with a faint exotic tinge and is rounded with balanced tannins. This is a wine that can be enjoyed now, but will evolve beautifully for many years into the future  Outstanding Plus.   $37   

2010 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Pagani Ranch Sonoma.
This wine was made from 82% Zinfnadel, 16% Alicante Bouschet, and 2% Petite Sirah. It is dark in color with a deep perfume of blackberries and plums. It has intense fruit with lots of flavor and a gorgeous tinge of exotic spice. A lovely wine to be sure with great early appeal and the ability to age well into the future – Outstanding.   $35  

2010 Ridge Vineyards Zinfandel Ponzo.
Made with 96% Zinfandel and 4% Petite Sirah, once again this wine shows a dark color and a great purity of fruit. It has a deep perfume with a myriad of black fruits and a faint touch of spice. The flavors hint of plum with a faint spice tinge. Rich and rounded this is a really lovely Zinfandel – Outstanding.     $28