Silicon Valley? Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge. Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge. At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are. Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill.
On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property. Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded. It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance. Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager. Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive.
Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay. Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years. I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel. It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd. this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard.
Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay. this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity. It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences.
Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge. First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food. We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco. This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine. It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines. This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering and jam packed with berries.
The 2008 Geyserville is a blend of 72% zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, and 2% Mataro (Mouvedre). it had a sweeter edge of big blackberries with a smoky backbone that I attribute to the Mataro, with flavors of raspberries and figs blended in a brambly pie with a faint hint of cedear. The 2007 vintage, which is the current release, is 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah and 2% Mataro, which made for a chocolate blackberry pie with brandied blackberries and coffee, followed by molasses and bittersweet cocoa over stewed fruit. Each one of these blends is hand selected from a field blend, parcel by parcel, and depending on the best of the crop for a given vintage, the blend can change significantly. Wine after all is half science, half dream, and half magic.
Lytton Springs, which is next door to Geyserville, showed less fruit and more structure in the 2008 blend of 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane. It was quite spicy with raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries. The 2007 was much jammier, with black fruit, dried figs, and earth. I found it a touch hot, but that soon blew off. The 2007 blend was 71% Zin, 22% Petite Sirah, and 7% Carignane.
After meandering through the zinfandel country, it was time to get to the big boys of cab, which started it all for Monte Bello. First, the 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cab, which is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot. It is not yet released, and was quite chewy and dense with scents of lavender and leather. The 2006 is 56% Cabernet, 42% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot, and had coffee notes adn an herbaceousness that the 2007 did not.
Finally we worked through several of the Monte Bello Cabs. Two of my favorites were the 2006, wtih 68% Cabernet Sauvigon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc. I found chocolate coverted cherreis, bright fruit, and dusty cocoa and really enjoyed it. The 2005 was also a favorite, with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc. It had a dusty earth cover, with blueberreis and blackberries, covered with instant coffee. It was a very low yield in 2005, and this wine was muscular and lean.
As you can see, we did some serious damage to the Monte Bello libarry and I would like to thank Christopher for his hospitality and humor as we tasted some of these amazing wines! Next up…who knows?