One of these things is not like the other!

I always look forward to the quarterly blogger tastings at Ridge; Christopher Watkinsthe mad genius behind these always fun, occasionally wacky, and definitely fascinating tastings greeted us in the barn of the Monte Bello winery with a Cheshire Cat grin.  I knew this would be good!

It happened to be the day of torrential downpours, and driving up the hill was a challenge, to say the least.  Dodging waterfalls, mudslides, and tree branches, this adventure is not for the faint of heart.  My trusty old German, fortunately, is all-wheel drive, which comes in useful for navigating mountain winery roads and wine trails full of rental cars.  Fortunately, the rain had let up as I was making my way up the hill, but as soon as we were tucked safely in the barn with our glasses, it began to pour small lakes.  Fortunately, no one was going anywhere for a while.

Sitting on the sideboard were three flights of three wines.  What were they?  Only Christopher knew.  All we know is that a) we were tasting blind, as we always did; b) there was something similar about all of the wines being poured c) there was something different about all of the wines being poured.  Our task, as the few, the proud, the bloggers, was to determine what those similarities and differences were.

Well!  OK…I smiled with trepidation.  I am not very good at blind tasting, but it’s an adventure and a learning exercise.  Here we go – dissecting the Three Blind Mice.

Flight 1 was off to a bang.  The first wine seemed like a zin.  Big, powerful, full of berry spice.  I loved the brambly fruit with a spicy kick, and a hint of anise, but it felt young, almost like a barrel sample.  It was slightly cloudy, and was a brighter pinkish purple in color.  Wine 2 was subtle and more restrained.  Rich and dense, it was a brooding big brother, and a bit closed.  We all felt that this needed a bit more time.  The final wine was my favorite of the flight, with dusty earth, and chewy tobacco.  It was zesty with white pepper and cranberry.

What was I to make of this flight?  They didn’t taste like the same varietal at all, with a mix of zin, grenache, and a Rhone blend.  Perhaps the same vineyard site?  Perhaps the same vintage?  A lively discussion across the table brought up the through that these were blending trials.

Flight 2 The first wine leapt out of the glass, stood up, and shouted “Cab!” to me.  With smoky bulue black fruit, and stinky green pepper it seemed classic to me.  It was a bit tight, with leather


Surprise guests, who flew in from LA to participate as contest winners. They came up with some fabulous theories!

and dusty oak, but had rich Cabernet flavors, and showing muted blackberry.  The second wine, was rich in bramble berries, with black pepper and meaty notes.  I thought it was Merlot, with big tannins but bright juice.  The final wine in this flight was velvety smooth, meaty, and rich with purple red fruit.

Bordeaux blends perhaps?  It seemed to be that there were a lot of similarities between these three wines in flight 2, so my supposition is that this is a vertical of Monte Bello.

Flight 3started off powerfully, with packed full powerful red berry.  This was screaming zin to me!  The first wine, with juicy red fruit, was followed by wine 2, which was fuller, spicy and rich with floral aromas.   Definitely yummy.  Wine 3 was bright pomegranate and spice.

This flight sparked a lively conversation about the differences between olallieberries, marionberries, and blackberries.  I think we finally settled the the Olalliberry was the clear flavor in this group, which made me nail them as zinfandels, but that left the question open – how were these three wines tied together?  The zins come from Geyserville and Lytton Springs.  The cabs, from Monte Bello.  But, upon further pondering, Dave (@scmwine) and I were thinking that this was a collection of Jimsamore Zinfandel.

So where does The Reveal that leave us?  What do you these wines were?  I could see what tied the flights together, within the wines, but I was trying to to determine what tied all nine wines together.  The differences were clear to me…or so I thought!



Flight One was a complete brain teaser, consisting of the same wine, in three different bottle formats.  Not surprisingly, the magnum tasted like a barrel sample, since they tend to age slower.

IMG_0010Flight Two was more of a classic vertical, with a 2004, 2005, and 2006, all in the same bottle format.  What a difference a year makes!
And finally, Flight Three, which was the complete shocker.  These were not only not zinfandel, but they were all the same wine.  That’s right!  The same wine.  The same vintage.  The same vineyard.  Identical in every way.


So what did I learn?  I learned that blind tasting is challenging both physically and intellectually.  I also learned that bottle formats clearly make a difference in texture and flavor profile.  But perhaps the most fascinating tidbit of all, you can taste the same wine a thousand times, and every time, it will taste unique; wine is a living beast, and the human mind is a powerful influence.

Which brings to mind, while I didn’t attend the Neuroscience of Wine Tasting at WBC, experimenting with how you taste impacting what you taste.

Only from the twisted genius mind of Christopher Watkins!  I can’t wait for the next caper!
















A little history lesson

The mountaintop of Monte Belle, in the Cupertino area of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has a long history with winemakers and vineyards.  As far back as the late 1800s, city dwellers wandered south to retreat and make wine.  Today, Ridge is redrawing these historical vineyard lines and producing wines from these sub plots, to see the original vineyard lines in liquid form.  These wines were made from select parcels from Ridge’s vineyards, retracing the original boundaries of the historical properties.  Harvested in small sub-parcels, Ridge is trying to recreate the original vineyard properties and make wine with fruit harvested in small micro climates.

Since these properties had unique boundaries in the original property, the resulting wines are quite different than the current releases.  The tiniest move to a row or tow over creates a micro climate different that can have subtle and amazing impact on the wine.

The first historical property was Torre.  The Torre property was the first winery on the site of Ridge Monte Bello.  Now, it’s the middle vineyard, at about 2300 feet elevation.  In 1903, hte first winery was built here, but Prohibition shut them down.  In the 1940s, more vineyards were planted by William Short, and Ridge bought the land in 1959.  That purchase was the inspiration to start Ridge Vineyards, built from a restored Torre winery.  The Torre Merlot is dark and dusty, with blue fruit, and dense cherries.  There were some meaty notes and it was a bolder muscular wine.

The next wine comes from what is now the Jimsomare vineyard.  This property was origianlly purchased in 1888 by Pierre Klein, a bay area restaurateur with a fondness for wine.  The Klein family founded Mirra Valle winery, another victim of Prohibition.  In 1936, San Francisco’s Schwabacher family purchased the property, naming it Jimsomare.    Today, it’s part of the lower Monte Bello Vineyard, at about 1400-2000 feet.  The Klein Cab Sav had great acid, with notes of blackberries and spicy white pepper.  This one is a baby but is still enjoyable.

Finally we  look at the Perrone property.  The Perrone winery was the second winery on the property, above the existing winery.  The original 180 acres were at about 2600 feet, and gave birth to the Monte Bello Winery way back in 1892.  In the 40s, with the winery abandoned, William Short bought the property and vineyards below it.  Now, this is the “middle” vineyard.  The Perrone Cab Franc was one of my favorite wines of the day.  With smoked blueberries, cinnamon, allspice and blackberry, there were black pepper and candied ginger flavors.

The best part of these historical wines is that using the old vineyard maps, Ridge is able to recreate the lots and go back in time to see what the terroir of the original property lines is.  It’s a fascinating look at the micro terroir of the Monte Bello area, and great fun.

I hope you can enjoy some Ridge wines soon!


Ridge Vineyards gets Jazzed!

Sitting on top of a mountain, over looking the Silicon Valley, I was standing watching the planes fly by in the warm spring weather.  I always enjoy climbing Monte Bello in Cupertino, ending up at Ridge Vineyards, over looking everything below.  You are only an hour from San Francisco, but you feel like you are a world away.  This was an unusually warm spring day, and the crowds were out picnicking on the hill top and enjoying the views.

On this trip, our illustrious leader Christopher Watkins, brought together a group of wine and food bloggers at one of his quarterly media tastings – which are always eventful.  On this visit, Christopher, a musician at his core, had something up his sleeve.  There would be no traditionally tasting, as we had come to know it.  This time, when we walked in the barn, we found bottles that were brown bagged, hiding the gold within.  On the screen in front of us, the history of jazz.  In our ears, we had Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk.What was this madness?

Description: task was to take each of four wines and pair them with the song that we found most provocatively paired with it.  Given that I know zilch about jazz, the only word that came to my mind was skat!  Yes, I said skat.  That’s what I think of when I think of jazz; I was feeling much like the beatnik in Peggy Sue Got Married – you know the line, “Change your destiny Peggy Sue!  Marry me and change your destiny!”.  In my head, I’m thinking, listen to the jazz Thea!  Listen to this, and change your destiny!

First up, the 2001 Monte Bello.  The smoky rich berry notes were mirrored by bright acid, black pepper and allspice.  There was delicious chewy leather, and blackberry spice but it was subdued and not jammy.  My pairing was Paul’s Pal by Sonny Rollins.

Wine number two, the 2000 Monte Bello, was dark and smoky, and a bit bold.  I found fig notes and heavy sediment.  There was more fruit coming out as it opened up in the glass, with some excellent earthy background.  It was a mysterious wine and So What by Miles Davis was on my mind.

Next, we tasted the 1999 Lytton Springs zinfandel.  This older wine hid sticks and stones in the smoky prune background, with cigar box and spice rack.  I found a hint of strawberries in balsamic vinegar and cranberry on the end, with lingering thoughts offruit roll up..  The Bemsha Swing from Thelonious Monk seemed the natural pairing.

The final wine in the first flight was the 1997 Geyserville.  This was an in your face wine for being so old, and was quite candied with brambly notes.  There was quite a bit of dirt and white pepper as well as cedar and sweet cherry.  I could see a sarsaparilla at an old west bar in this wine, and even though I was supposed to pick the 4th song, I still chose Paul’s Paul (again) as the match.

Are you lost yet?  Yeah so was I.  I am no student of jazz, and I can’t really say i like or don’t like it because I just don’t have enough exposure.  I know I hate Kenny G if that helps?  These pairings are strictly on my gut reaction to the music and the wine.

Luckily for us, we were released from the duty of matching music and words, and we were treated to a tasting of the historical vineyard selection series.

Stay tuned for the details on my next post!


On top of the world, looking down on…

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?