One of these things is not like the other!

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I always look forward to the quarterly blogger tastings at Ridge; Christopher Watkins, the 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 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 […]

A little history lesson

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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!

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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? Our 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 […]

Automatic Tasting Programs

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It’s the week after the Wine Bloggers Conference, and I’m at home, recovering, and preparing for my new job to start.  As luck would have, I was invited to participate in the 2nd Blogger Tasting panel at Ridge Monte Bello, and headed on down to the mountains above Silicon Valley to see what Christopher Watkins, blogger and Chief Monte Bello Dude, had in store for us. We were greeted with a series of vertical tasting flights from the ATP series, which is the club only wine that Ridge produces.  These wines are winery direct, and are often only available to club members upon release, so this was really a special tasting.  We started with the 08 Mikulaco Chard, which is a small property on Monte Bello.  The fruit here is normally allocated to some of the other chardonnays that Ridge produces, and this is only the second vineyard select wine made from the vineyard.  There was vanilla, guava and tropical fruits, toasted caramel and a mineral finish of stone fruit, particularly peaches, and golden raspberries.  It is fermented in 15-20% new French Oak, with the remainder in 1-3 year old American oak.  I really appreciate a subtly oaked Chardonnay, and as you probably know I’m often a member of the ABC Club.  This was a bit to tropical for me, but enjoyable all the same. Next up we move to the 02 Carignane from Buchignani Ranch. This is the northern most property Ridge sources from, and is only planted to zin and carignane, the old school field blend classics.  True to it’s nature, I tasted blueberries, blackberries, bay leaf (I know, but I swear I did!), bittersweet chocolate and an herbaceous tobacco finish.  Paired with the 02, we tried the 05 Carignane.  Again, there was a heavy herbal profile, with mint, eucalyptus, and spice box, and a bright berry bust with a tannic backbone.  It was quite spicy and showed a fair bit of earth.  Finally, we had the 08.  This was much fruitier, with smoky blackberry, bright purple color, and juicy red berries. Next up, we went rogue Rhône– leaving Sarah Palin at home – with the Fity-Fity.  This is my pet name for the Syrah–Grenacheblend from Lytton Springs, and I think they should relabel it, don’t you?  I meanr really.  With the blackberry pie and fig spice on the 06, this could be dessert.  I also tasted chipotle chocolate, coffee, and dried blueberries.  YUM!  I could drink this all day.  In fact, I need to arrange this.  Paired with the 06 we tried the older 05.  This was much earthier, with dark mushrooms, smoke, and stewed fruit.  I didnt’ care for it at first, but I left some in my glass for a bit and ti grew on me.  still, the 06 won my heart.  BUY  the 05 just needs some air so TRY Ah syrah.  Where have you been my whole life!  First, the 03 Lytton West.  With 9% viognier co-fermented, this is an old school Rhone classic.  The aromatics of the viognier […]