In an exclusive article for Decanter, Karen MacNeil writes an in-depth profile of Ridge Vineyards, which features the pillars on which the winery was built. The article also includes wine reviews and ratings for six of our newest releases.
Since Monte Bello’s storied beginning, Ridge has focused on quality and distinctive character. Read about the origin of our pre-industrial techniques under winemakers Paul Draper and John Olney, which encapsulate the unique terroir of our vineyards and our dedication to their varietals. These values stood the test of time, as proved in the Judgment of Paris and its 30-year reenactment.
“Opens with soaring red raspberry and vivid cassis flavours. Even more precise and pure-tasting than its brother, the Estate Cabernet, Monte Bello has exquisite choreography and building on the palate. Still terribly young, has an immense structure. With time, its finish will no doubt lengthen if one can endure the agony of waiting. This is the wine that has established Ridge as a California ‘First Growth’. Because of the vineyard’s cool mountain site exposed to the Pacific, Monte Bello always has a dramatic freshness—drinking it, you feel as though you’re in the mountains yourself. The first Monte Bello vines were planted in 1886, but the vineyard fell into near ruin during and post-Prohibition. A mere 3.25ha (eight acres) were replanted in 1949 and were the source of the first Monte Bello in 1962. Since then, other historic blocks have also been replanted. The 2019 is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc.” —KM
“True to the vineyard’s mountain site, up to 814m (2,670ft) in altitude, exposed to the cold Pacific, the wine has vivid cassis purity and a touch of green sage. 16 months in 58% new American oak may have rounded the edges of the wine, but none of that oak shows up in the wine’s flavour—exquisite structure and balance. Ridge’s Estate Cabernets come from old blocks in the Monte Bello Vineyard, but blocks that Paul Draper and John Olney feel tend to produce a wine that’s more accessible young than the blocks used for Ridge’s top wine, Monte Bello. Be that as it may, the Estate Cabernet blend comprised of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 1% Petite Verdot drinks like a sophisticated ageworthy wine.” —KM
“Enormously complex and full of personality. Lots of juiciness and briaryness, with notes of espresso, soy sauce and gaminess. Very rich, impressive and structured, 2020 was Ridge’s 55th consecutive vintage of Geyserville, a wine that many Ridge collectors consider the winery’s best Zinfandel blend. Its pedigree is uncontested. Made from old vines, some of which are more than 125 years old and 60% of which are 50 years old or older, leading of course to tiny yields. A historic field blend of approximately 69% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 8% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet and 1% Mataro (the old name used in California for Mourvedre). The grapes are grown in three adjoining vineyards, all of which are defined by an ancient washout of the Russian River that carried and deposited gravel and river stones to the site.” —KM
“Very juicy and chewy with mulberry and mocha notes. Paul Draper’s love of old California field blends and his belief that Petite Sirah and Carignane (which Ridge spells in the old California manner with an ‘e’ at the end) add a complementary intrigue to Zinfandel are at work in the Lytton Springs. Accordingly, the wine is not labelled Zinfandel even though at 79% Zin, it could be. The 10% Carignane adds an earthy, sensual, south-of-France character to the flavour. The Petite Sirah – which is never petite in California – adds power and a wallop of tannin. A very distinct wine, mostly from old vines, some of which date back to 1901. Ridge, which has been making Lytton since 1972, bought the vineyard in the early 1990s.” —KM
“Vividly briary – as though one fell into a patch of raspberry bushes – it’s also very structured and full of cassis flavours, leading one to momentarily wonder if there isn’t some Cabernet in there. Long and layered, it reveals itself slowly. East Bench is one of the few Ridge Zinfandels that is 100% Zinfandel. The vineyard sits on a high west-facing bench of land overlooking Dry Creek Valley from the east. As is common in Dry Creek Valley, the vines are head trained – without trellising – even though they were planted relatively recently in 2000. Dry Creek may well be California’s most renowned AVA for Zinfandel, and this wine shows its classic provenance.” —KM
“The history of Petite Sirah in California goes back to the mid-19th century, and today the wine has something of a cult following, albeit a cult that’s not for the faint of heart. This not-at-all-petite Petite Sirah is a powerhouse with a steel door of tannin that will require some years to soften. Immediate drinkers may want to ensure some lamb shanks or short ribs are in the oven! The oldest Petite Sirah vines on Ridge’s Lytton estate were planted in 1901, and the youngest in 2008. Ridge’s commitment to American oak is a blessing here, lending a top note of vanilla to an otherwise dark and gamey wine.” —KM