Jancis Robinson Reviews Historical Vertical Tasting


November 2022

After being invited to an intimate lunch hosted in London last month, Jancis Robinson’s latest article examines the ways in which Ridge Vineyards has set itself apart.

“The most exciting tasting was a 20-vintage vertical of my favourite California Cabernet, Ridge Monte Bello, the grandest of Ridge’s 60th anniversary celebrations and the most comprehensive look at this distinctive wine. Monte Bello Cabernet had been a single-vineyard wine for decades before the term was invented. Made from decidedly senior, lovingly tended, low-yielding vines, it is, unlike most California Cabs, decidedly restrained in youth and yet can last half a century.” —Jancis Robinson

Under the guidance of Paul Draper, Ridge has pioneered the ways of pre-industrial winemaking. By using American Oak barrels, fermenting on natural yeasts, and maintaining minimal vineyard intervention, Ridge has created a distinct wine in Monte Bello.

The Wines

Along with an overview of our winery’s history, Jancis published notes on the wines served. For scores and vintage-specific notes, refer to the original article on JancisRobinson.com.

2019 Monte Bello | 17++

Firm crimson with lively rim. Mid intensity sappy, appetising balsam – so different from the Napa Cabs I tasted last night! Lots of acidity and a certain herbal note. You definitely wouldn’t choose to drink this yet. Medium weight and still lean and long but with lots of restrained fruit just waiting to open out. Already great integration. Impossible to discern the ingredients. Super-clean and fresh.

2018 Monte Bello | 19

Very dark crimson. The ripeness level is quite a shock immediately after the 1977! Floral cassis in abundance but nothing heavy. It’s supported on an air mattress of acidity and gives huge pleasure. I wouldn’t choose to drink the 2019 now but I could drink this! Great lift and freshness as well as all that ripe fruit. SO neat!

2016 Monte Bello | 18.5++

Very dark crimson. Real structure and much more backward than the 2018. Should prove a great long-distance runner. One of the biggest, boldest of these Monte Bellos. Quite dry on the end at the moment. But very long too. Pretty stunning!

2014 Monte Bello | 18++

Dark glowing crimson. Really fresh and lively with marked acidity. You could drink this now but it clearly has a long life ahead. Vigorous and with a marked structure.

2011 Monte Bello | 17.5

Very deep blackish crimson. Already, great beauty on the nose! A clever tactic to show us how the 2019 is likely to develop? Ripe fruit evident on palate entry and dried herbs on the palate. Nothing out of place. Only medium body at most with slightly dry tannins on the end. Super-fresh but lifted and racy. Sinewy. Definitely not one to share with a Napa Cab devotee but possibly to a senior claret enthusiast? Style alert!

2009 Monte Bello | 18

Very deep crimson. This smells like bordeaux! But less ripe and blowsy than many red bordeaux 2009s. Medium body again with a rich panoply of flavours: balsam, dried leaves, well-mannered cassis, quite marked fine tannins in the background – for future use? Just the sort of restrained build that bordeaux used to be. Still quite dry on the end.

2008 Monte Bello | 17.5

Dark crimson. The first wine that smells with even a smidgeon of that damp fur/black-cherry aroma of a really ripe red wine that was what people were producing everywhere then. Big and sweet and perfectly nice but atypical Monte Bello. Just a little demandingly scrawny on the end. Horses for courses?

2007 Monte Bello | 17.5+

Blackish garnet. Extremely subtle nose. Edgy acidity. The opposite of opulent. But all in its place. Chalky tannins on the end. High toned. Michael Broadbent would have loved this. There’s sweet fruit underneath desperate to poke its way through the veil of acidity and fine, chalky tannins. One of the lighter vintages. Refreshing rather than opulent.

2006 Monte Bello | 19

Bright dark garnet with real lift on the nose. Love the savoury notes as well the ripeness. So appetising! Quite a contrast to the 2008. Long and classic. Monte Bello at its best for current drinking? Very, very long.

2005 Monte Bello | 18

Some juiciness and lots of acidity again. Really rich on the palate! There is distinct sweetness – perhaps for the first time in this flight. Strong mineral element and a light saline quality. Really rewarding with sweet inkiness and quite enough acidity to keep it in check. Nicely mellow already.

2001 Monte Bello | 18.5

Dark crimson. Intense and well-melded nose. Sweet and really quite luscious with a tannic structure still in evidence. Really very gorgeous now with beautiful balance. This balsam note again – so refreshing and the acidity keeps this wine from heft. Great for drinking now.

1999 Monte Bello | 19

Marred by the mildest TCA note alas but they had only one bottle. Cassis and some acidity and a lean freshness. The fruit is probably not showing its best in this bottle. But the tannin management has clearly been superb. Really sinewy and fresh above all with great persistence. I can see that without that mild TCA this would be amazing so have scored it as though TCA-free.

1997 Monte Bello | 18.5

Very deep blackish garnet. Saline edge on massive ripeness. Dry finish and really sappy. Beautifully balanced. Still some acidity.

1996 Monte Bello | 20

Dense, brooding, deep garnet. Pungent, cordite nose, and then mellow and mellifluous and just gorgeous! Such perfect balance – sweet and salty and transparent. Perfection! Long and beautiful in every respect. Still so lively and perfect!

1995 Monte Bello | 19

Very dark indeed. Possibly the darkest of all! Really gorgeously seductive and ripe on the nose. Sweet and sinewy and possibly very typical Monte Bello. Saline and super-fresh. Really lifted and lovely. SO refreshing!

1994 Monte Bello | 17.5

Rather muddy autumn-leaves nose. A bit more fragile than the stunning 2006 and 1996. A bit dusty and dry on the end but gives a lot of pleasure too. Just losing fruit.

1988 Monte Bello | 18.5

Transparent rich ruby. A certain gaminess on the nose. Just starting to decline with the fruit lightly fading and lightly oxidising. But there is still sweetness here. Very long and rich. A beautiful wine to drink now.

1985 Monte Bello | 17

Paler garnet than the younger vintages and it smells a bit of California redwood. Very unusual without the intensity and freshness of other vintages and a bit pinched on the finish. Just a bit jagged and unintegrated.

1977 Monte Bello | 18.5

Smells just like a fully mature bordeaux! Pale ruby. Gentle, delicate and beautifully balanced with lots of salinity. Sweet and salty and fresh. Great finesse but far from a blockbuster.

1964 Monte Bello | 18

Very pale ruby. With some sediment. California history in a glass. Sweet and a little gamey and delicate! But probably much less unlike other California wines then than later vintages have become. It has the warmth of the California climate and amazing length. I swallowed! Such a mellow pleasure…

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