85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot 3% Cabernet Franc
97 Points – James Molesworth, Wine Spectator
Santa Cruz Mountains
172 tons from 83.5 acres. This most unusual year began with torrential winter rains, followed by a long, mild spring. Flowering was early; the amount of fruit formed was unusually large. We dropped nearly twenty percent of the crop, bringing yields down to two tons per acre— and assuring intensity. This was the earliest vintage since 1962. All thirty-three parcels were fermented separately, on their natural yeast; in a return to methods employed in the sixties and seventies, part of the malolactic took place in barrel. The wine was aged for eighteen months, almost entirely in new, air-dried american oak. Ripe and well-structured, this Monte Bello is among the finest of a great decade. It is approachable as a young wine, and will develop fully over the next fifteen years.
The 1997 vintage was among the most unusual of Ridge’s thirty-seven-year history with the Monte Bello Vineyard. From November through January, torrential storms brought rainfall equaling that of an entire, very wet, year. From February on, however, there was virtually no more rain. Temperatures turned mild, allowing flowering and fruit set to begin much earlier than usual. In turn, this gave us the largest crop—vine for vine—that our low-yield vineyards have ever produced. With major assistance from this clement spring weather, the vines were making up for the short crops of ’95 and ’96. Despite the early start, we were concerned that a crop of such size would not ripen fully in our cool region. So, as usual, we thinned rigorously. On the lower vineyards (1300′-1990′) we dropped fifteen percent of the merlot and ten percent of the cabernet; on the middle (2070′-2390′) and upper (2550′-2660′), all varieties were thinned by twenty percent, bringing total yields to two tons per acre. The entire growing season was a month earlier than usual; Monte Bello merlot was ripe by mid-September, and harvest complete by the first week of October.
Each vineyard section was kept separate, and fermented on its own yeast and malolactic culture. The average size of a fermentation was equivalent to about four tons more typical of Burgundy than Bordeaux, where they tend to be much larger. Color was very deep, and flavors ripe; all thirty-three parcels were candidates for inclusion in the Monte Bello. As was Ridge practice in the sixties and seventies, a portion of the natural malolactics were carried out in barrel. The rest took place in small tanks held at 68°—more characteristic of the eighties and early nineties. Ninety percent of the wine was aged in new, air-dried american oak from eight different coopers, both french and american. The remaining ten percent aged in new french oak—from two different regions and two different french coopers. This experimentation with french oak has been part of Ridge winemaking since 1971. Each year, it has served to question, and to re-confirm, our commitment to airdried american oak. In the final selection, forty-five percent of the Monte Bello wines were held out of the assemblage; the finished wine therefore represents fifty-five percent of the vineyards’ total production. The abundant ’97 vintage is one of the ripest of the nineties. Color and fruit are rich and intense; tannins are firm, yet fully integrated. This full-bodied Monte Bello is clearly among the three or four finest of a great decade.
Wine Spectator (June 2019): 97 Points. “The 1997 Monte Bello is another of the highlights in the flight, matching the 2010 for its still-grippy, vibrant, dense and vivid range of black currant, fig paste and blackberry compote flavors. It bristles with energy through the finish, stretching out with very, very long threads of savory, cedar and mineral. It still has a long way to go.” – James Molesworth
The Wine Advocate (May 2018): 94 Points. “The product of a generous crop and a balmy vintage, the 1997 Monte Bello continues to show beautifully, wafting from the glass with an expressive bouquet of cassis, dried cherries, menthol and loamy soil, lavishly framed by new American oak. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, supple and open-knit, with largely melted tannins and a generous personality, which is all tied together by the bright thread of acidity that’s such a signature of this site. Despite being seemingly fully mature, an open bottle held up beautifully over three days. Even after extensive crop thinning, yields in 1997 were around two tons per acre—high by this bottling’s modest standards—and the blend was 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc, attaining 12.9% natural alcohol.” – William Kelley
Vinous Media (September 2017): 92 Points “A vintage that had big yields and a hectic harvest, the 1997 Monte Bello is a sexy, supple and layered beauty that’s drinking beautifully today. Cassis, toasted spice, cigar and dried herbs all flow nicely to a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon that has solid textured, good mid-palate depth and still present tannin. I thought the tannin could be cause for concern at first, but they sweetened up with time in the glass; nevertheless, I see no need to delay gratification and would drink while the getting is good.” – Stephen Tanzer
The Wine Advocate (October 2015): 94 Points “A vintage that had big yields and a hectic harvest, the 1997 Monte Bello is a sexy, supple and layered beauty that’s drinking beautifully today. Cassis, toasted spice, cigar and dried herbs all flow nicely to a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon that has solid textured, good mid-palate depth and still present tannin. I thought the tannin could be cause for concern at first, but they sweetened up with time in the glass; nevertheless, I see no need to delay gratification and would drink while the getting is good.” – Jeb Dunnuck
Average Rating: 93.9
No. of Tasting Notes: 295
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