2003 Monte Bello

2003 Monte Bello

Wine Information

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot




Monte Bello


Santa Cruz Mountains

Alcohol By Volume


Vintage Notes

130 tons from 108 acres. Budbreak came early, but cold, wet weather in April and May delayed bloom. Summer conditions varied more than usual among the lower, middle, and highest vineyards. The first were often bathed in morning fog; the second – above the fog, more sheltered, and the last most exposed to the ocean’s capricious influence. The vines ripened over the first three weeks of October; for the first time in many years the middle blocks dominate the selection, making up more than three-quarters of the wine. After a natural yeast primary fermentation, sixty percent of the lots completed natural malolactic in barrel, the rest in small tanks. In March following vintage, we made a small first assemblage, using only eight of the thirty lots; two more, a petit verdot and a cabernet, were added in May. In November, as the wine evolved, we included six more – a highly unusual third assemblage. Aging took place over twenty-two months in air-dried oak barrels – ninety-two percent american and eight percent french. This elegant Monte Bello is beautifully balanced as a young wine. It will enter a more complex stage after ten years, and continue to evolve throughout a second decade. PD (3/05)


The Monte Bello estate vineyard was planted, and the winery constructed, in 1886. A first vintage from the young vines followed in 1892. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the vineyard was not fully maintained; by the 1940s it was effectively abandoned. Eight acres of cabernet sauvignon were replanted in 1949. These were the source of the first Ridge Monte Bello (1962). Since then, the original vineyards have gradually been replanted.

Growing Season

Rainfall: 51 inches (above normal)
Bloom: June
Weather: Wet and cool spring, moderate summer and warm fall.


Harvest Dates: 24 September – 20 October
Grapes: Average brix 24.3
Fermentation: Gentle destemming, no crushing. (In thirty-six separately-fermented lots, roughly half the berries remained unbroken) Natural-yeast primary and secondary fermentations. Pressed at eleven days on average.
Aging: 92% new, air-dried american oak, 8% new french oak.
Time in Barrel: Eighteen months.


Wine Advocate (Issue 207, 27 Jun 2013): “One of the smallest crops to be included in the Ridge Monte Bello, only 32% of the production made it into the 2003, which is largely Cabernet Sauvignon (85%) and the rest Merlot and Petit Verdot. Out of barrel as well as post-bottling I liked this wine a lot, and it has changed very little from when I last tasted it in February, 2010. It boasts an inky/blue/purple color along with sweet black currant, blueberry, graphite, licorice and toasty vanillin aromas. The tannins are still noticeable in this full-bodied 2003, but seem reasonably well-integrated. Forget this wine for another decade and drink it over the following 30+ years.

I don’t know who keeps saying that Ridge does not use a lot of new oak or the wines are not oaky, but they are. This 2003 reveals enormous oak (as most young vintages do), but the folks at Ridge expect you to lay it away for 20-25 years, which is often the minimum amount of time necessary for these mountain vineyard Monte Bellos to be drinkable. I recently had the astonishing 1968 Monte Bello in early May, which did not reveal a sign of oak, but was incredibly youthful at age 45. There is no way to know how long these wines can last in top vintages.” -Robert Parker (Rated: 94+)

Wine Advocate (Issue 187, 27 Feb 2010): “The 2003 Monte Bello goes from strength to strength. A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 7% Petit Verdot, it exhibits a dense opaque purple color as well as a big, sweet nose of creme de cassis, blackberries, and subtle smoke and new oak in the background. Full-bodied and concentrated with beautiful texture, purity, and depth, this powerful Monte Bello should be exceptionally long-lived. It will hit full maturity in 10-15 years, and should last for 30 years.

Ridge’s iconic Monte Bello Proprietary Red (no longer called Cabernet Sauvignon) is one of the candidates for the longest-lived Bordeaux blend made in California. Even vintages from the late sixties and early seventies are still vibrant wines. The winery owns just over 100 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines, and production varies enormously based on the mountain climate. With respect to this group of wines, the smallest yields were achieved in 2005, and the highest in 2007. The selection process here is relatively severe. For their Monte Bello, the flagship wine, 32% of the production was used in 2003, 38% in 2004, 49% in 2005, 39% in 2006, and 41% in 2007. These wines continue to be anomalies in the sense that the Cabernet Sauvignon component is aged in American oak, a somewhat contrarian procedure since most top producers long ago moved to French oak. The Santa Cruz Mountains cuvees, essentially a second wine culled out from Monte Bello, are also high quality efforts from Ridge. Each of the vintages I tasted reflects the vintage conditions in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Three 2008 barrel samples reveal a consistent, high quality style with slightly more elevated alcohol contents.” -Robert Parker (Rated: 95+)

San Francisco Chronicle/SF Gate (23 Nov 2007): “Because Cabernet commends itself to a few years of age, the only thing better than one bottle is two – or here, two bottles worth of wine in a single glass receptacle. Magnums age more slowly than regular bottles (less surface contact with the cork) and make for an instant party. The 2003 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Monte Bello certainly fits the bill. Paul Draper (The Chronicle’s 2006 Winemaker of the Year) consistently makes one of the finest American Cabernets from his rugged Santa Cruz Mountains vineyards, massively structured but lean and extraordinarily complex. The 2003 is one vintage past current, but Monte Bello needs years to blossom and can last for decades, making for a gift that won’t be forgotten come January.” -Jon Bonne Read article at SFGate.comArticle

Wall Street Journal (9 Nov 2007): “Black wine, rich and deep, intense and soulful, yet with good structure, too. Ripe California fruit, some chocolate and earth and some spice at the back, but all held in restraint. We also liked the 2004 ($125).” Rating: Very Good/Delicious

Los Angeles Times (3 Jan 2007): “Initial scents are of pine fronds and cassis, with an earthy tinge grounding the scent. The flavors are darker and warmer, blackberry compote and warm dried fig, with an earthbound mineral component girding the wine and supporting the fruit. That minerality and the wine’s shimmering acidity make it feel lean, light-footed and detailed, with a finish of grace and precision. Still very youthful, it will benefit from years in the cellar.” -Patrick Comiskey

San Jose Mercury News (15 Nov 2006): “The 2003 Ridge Monte Bello, a cab-dominated blend that’s sold out at the winery, is supple and bright, with concentrated black cherry and plum flavors accented by mocha and spice.” -Laurie Daniel Original article at MercuryNews.comArticle (requires free registration)

International Wine Cellar (Sep/Oct 2006, Issue 128): “Full ruby-red. Knockout nose offers blackberry, currant, plus, cedar, minerals and dark chocolate. Fresh, succulent and quite firm in the mouth, with brisk acids and a minty nuance lifting the dark berry and chocolate flavors. Finishes with chewy tannins that come across as a bit less harmonious than those of the young [unreleased] 2004. But this youthfully closed wine grew sweeter with aeration.” Rated: 92(+?)

Wine Advocate (26 Dec 2005): “Ridge’s Monte Bello is one of California’s most classic, backward wines, and generally develops a Bordeaux-like personality with extended aging. Contrary to some reports, the basic character of Monte Bello has not changed, although it now includes some Merlot and Petit Verdot in the blend. The dense ruby-hued 2003 Monte Bello offers a tight but promising nose of tar, briery crème de cassis, toast, and smoke. Medium to full-bodied, with abundant tannin, a rich texture, and a deep, persistent style, this youthful, primary red is best forgotten until 2010. It should drink well over the following 15-20 years.” Rated: 94+

Consumer Tasting Notes

Average Rating: 92.2

No. of Tasting Notes: 191

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