72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot
97+ Points – Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate
96 Points – William Kelley, The Wine Advocate
96 Points – Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate
95 Points – James Molesworth, Wine Spectator
95 Points – Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media
95 Points – Wine & Spirits
95 Points – James Suckling
Santa Cruz Mountains
Opaque purple-tinged ruby. Ripe black currant, fennel, cola, crushed-rock mineral, and a hint of sweet oak. Dense, full-bodied, with velvety tannins, firm acid. Lingering oak/spice finish.
Winter was short; two storms provided the season’s rainfall. In April, a late frost delayed the season. Temperatures soared in May and the vines set a modest crop. Natural malolactics finished in December, the majority in barrel on the lees. In January, seventeen cabernets and four merlots were combined; in May we added a structured cabernet and an elegant merlot. Two years of limited rainfall, and the resulting stress, produced a wine of amazing depth. Its complex secondary characteristics will develop over the next ten to twenty-five years. EB (3/10)
In 1886, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Monte Bello estate vineyard was planted, and winery construction begun. A first vintage from the young vines followed in 1892. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the vineyard was not fully maintained; some vines survived into the late 30Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s, but by the 1940s they were 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 vineyards on the ridge have gradually been replanted.
Rainfall: 30 inches (below average)
Bloom: Early June
Weather: Moderate summer/fall, long cool growing season.
Harvest Dates: 26 September – 16 October
Grapes: Average Brix 24.3
Fermentation: Destemmed, and left uncrushed as whole berries. Natural-yeast primary and secondary fermentations. Pressed at six days.,
Barrels: 98% new and 2% one year old air-dried american oak; 2% new french oak (for comparison.)
Aging: Eighteen months in barrel
60 tons from 58 acres, 22 parcels selected for this wine. All estate-grown Monte Bello vineyard grapes, hand harvested. Destemmed and sorted. Fermented on the native yeasts, followed by full malolactic on the naturally-occurring bacteria. A total of 50/100 of one percent rehydration (added to one fermentor of cabernet) during fermentation; minimum effective sulfur (30 ppm at crush, 65 ppm over the course of aging); unfined. Pad filtered at bottling. In keeping with our philosophy of minimal intervention, this is the sum of our actions.
The Wine Advocate (May 2018): 96 Points. “The 2008 Monte Bello is marked by the drought vintage, which not only made a more concentrated crop but also deprived the blend of all supporting varieties, as only Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot handled the dry conditions sufficiently gracefully to make the final cut. At age ten, this muscular Monte Bello is finally beginning to unwind, offering up rich aromas of black cherry, cassis, dried mountain laurel, loamy soil and burning embers. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, expansive and powerful, its generous, sweetly fruited attack giving way to a taut, firm mid-palate that doesn’t show as much finesse as the 2010 or 2012, concluding with a long, stony finish. Baugher observes that in its youth, the 2008 was “monolithic and more angular—a mouthful of tannin.” A decade later, it’s beginning to soften, but it still requires another 5 or 6 years of bottle age.” -William Kelley
Wine Spectator (June 2019): 95 Points. “The 2008 is tightly packed with vivid fig, currant and blackberry fruit while a spice thread and light singed wood hint add lift and cut throughout. This has hit a really engaging phase as it starts to shed its youthful exuberance ever so slightly.” -James Molesworth
Vinous Media (September 2020): 95 Points “The 2008 Monte Bello is in a gorgeous spot right now, as the aromatics are just starting to show the complex nuances that only develop in bottle. Worn-in leather, licorice, scorched earth, savory herbs and chocolate meld into a core of intense dark fruit. Slightly angular contours hint at a bit of rusticity. My impression is that the 2008 won’t be especially long-lived by Ridge standards, but it is a fine bottle to drink now, especially with a bit of time in the decanter.” -Antonio Galloni
Decanter (May 2012) – Top Bordeaux-style blends from the USA – “Ridge has long created a California classic that broke all the rules – a Cabernet-based wine grown not in Napa but on greenstone- and limestone-rich soils in the remote corners of the Santa Cruz Mountains, aged not in French oak but American. (Though Paul Draper asserts Bordeaux’s use of French oak is a post-World War I turn.) The Merlot comes from plots on heavier soils. It accounts for 28% of the 2008 which, coming after two drought years, shows great meatiness. Amid the youthful oak toast is black tea, anise, cedar shavings and bright currant, plus an intense mineral energy and beautifully finessed tannins. Drink: 2012-2030”
Wine Advocate (Issue 196, August 2011): “The 2008 Monte Bello is striking. It is a decidedly muscular Monte Bello endowed with layers of dark fruit. Tobacco, mint, asphalt and crushed rocks develop in the glass, adding tons of complexity and finesse. A long, saline finish rounds things out beautifully. In 2008 the cold growing season stretched into October and the wine definitely has the feel of a cool vintage. The spring frost and the second year of drought conditions lowered yields significantly. Yields were just 1.25 tons per acre on average, but some of the older vineyards came in at less than 1 ton per acre. The balance of fruit, tannin and structure is simply extraordinary, but the wine needs time, most likely lots of it. In 2008 the blend is 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot. Anticipated maturity: 2018-2038.
I tasted a breathtaking array of wines during my recent visit with Paul Draper at Ridge. Draper is a true American icon, so it’s great to see him doing well after a bout with illness. I also tasted a number of older wines, including several Monte Bellos going back to the 1970s. Heretical as it may sound, I think the wines Draper is making today will prove to be far superior to the wines of decades past, many of which are rightly considered legendary. For ease of reference I have also included notes on all of the Ridge wines made outside the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Chardonnays are fermented with native yeasts and go into barrel with their gross lees, which are stirred once a week. The malos usually start the following spring. The wines are assembled just before the following harvest and go back into neutral oak. Aging is about 15 months for the Estate and 17 months for the Chardonnay Monte Bello, with a maximum of 25% new barrels. The reds are fermented with ambient yeasts, undergo malolactic fermentation in tank (except for the Monte Bello which is mostly done in barrel) and stay on their gross lees until the following spring.” -Antonio Galloni, (Rated: 97+)
Wine & Spirits (December 2011) – Year’s Best Cabernets & Blends – “Monte Bello is a wine of nuance and harmony, its sleek structure and scents of truffles and tar giving it a feel more often associated with the Old World than the New. The blend is 72 percent cabernet sauvignon, the balance in merlot, grown on a limestone ridge under the cool influence of the Pacific 15 miles to the west. This vintage, from a relatively short crop, has impressive flavor impact without weight. It feels almost spherical, the supple tannins surrounding blueberry and black mushroom flavors, the freshness of the cabernet hinting at pipe tobacco. A pleasure to drink now, this is firmly built to age a decade or longer.” (Rated: 95)
JamesSuckling.com (15 June 2011) The Balance of 2008 California Cabernet – “This is a fantastic wine showing subtle power with fine, racy tannins and a long fruity finish. Wonderful aromas of milk chocolate, toasted oak and red fruits. It’s full, intense and balanced. Made from 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot.” (Score: 95)
Wine Advocate (Issue 187, 27 Feb 2010): “The 2008 Monte Bello (still in barrel) is a blend of 72% Cabernet Sauvignon and 28% Merlot. More successful and higher in quality than the 2007, it exhibits a thicker, deeper, richer purple color, medium to full body, beautifully pure blackberry and cassis fruit, and attractive spicy, earthy notes. This velvety-textured, rich, impressive offering appears to be a strong success. It is another 20-25 year wines. (Not yet released) 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.
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: 96)
Vinous Media (May 2018) “Bright, saturated ruby; this looks younger than a ten-year-old wine. Cassis, licorice, tar, mint, dark chocolate and crushed rock on the nose, plus some obvious spicy, vanillin American oak. At once seamless and piquant on the palate, with pungent licorice and herb notes enlivening the dark berry fruit flavors. A real live wire of a wine, with the lower alcohol obvious in its energy, definition and lift. Not a fleshy or particularly pliant vintage of Monte Bello–in fact, this is cooler and more savory than normal for this bottling–but the very dry, firmly tannic finish features subtle rising length. Still very young, this wine may well merit an even higher score if it eventually blossoms in bottle? Drink 2022-2035” -Stephen Tanzer, (Rated: 93+)
Average Rating: 93.4
No. of Tasting Notes: 185
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