77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc
100 Points – James Suckling, JamesSuckling.com
98+ Points – Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media
98+ Points – Jeb Dunnuck, JebDunnuck.com
98 Points – J. D’Angelo, International Wine Report
97 Points – Claude Kolm, The Fine Wine Review
95+ Points – William Kelley, The Wine Advocate
95 Points – Karen MacNeil, Decanter
Santa Cruz Mountains
Dark ruby in color. Cassis and blackberry aromas, barrel spice, fennel, scented juniper, and cedar. Rich mountain fruit on entry, violets, black olive, refreshing acidity, and elegant tannins. Strong minerality in a long finish. EB (1/18)
A mild winter brought early bud-break. Unfortunately, cold temperatures returned and storms swept through during bloom reducing yields. Summer’s warmth hastened ripening for a September harvest. Grapes from twenty-four parcels fermented separately. Once barrel malolactics finished, we made our first selection in January. In April three wonderful lots were added at the second assemblage. This elegant vintage shows superb intensity. It will develop fully over the next thirty years.
In 1886, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the first Monte Bello vineyards were 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 30’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) and subsequent vintages until 1974 when younger blocks replanted in the 1960’s were considered for inclusion. Since then, the historic vineyards on the ridge have gradually been replanted.
Rainfall: 24.4 inches (below normal)
Bloom: Early June
Weather: Wet December & driest January on record; spring rains were below normal with warm temperatures. End of spring was cool with ocean fog and drizzle adding 3+ inches of rain allowing the vines to grow nicely. Moderate summer resulted in early ripening and we began picking in early September.
Harvest Dates: 9 September – 8 October
Grapes: Average Brix 24.0˚
Fermentation: Grapes destemmed, 100% whole berries. Automated berry sorting. Fermented on the native yeasts. Pressed at eleven days. Natural malolactic.
Selection: Twenty-two of twenty-five Monte Bello parcels
Barrels: 94% new air-dried oak, 6% one year old, 97% american oak, 3% french oak
Aging: Sixteen months in barrel
Sustainably farmed, hand-harvested, estate-grown grapes; destemmed and sorted; fermented on the native yeasts; full malolactic on the naturally occurring bacteria; 0.42 g/L calcium carbonate added to moderate the high natural acidity in nineteen of the twenty-five parcels; oak from barrel aging; minimum effective sulfur 35 ppm at crush, 65 ppm during aging; pad filtered at bottling. In keeping with our philosophy of minimal intervention, this is the sum of our actions.
JamesSuckling.com (November 2018): (100 Points). “Stunning depth, power, purity and elegance. The blackcurrants and plums are fresh and intense on the nose with blueberries and gently herbal notes, too. The palate has a keenly articulated array of vibrant tannins that hold long, fresh and pure. It invokes a sense of wonderment at the finish. So long and so pure. This blend of 77 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 11 per cent merlot, seven per cent petit verdot and five percent cabernet franc, is just at the start of a wonderful journey. Try from 2021.” – James Suckling
Vinous Media (August 2017): (98+ Points). “One of the highlights in this tasting, the 2015 Monte Bello will soon take its place among the greatest Monte Bellos ever made. Powerful, deep and explosive, the 2015 possesses magnificent concentration and richness in every dimension. Even with all of its raciness, the 2015 has terrific aromatic presence and regal tannins. The 2015 is a bit less showy than it has been in the past, but it was also just bottled two weeks before this tasting. Readers who own it will be absolutely thrilled.” – Antonio Galloni
JebDunnuck.com (February 2019): (98+ Points). “A blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, and the rest Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello is unquestionably going to be one of the monumental vintages of this wine. Deep, incredibly concentrated, and powerful, yet also textured and perfectly balanced, this beauty gives up a huge nose of cassis, plums, spice box, graphite, and vanilla bean. With full-bodied richness on the palate, it starts out tight and firm yet blossoms with time in the glass (I followed this bottle for multiple days) and has an awesome mid-palate, building yet perfectly ripe tannins, and a rock star finish. It’s about as classic a Monte Bello as they come and will require 4-6 years of bottle age (or more) and shine for three decades or more.” – Jeb Dunnuck
Vinography (March 2019) “Dark garnet in color, this wine smells of wet earth, green herbs, and a touch of coconut and licorice. In the mouth, cherry and green herb flavors are wrapped in a gauzy haze of fine grained tannins and shot through with notes of dried flowers and a touch of gun smoke and whiskey barrel. The oak seems much better integrated in this vintage than in recent new releases, at least to my memory. Excellent acidity and gorgeous freshness make this quite appealing to drink even now, though we all know it will be so much better in a decade or more. A blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot, and 5% Cabernet Franc. 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9.5 and 10.” – Alder Yarrow
International Wine Report (September 2018): (98 Points). “The 2015 Monte Bello is another brilliant wine from the team at Ridge Vineyards, as this wine comes from a wonderful growing season, which certainly reflects in the quality. Composed of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 7% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc this instantly begins to impress with its seductive aromatics of ripe blackberries and cassis woven together with spices, graphite and roasted coffee which all take shape in the glass. On the palate this possesses a gorgeous rich velvety texture with beautifully integrated tannins. It continues to impress with its incredible complex flavors and beautifully concentrated fruit, which is balanced by lovely underlying acidity that makes it nearly impossible to resist, even at this youthful age. The 2015 Monte Bello has it all, and while this is already utterly fascinating, it will only prove to become even more compelling over time.” – J. D’Angelo
Vinous Media (July 2016): (97-100 Points). “An insanely beautiful wine, the 2015 Monte Bello is shaping up to be epic. Poor weather during flowering reduced the crop by a third, which was actually a modest drop within the context of the vintage. Rich, unctuous and deep, the 2015 exudes concentration and gravitas, yet also retains surprising freshness. The tannins are beautifully ripe, which only adds to the wine’s sensual personality and exceptional balance. Today, my impression is that the 2015 will go down as an especially exotic Monte Bello. I can’t wait to see how it ages. Even at this early stage, I could taste the 2015 all day long. It is every bit that compelling.” – Antonio Galloni
The Wine Advocate (July 2018): (95+ Points). “At this early stage, the 2015 Monte Bello is all about potential. The wine unfurls in the glass with a rich bouquet of cassis, ripe plums, espresso roast, black tea and baking chocolate, lavishly framed by minty, spicy new oak…On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, deep and concentrated, with rich, velvety tannins and beautifully succulent, even tangy acidity that lends amazing lift on the finish. The most obvious analogy is the 2005 vintage, though it also evokes a more elegant version of the 1995 Monte Bello. Given its structure and balance, it should enjoy remarkable longevity.” – William Kelley
The Fine Wine Review (December 2018): (97 Points). “This is Monte Bello in all its classic glory: hot bricks aromas and flavors, cassis and dark plums, minerality, medium-weight, round tannins, and a smooth texture. This wine has decades of life ahead of it, but the fruit is so strong and the wine so well-balanced that you will not waste a bottle if you open it already.” – Claude Kolm
Wine & Spirits (October 2018): (94 Points). “Eric Baugher heads up the team at Ridge’s Monte Bello estate, a collection of vineyards ranging in elevation from 1,300 to 2,700 feet, and a 19th-century stone winery near the top. Paul Draper made the first vintage of Monte Bello in 1969, a blend based on cabernet sauvignon to which he added other Bordeaux varieties depending on the season. Aside from Draper’s winegrowing, in which he insisted on maximum observation to minimize intervention, what sets Monte Bello apart from other great north-coast cabernets is the decomposing limestone bedrock the vine roots use to sustain their foothold in these hills. Between the altitude and the limestone, this is cabernet with plenty of natural acidity; Baugher’s 2015, a concentrated vintage with low yields due to cold, stormy weather at flowering feels particularly cool and brisk. “It has the skinny beauty of a supermodel,” said tastings editor Karen Moneymaker. Dark currant flavors, scents of tobacco and deep umami undertones all register in a clean, structured wine. Like other great vintages of Monte Bello, this should live for decades.”
Wine Spectator (January 2019): (93 Points). “Ripe, with waves of dark currant, fig and blackberry fruit flavors cruising through. There’s ample cut on the back end as charcoal and graphite notes check in, along with tobacco, menthol and sage details. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Best from 2021 through 2035.” – James Molesworth
California Grapevine (December 2018): (91 Points). “Medium-dark ruby; assertive, deep, black cherry and blackberry fruit aroma with hints of dried herbs, green olive, and vanilla; full body; tight, dark berry fruit flavors with herbal notes, firm acidity, and well integrated oak; full tannin; lingering aftertaste. Appears a bit leaner in the mouthfeel than most of the other wines in this group, though has the balance, structure, and pedigree to reward a good five more years of bottle aging. Very highly recommended. ” – Nick Ponomareff
Connoisseurs’ Guide (April 2019): (94 Points). “As distinctive as ever and a Cabernet Sauvignon that is as complex as any to be found with a keen core of classic, cassis-like fruit infused with elements of black olives, fresh loam, stony soil and a trim touch of briary spice, the latest Monte Bello hews to the expected Ridge norms of temperate ripeness and very careful construction. It is altogether fascinating, eminently collectable stuff, to be sure, and becomes more interesting yet with each successive sip, but it should not be considered for drinking without having had the opportunity to grow into its best, and, with a requisite rest of some six to eight years, it may well emerge as its very capable maker’s best effort in recent vintages.”
Decanter (October 2019): (95 Points). “If any Cabernet Sauvignon has a track record for quality and ageability in California, it’s Ridge’s Cabernet from the Monte Bello vineyard. (The wine came in first in Steven Spurrier’s 30 year re-enactment of the Judgment of Paris tasting). The Monte Bello vineyard is 109 miles south of Napa Valley in the cool Santa Cruz Mountains. For 47 years, it was made by legendary winemaker Paul Draper who formally turned over the reins to Eric Baugher in 2016. The 2015 Monte Bello (which has a touch of Cabernet Franc) is sleek, tight, and precise, with fine tannins and a quiet elegance.” – Karen MacNeil
Average Rating: 93.8
No. of Tasting Notes: 49
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