Ridge Monte Bello: 1988, 2003, & 2012. Three Vintages of One of America's Finest Wines.

Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello is one of the commanding heights of American Wine.  Not simply because it has some of the oldest vines and an amazing view of Silicon Valley, but because the wine that proclaims the Monte Bello Vineyard is one of the finest in the country.

The Ridge Monte Bello is a Cabernet-based blend of classic Bordeaux varietals that represents the flagship of the Ridge portfolio.  The wine has a long history of stellar critical and competitive success; including the famous Judgement of Paris Tasting in 1976.   But despite the incredible success, this is a winery rarely visited since it is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, not the well known regions of Napa Valley or Sonoma County.

Since living in Santa Cruz, I've had the opportunity to visit the winery a few times and taste current releases of Ridge Vineyards.  But the most recent time, I was able to taste a few older vintages.  Ridge Monte Bello is known for supreme age-worthiness and it was interesting to see this in action.

Ridge 1988 Monte Bello.  $400 Winery Retail. 

"A beautiful and perfect mature version of Monte Bello that has transformed into the kind of secondary aromas and flavors you most likely find in fine Bordeaux.

The color is an attractive medium-light red with a hint of amber at the edges. The nose is all red apple skins and the bright earthy aromas of the forrest floor in Fall. Palate is herbal with tea and rose petals, herbs, and tobacco. Fruit isn't gone, but overwhelmed by the complexity of the other elements. Finish in long (about 60 seconds) and echoes the complexity of the palate.

One of the finest "Old California" wines I've yet tasted. A revelation that shows Monte Bello to be a European wine trapped in a California label." 

97 points.

Ridge 2003 Monte Bello.  $400 Winery Retail. 

"The color was dark red. The nose was overripe with warm tones and funky stewed tomatoes. The palate was dark blueberry, chocolate, and dust. Very little acid left with a viscous texture on the tongue. A short fading finish.

A big disappointment as Ridge Monte Bello is always much better than this. Maybe and off bottle or vintage?" 

87 points.

Ridge 2012 Monte Bello.  $175 Winery Retail. 

"Very young - this is wine for the cellar. Dark spice, hints of green herbs. The nose is like walking into a Chinese herb shop. Crushed chalk. Plum skins. Texture is very smooth with deep hints of baking chocolate dusting. This is quite the thoroughbred Cabernet: Elegant, Pure, Pristine, and Powerful." 

95 points

Pontet Canet 2007 & Pontet Canet 2008. A 'Vin de Plaisir' & a 'Vin de Garde.'

Jean Michel Comme holding court in full view of the vineyards of Pontet Canet.

Jean Michel Comme holding court in full view of the vineyards of Pontet Canet.

Jean Michel Comme pours his 2007 Pontet Canet.

Jean Michel Comme pours his 2007 Pontet Canet.

It was a brutally cold, windy, and rainy day in Pauillac when I visited Chateau Pontet Canet with other students from The Wine & Spirits MBA. But as I stood in front of a big picture window listening to Vigneron Jean Michel Comme speak about his struggles to create a biodynamic wine in Bordeaux's Left Bank, it was obvious there was something very special in this quietly humble man and the wines he oversees.

Obviously, I'm not the only one who thinks so.  Robert Parker, the great wine critic, has given Pontet Canet some of his highest accolades ever, including back to back 100 point (Perfect) scores for the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

Those aren't the wines we're discussing here.  We're discussing the 2007 and the 2008.  We're also discussing the French concepts of 'Vin de Plaisir" and "Vin de Garde."

2007 was the year that challenged Jean Michel Comme and Pontet Canet.  The weather conditions conspired against biodynamics and Comme felt like he had squandered the opportunity given him, but the owner of the vineyard.  And yet the wine is magnificent.  Why was he so disappointed?

Chateau Pontet Canet 2007 Pauillac.  $129.99 OH Retail.  "A purity to the red fruit that is almost magical in its beauty and intensity.  A pretty jellied richness marinading fresh cut herbs and bright fresh fruits.  A long finish is well cut tannins that lasts almost a minute."  95 points.  

2008 was a tight classic vintage in Bordeaux that didn't get a lot of respect in its youth because the wines were tight and need considerable cellaring.

Chateau Pontet Canet 2008 Pauillac.  $129.99 OH Retail.  "A beautiful red crimson color.  Dense, brooding, and primary.  Almost opaque in its power and tightness.  A forever wine meant for the cellar and consumption and lifetime from now."  95 points.

Here is the interesting question and the crux of this article.  How can two vintages of the same wine, using identical winemaking technique, have such completely different taste profiles and yet be the same quality?

It comes down to Plaisir vs Garde.  The French parse all wine down to two categories.

Plaisir (or pleasure wines) are ones that give immediate enjoyment.  They are often fruit-forward, generous, and hedonistic.

Garde (or 'to keep') are wines that will benefit from considerable time in the cellar.  They often produce more classic, traditional flavors and profiles.  Cellar wines also achieve a longevity and levels of complexity that Plaisir wines can't approach.

Which is better?  As usual, it depends.  Garde wines often reach higher levels of technical proficiency and complexity, but require time and proper cellaring to get there.  Plaisir wines can be enjoyed tonight.

What's the takeaway here?  When you are seeking out a premium high-quality wine (and spending some serious money,) vintage won't necessarily speak to the wine's quality.  It will, more likely tell you something about which style of wine you are going to get.

 

Experience More....

  1. Video Interview with Randall Grahm on Biodynamic Wine Making
  2. Video Interview with Rebecca Work of Ampelos on Biodynamics vs Organic

 

6 Bottles of Gigondas Worth Seeking Out

When I reach for a bottle of wine from Southern France, I'm often reaching for a bottle of Gigondas.  A small appellation at the feet of the Dentelles in the Southern Rhone Valley, this area provides the same Grenache-based blends that one had come to expect from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but at 1/3 or 1/4 the price.  There is also a grace a beauty to the wines of Gigondas that you don't necessarily find in many Chateauneufs. 

I recently tasted 6 of the top ranked Gigondas wines at Walt Churchill's Market in Ohio.  Most of the wines cost between $30-$45 (one was more)  and all had received critic reviews comparable to Chateauneufs between $70-150.  They are all worth seeking out.

The #3 Wine of the Day

The #3 Wine of the Day

Guigal 2010 Gigondas.  $32.99 OH Retail.  "Really pretty red fruit with gentle amount of spice.  Not a big structure here, but a wine that will appeal to California Pinot Noir drinkers or fans of modernist Spanish wine."  90 Points.

Domaine du Cayron 2008 Gigondas.  $34.99 OH Retail.  "The oldest and most traditionally made of the Gigondas I tasted.  Aromatics are dark fruit with stone, tar, and briar patch herbaceousness.  The wine is medium full with blackberry jam flavors and gentle tannins that hint at cocoa.  The finish really lingers."  95 points.

Alain Jaume 2009 Gigondas 'Terrasses de Montmirail.'  $34.99 OH Retail.  "Dark red color.  Palate is fresh blueberries and blackberries.  Full bodied modern luscious wine. with tannins that grip the sides of your mouth.  Very long and heavy finish."  92 Points.

The #2 Wine of the Day

The #2 Wine of the Day

Domaine Bertrand Stehelin 2010 Gigondas.  $33.99 OH Retail.  "Dark purple/black color.  A nose of grape jelly melting on a stone.  This is a dark, dry, brooding, tannic wine.  It is the most similar to a Chateauneuf and also the wine most in need of serious time in the cellar. You can tell quality is there."  94 Points.

Chateau de Saint-Cosme 2011 Gigondas.  $42.99 OH Retail.  "There is a reason that Saint-Cosme is so esteemed by Gigondas fans. This was a beautiful wine.  The quality of the flavors and aromas spoke of refinement and elegance.  Three things stood out to me.  1) Purity of the red strawberry/plum fruit.  2) Hints of premium cured meat like Prosciutto.  3) An ever present since of the earth and minerality.  Superb wine and great value."  96 Points.

The #1 Wine of the Day

The #1 Wine of the Day

Chateau de Saint-Cosme 2011 Gigondas 'Les Claux.'  $79.99 OH Retail.  "I almost weep when I taste a wine this good at this price, because this single-vineyard 100+ year old vine Grenache, is heading for the world of the unaffordable.  Red fruits and animal bloods mix over a complex cocktail of stones.  Both elegant and wild like a high-class seductress from a James Bond movie.    And it still will get better, the tannins are powerful and dominate your mouth on the crazy long finish."  98 Points.

I definitely recommend seeking these wines, and other Gigondas, when you are looking for superb wines from France that delivery superstar quality without the high price tag.

Also, if you want to learn more about the Gigondas region, I'll include a link to pick up the definitive work on Gigondas.  It's out of print, but you can still buy it used.  Enjoy.

St. Innocent 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir - Vertical Tasting - 2007, 2008, 2009, & 2010

When St. Innocent Winemaker Mark Vlossak traveled to France, he noticed that many of his favorite wineries had one thing in common.  They all used Biodynamic farming.  So he began to search Oregon for some good Biodynamically farmed Pinot Noir.

This radical extension of the organic movement looks at the whole health of the vineyard, using organic practices, and also incorporated much pseudo-scientific thought.  Many have compared it to holistic medicine.  I don't agree with much of biodynamics, but do agree with Vlossak in the quality that this ideology often produced.

Vlossak purchases fruit from the biodynamically farmed Momtazi vineyard for St. Innocent and I knew that I had to try these wines.  Luckily for me, my Ohio distributor had four vintages in stock and I was able to throw a vertical tasting of St. Innocent Pinot Noir 'Momtazi' 2007-2010. 

It was no surprise that the wines were of excellent quality, but what surprised me was how the biodynamic farming seemed to moderate the effects of some extreme vintages. 2010 was one of Oregon's coldest ever and 2009 was one of the hottest ever.  Yet the heathy Momtazi vines seemed to not let the wines vary significantly.

Similar things happend with the phenomenal 2008 vintage and the 'Meh' 2007 vintage.  The wines were brought together stylistically.  Was this the health of the biodynamics?  I don't know the answer to that. 

For great discussions of Biodynamic winemaking check out my video interview with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard or my video interview with Rebecca Work of Ampelos.
Momtazi Vertical.JPG

So let's get to the wines themselves.

St. Innocent 2010 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.   92/100 Points.  $39.99 OH retail

A light pink-red color.  Bright red fruit nose with red apple skins.  Delicate red berry cream on the palate with a gentle texture.  Pleasant and undemanding, but still a super achievement.  Graceful, if even a little whispy at times.

St. Innocent 2009 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  89/100 Points.  $39.99 OH retail

Color is noticeably darker than the 2010.  More intensity to the aromas, but less depth of flavor.  Red plums, cherries, red dust on the palate with some oak and a strange citrus.  Can feel some awkward alcohol. 

St. Innocent 2008 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  91/100 points.  $39.99 OH retail.

Dark purple-red.  Aromas of intense red and black plums with brightness to the character.  Soft and silky with dark black fruits and (for the first time) some tannins.  This is young and tight with pronounced tannins, but just wait a few years. 

St. Innocent 2007 'Momtazi' Pinot Noir.  90/100 points.  $39.99 OH retail.

Brick red color.  Floral aromas with light herbal notes.  Palate is red and meaty with some warmth and hints of emerging herbs. 

In conclusion, there are some delicious wines here at pretty reasonable prices.  I'll definitely be looking for the 2010 'Momtazi' again.  The Biodynamic Winemaking thing is still up in the air, but all if you want is excellent Oregon Pinot Noir, you might find this something that works well for you.