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Wine Reviews

My Top Picks from the 2011 Pinot Noir Shootout

Saturday, I served as one of the judges for the 10th annual Pinot Noir Shootout finals put on by Affairs of the Vine. There were three panels of judges, each evaluating 32 wines over four flights. There were 96 wines in all. Most of the wines were from California, but not all. Theoretically, they could be from anywhere.

The Shootout is a well-organized, multi-stage evaluation of wines. A very large number of wines are submitted but, unlike most wine fair situations, the wines go through several judging stages over two or more months. This means judges don’t have to wade through hundreds of wines in just one or two days. Every wine that makes the finals has successfully passed at least two prior evaluations.

My personal experience in the finals suggests that this vetting was successful. From a qualitative standpoint, the wines fell into a narrow band in my view; roughlty 87 to 93 points. There was only one wine in the 32 that I rated significantly lower. That could well have been an issue with the particular bottle. (It definitely wasn’t corked though.)

One of the nice things about the Pinot Noir Shootout is that many of the wines involved are not regularly reviewed by mainstream wine magazines. Some are only available winery-direct, in person of through the online stores.

Below are the 12 wines I rated most highly from my group of 32, in alphabetical order by winery. The overall winners from the 96 wines will be published at Affairs of the Vines when all results have been tabulated. But, if you’re looking for a new Pinot Noir to try for a holiday meal, consider those I’ve listed here.

2007 Anderson Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, $30
Speaking of small wineries, Lee Anderson's primary business is real estate as you'll see from the website. But he also has a listing for this pretty wine with delicate flavors and a lightly creamy texture. Notes of rose, dark flowers, cocoa, cedar and red cherry. Charming, ready for immediate move in.

2009 Bargetto Reserve Pinot Noir Regan Estate Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains, $40
A very good wine with exotic aromas and flavors pine forest, mandarin orange and tea mixed with attractive red cherry, vanilla and marshmallow. Well-balanced, good concentration.

2007 Barney & Kel (KB Cellars) Pinot Noir Russian River, $28
Cherry, dill frond, citrus zest, berries and spice on aromas are followed by a richly-bodied and supple palate. Black cherry, dark spice and oak flavors. A pleasure to drink, seemingly impossible to find. If you're in Santa Rosa, ask around.

2009 Cubanismo Vineyards “Rumba” Pinot Noir Amity-Eola Hills, Willamette Valley, $21
Rose petal, tea and strawberry aromas. Medium body and well-balanced acidity, alcohol and intensity. Flavors of tea, orange and cranberry. Medium-plus length.

2009 Davis Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Soul Patch Vineyard, Russian River, $42
Ripe cherry, berries, vanilla and oak aromatics and long, very attractive flavors of dark flowers, raspberry cream soda and sweet spice. Medium tannins contribute a gentle but interesting texture.

2008 Elkhorn Peak Pinot Noir Elkhorn Peak Estate Vineyard, Napa Valley, $34
The vineyard is in Jamieson Canyon, due north (across the highway and well up the hill from) the Chardonnay Golf Club. Spicy berries and slightly jammy red cherry with vanilla, oak and chocolate accents. A good drink with prominent tannins that will match up well with a juicy duck breast or beef filet.

2008 Estancia Estates Reserve Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, $31
Pretty aromas of strawberry, vanilla, cherry and pot pourri spice. Satisfying palate weight and flavors of cherry and cedar.

2009 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir Sky High Ranch, Mendocino Ridge
Very long and juicy, with chewy tannins and a plethora of red fruit flavors. Pine, herb and dust add interest.

2008 Heart O’ The Mountain Pinot Noir 667 Clone, Single Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, $52
A friendly, lightly sweet wine with maraschino cherry, vanilla, fennel and fig on the nose and raspberry jam with cocoa on the palate. A crowd-pleaser from this small, Santa Cruz Mountains winery.

2009 Hearthstone Vineyard and Winery Pinot Noir Hearthstone Estate Vineyard, Paso Robles, $38
Yes, Pinot Noir from Paso Robles. It's been grown in the Adelaida District since 1964. This one has a very dark Pinot nose: black cherry, cola and dusty earth. Grippy tannins lead to restrained flavors, mostly cherry, vanilla, cocoa and toasty oak. A good wine for seared pork belly.

2009 Sharp Cellars Pinot Noir Keenan’s Cove, Sonoma Coast, $48
Toasted oak, toasted marshmallow, black cherry and dried orange peel on the nose. Rich, almost creamy body, with concentrated flavors of cherry, raspberry, oak and caramel. Very long finish. A decadent Pinot.

2009 Ventana Pinot Noir Ventana Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, $29
Garnet tones made this wine look older than it is. The delicate aromatics also showed development: dried fruit, cola, driftwood and sarsparilla. Medium body with good acidity and balance. Light, jammy red fruit, vanilla, cocoa and dusty wood on the palate.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Tasting 12 of California’s Best Syrah with Antonio Galloni

Yesterday, I wrote about Antonio Galloni’s approach to tasting and rating wines. The genesis of that article was the 8th Annual Wine Advocate Seminar and Tasting at the CIA’s Greystone Campus. Today, I’m discussing the twelve California Syrah he selected for the tasting.

In his preliminary comments, Antonio Galloni said that his primary goal was to use twelve great wines to showcase the differences between Syrah from different regions in California. He also wanted us to evaluate each wine on it’s own, within it’s own context, rather than trying to compare the wines on a points basis. “They are standalone great,” he said.

Galloni also believes strongly that “it’s time to take off the training wheels” with respect to varieties such as Syrah and Grenache in California. That means no longer referring to them as Rhone varieties or trying to compare a wine from Sonoma Coast or Napa Valley or Edna Valley as being like a Cote Rotie or Cornas or Hermitage. There may be some similarities of course. The varietal is the same. But the regions are different, the individual sites are different and they deserve to be evaluated independently.

California’s Syrah wines won’t get the respect they are due while being constantly compared to wines from the Northern Rhone. It’s not that our domestic wines aren’t as good. The wines are just inevitably different and our great Syrah regions and vineyards need to forge their own identities.

Today, people don’t talk about Napa Valley being a great place for Bordeaux varietals. They laud Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Spring Mountain Merlot. We don’t tell the salesman at our local bottle shop we’re looking for a domestic Nuits St. George. We ask for California Pinot Noir with a certain character or from a specific region such as western Sonoma Coast or Carneros.

It’s a difficult situation though. The varieties we have been calling Rhone are still not as well known here as Cabernet or Pinot. Syrah hasn’t had a Robert Mondavi-like evangelist. Grenache hasn’t had a hit movie. And sales aren't as brisk as we might wish. But, Galloni is right. It’s time to create our own local points of reference.

Of course, that assumes region and site are important for Syrah and that the wines are worthy of the effort. Asked if he thought that Syrah reflected terroir as well as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, he responded, “there’s no question that these wines can be as transparent to site... These aren’t just twelve great Syrah. They are twelve of the best California wines that I’ve tasted in the last few years. These wines actually transcend the grape.”

We tasted the wines, and I wrote my notes, in silence, three wines at a time. Then, Galloni gave us his thoughts on them. So, my notes below are solely my impressions of the wine. Galloni’s comments, which I recorded and have abridged, follow. He did not discuss scores, but I’ve added them as found on eRobertParker.com. I’ve included prices and case volume as available.

12 California Syrah selected by Antonio Galloni, in the order we tasted them:

Araujo Estate Wines Syrah, Eisele Vineyard, Napa Valley 2010
Fred Swan: Tangy dark fruit and herb on the nose with flowers, spice and smoked sausage. Full-body, very fine powdery tannins and medium+ finish. Packed with flavor; dark, meaty, delicious. Very Highly Recommended+
Antonio Galloni: More about Eisele than Syrah. I like the texture and smoky tobacco... It’s really highly reflective of where it’s from. 95 - 97 points

kongsgaard_labelKongsgaard Wines Syrah, Hudson Vineyard, Napa Valley 2009 - $150
FS: Bright black fruit, licorice and sweet herbal aromas. Full-bodied and long with fine, powdery tannins. Black licorice, black and red fruit, black Moroccan olives, earth and black pepper flavors. Engaging and beautiful. Highest Recommendation
AG: [I love] the textural richness and volume, but it’s not heavy. Incredible fruit and then the more varietal notes on the finish. A very sexy wine. 97 points

Colgin Cellars Syrah, IX Estate, Napa Valley 2009 - $175, 400 cases
FS: Sweet and briary dark red fruit on the nose with black pepper and high-toned spice. Medium+ body and tannins (chalky and grainy) with a long finish. A savory wine with a highly textured mouthfeel. Earthy spice, black raspberry, huckleberry and herb. Very Highly Recommended+
AG: Another beautiful wine I’m attracted to because of the amount of structure and freshness. Much more floral, more of a red fruit profile. I’m attracted to the higher, brighter tones. 96 points

 

Alban Vineyards “Reva” Syrah, Alban Estate, Edna Valley, 2008 - $94
FS: Very ripe black fruit, sweet herb, flowers and plenty of oak. Full body and rich, chalky tannins. Peppery black and purple fruit on the palate alongside dark flowers, spice, oak and tangerine rind. Lengthy finish. Highly Recommended+
AG: I fell in love with this wine the first time I tasted it in barrel, and then I found out the bottle was really better... It captures the house style. Voluptuous but not heavy. Floral notes throughout. I like the juxtaposition of rich fruit, but not heavy, with complexity. 96+ points

Piedrasassi Syrah, Rim Rock Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County, 2009
FS: Chocolate, black pepper, licorice, animal and eucalyptus aromas. Medium+ body and tannins (chalky), very long. Flavors of dark fruit, earthy spice, eucalyptus, black pepper and licorice. An earthy, peppery wine with rich fruit. Very Highly Recommended+
AG: Now we get into the more Syrah-like notes, the black pepper and licorice, grilled herbs, olives, black fruit, earthiness. This is a great wine to pair with food, great brightness and acidity. One of my personal favorites. 95 points

Paul Lato Syrah, Il Padrino Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, 2010 - $95, 125 cases
FS: Bresaola, black pepper and purple fruit on the nose. Medium+ body and moderate, lightly chalky tannins. Earthy spice, dark fruit, bresaola and floral flavors. A long, meaty/savory wine with soprano notes of fruit and flowers. Very Highly Recommended+
AG: More of a lifted quality... much more floral, delicate and feminine. 96 points

 

Tensley Wines Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, 2009 - $56
FS: Aromas of grape soda, peach and five spice. Medium+ body and tannins (chalky, grainy) and a long finish. Flavors of grape soda, tangy herb, chocolate and spice. [I tasted this wine three weeks ago and didn’t get any grape soda notes then, just rich dark berries. Either way, it's really good.] Very Highly Recommended
AG: Interesting because it’s constantly changing in the glass. I find that so intriguing. Push and pull tension between feminine, graceful elements and more powerful and masculine structure and tannin. 95+ points

Samsara Wine Company Syrah, Melville Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, 2009 - $48
FS: Very floral on the nose with black pepper and juniper berry. Medium+ body and tannins (fine, powdery). The palate offers rich, dark fruit, dark flowers and juniper with a long finish. Very Highly Recommended
AG: More of those floral notes. Very clear and distinctive notes of juniper berries. Very high-toned notes of stone fruits. It’s like an orchestra with all the bass notes in the middle and then all the high notes. 94+ points

Sine Qua Non Estate Syrah, “The Duel,” Santa Rita Hills, 2008 - $220
FS: Earthy black and purple fruit, chocolate and black pepper on the nose. Nearly full-bodied with medium+, very finely powdered tannins. Very sensuous and long with rich dark fruit, oak and chocolate. Highest Recommendation
AG: Textural opulence, rich, voluptuous. This wine is really precise, really beautiful. Super finessed. A very different expression of Syrah. More about ampleness and generosity and creaminess. 97+ points

 

Copain Wine Cellars Syrah, Baker Ranch, Anderson Valley, 2009 - $45
FS: Aromas of spice, dark fruit, flowers and exotic wood on the nose. Medium body and medium+ chalky tannins. A long, feminine wine of flowers and exotic spice. Very Highly Recommended
AG: Almost pinot-like in texture and its ripeness of fruit. There’s a really beautiful purity of fruit. The most mind-bending wine of this flight, because it’s definitely not heavy but it’s so flavorful. There’s an intense minerality. [Note: During the tasting, Galloni said that to him, minerality is “a tension on the finish”] It’s got so much going on yet, it’s so light. 94 points

Radio-Coteau Vineyards Syrah, Las Colinas, Sonoma Coast, 2010 - $48
FS: Flavors and aromas of tangy purple fruit, sweet exotic spice and herb. Medium body and tannins (chalky). Long. Very Highly Recommended
AG: A wine of contrasts: very bright red fruit and then you have black pepper, savory notes, herb, earthiness. Constantly changing. It’s difficult to describe these wines sometimes because every time you taste them there’s something different. A dazzling wine. 93 - 95 points.

Arnot-Roberts Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, 2010 - $55
FS: Very earthy and meaty with elements of barnyard and black pepper. Medium body and tannins that are chalky and drying. Excellent length. A polarizing wine, but I like it. Very Highly Recommended
AG: The elegance of the Radio-Coteau, but it has more fruit, more body, more volume. It shows the richer side of Sonoma Coast Syrah. 95 points.

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Blind Tasting 11 Vintages of Ridge Monte Bello

Hello. My name is Fred Swan. On June 17 I drank wine out of paper bags. A lot of wine. And I would do it again.

Ridge Vineyards holds small tastings for wine bloggers on a quarterly basis. I’ve been fortunate to attend three of the tastings. Each has been fun, interesting and unique. Christopher Watkins, manager of hospitality and retail sales at the Monte Bello tasting room, is the instigator, organizer and host. His latest tasting will be hard to top.

As usual, the tasting theme was not disclosed until everyone arrived. Despite the mystery, bloggers came from as far away as Healdsburg and Santa Barbara for the two-hour event. Our faith was rewarded with the kind of tasting one fantasizes about.

But first we had our twisty but scenic drives up the mountain to enjoy. We gathered outside the Ridge tasting room on Monte Bello Rd. at 1PM. It was a gorgeous day. The panoramic view was marred only by smog at the base of the hills east of San Jose. Glaringly bright midday sun made for poor photos though. Once all writers were present, Christopher led us a few yards up the driveway and through the Old Winery Barn to a brand new tasting venue.

ridge-sign
Ridge was established in 1066. Really, the sign says so!

old-winery-barn
The Old Winery Barn with vintage photos of the winery, going back to the mid-19th century.

We were to be the very first people to use the Black Mountain Room. A sizable rectangular space with a long table, it should accommodate up to 15 people comfortably for seated tastings. And, being at the top of the building, there are great views out the windows.

Our eyes, however, went immediately from the scenery to a side table upon which sat a bottle of 2008 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay and eleven brown paper bags labelled simply “A” through “K.” The opening of each bag was twisted coyly around the wine bottle it contained. Only the lip of each bottle could be seen. What was in store for us?


bagged-monte-bello
Bottles of mystery!

bloggers-at-ridge
Examine. Swirl. Sniff. Taste. Tweet. Repeat.

We settled in, powering up notebooks, signing onto wi-fi with iGadgets and taking photos of — or sampling from — a generous assortment of cheese. The Chardonnay was poured. That wine quickly got my full attention. I'm told it won’t be released until around September. I suggest you use part of the intervening time to clear space in your cellar, wine fridge or under-the-stairs-wine-stash for several bottles of it.

Golden-hued and weighty but not this, the 2008 Ridge Monte Bello Chardonnay grabs your attention with aromas of succulent yellow apple, peach, and pear. Then come toasted brioche, yeast, sweet cream and butterscotch. The aromas are buoyant but not boisterous, the fruit ripe not cloying.

The palate fluctuates. One sip is creamy with ripe fruit. The next has leesy texture and flavors that lean more toward green apple, warm bread and subtle minerality. The wine evolves with air and as its temperature rises. It is a great pleasure to spend time with now but should age well too. Very Highly Recommended.

08-monte-bello-chard

As we swirled and sipped Chardonnay, Christopher gave us the low-down. Each brown bag held a different vintage of Ridge Monte Bello red wine. Every wine had been treated individually so as to be at its best. Some were double-decanted and given plenty of air, others were handled like prized family heirlooms. Christopher would not disclose anything else about the wine until we had finished tasting.

We writers were to taste each wine, A through K, poured in flights of two, and then re-orer them oldest to youngest. We didn’t need to identify specific vintages. The person who got the most in exactly the right position would win a special prize.

This kind of tasting tests one’s ability to precisely judge a wine’s age by it’s appearance, nose and taste, one’s knowledge of how Ridge Monte Bello ages, and how the weather affected each vintage. And, because we only tasted two at a time and there would be no re-tastes or saving glasses on the side for reference, it was a test of our sensory memory and/or note-taking. As if that weren’t hard enough, we had much less than 10 minutes per wine and had to do our analysis while tweeting!

It was a tough test, because having one just wine out of order can throw off the sequence so that several wines are in the wrong position. I was confused by just two wines, but that meant I got only six in exactly the right position. Nonetheless, that tied me for second place among all the writers. The best score was just seven.

My tasting notes (below) are in the pouring order. I’ve not identified the vintages, so that you can try to play along if you like. See if you can improve on my score by reading my notes. If you’d rather not do that and want to see what vintage each wine is as you read the notes, click here and that’s what you’ll get.

Before I move on, I should mention that this tasting opportunity and the specific selection of wines were not random choices on Christopher’s part. Ridge has just finished a careful and extensive tasting of their library wines. Each of the wines, save one, are now available as part of an upcoming Monte Bello library offering. So, unlike many reviews of old wines which make you long for something you cannot attain, these wines you will be able to buy directly from Ridge. Prices are listed below, along with the vintages.

Tasting Notes

Wine A: The color is a soft ruby on the verge of being garnet, but not quite there. There is cooked sweet cherry, blackberry, pencil lead and cedar on the nose. Smooth, well-integrated palate with chocolate milk texture and a long finish. Flavors include tart cooked cherry, black currant and cocoa. I liked this wine a lot. Very Highly Recommended.

Wine B: Ruby in color with a pale rim and pigmented legs. The color in this wine is both more concentrated and brighter than in Wine A. The nose is meaty with crushed and slightly jammy dark fruit and notes of earthy spice. The palate also holds dark fruit, game and earthy spice. The recurrent game and spice are reminiscent to me of many Bordeaux wines. Highly Recommended.

Wine C: Ruby with a pale rim, pigmented legs and garnet highlights. Rich, stewed cherry and black currant, dry leaves and sweet spice on the nose. A juicy palate with chalky tannins and flavors that match the nose. Balanced and delicious. Very Highly Recommended.

Wine D: This wine has medium plus color intensity at the core but was garnet on the verge of brown. There is a fair amount of fine sediment in the glass. The nose shows considerable development, though aromas of sweet dried cherry and currant remain along with dry leaves and dry cedar wood. The palate offers a lot of forest floor plus cooked and dried fruit and cedar. It can continue to hold for several years but won’t improve much, if at all, with further age. Highly Recommended/Very Highly Recommended.

Wine E: Ruby with a pale rim and pigmented legs. I got forest floor, soy, black currant and spice on the nose. The palate features chunky tannins with dark fruit that remind me of berry pie filling. The component I called soy was troubling to some people. Richard Jennings said the wine was funky, Dave Tong thought it smelled of cheese. It was not my favorite wine by a long shot, but I didn’t think it flawed. It just needs very extended aeration. A second bottle seemed better and continued to improve with air. Recommended.

Wine F: Pale garnet color with an even paler rim and flaky sediment. The nose is approaching full development with aromas of cedar, cherry, currant, trail dust and dry leaves. Despite the wine’s aged appearance and aromatic development, predominant flavors are cherry and chocolate. The tannins are drying, but pleasant. Highly Recommended/Very Highly Recommended.

Wine G: Medium-intensity garnet core with a pale rim and sediment. The nose is developed with aromas of cedar, leaves and earthy, smoky fruit. The palate is rich with dark chocolate and fruit. Very solid. Highly Recommended/Very Highly Recommended.

Wine H: Medium-intensity garnet with a pale rim and sediment. Rich fruit, cedar and pencil lead on the nose. This wine approaches full body with chewy, chalky tannins and a very long finish. Flavors include chocolate, herb and more cedar. Very Highly Recommended.

Wine I: Medium-garnet with a pale rim and sediment. Cedar, black currant and other dark fruit on the nose. Extremely-well balanced with body, acidity, alcohol, fruit intensity and alcohol all in lock step. Flavors echo the nose and the finish is long. Very Highly Recommended.

Wine J: A horse of a different color! Intense purple core with a fuschia rim. A youthful nose with fresh fruit, cocoa, oak and coffee. Full-bodied with ripe, grippy tannins. Several people pegged this fresh wine as their favorite. Dave Tong said, “If this isn’t the 2010, I should hand in my credentials.” Very Highly Recommended.

Wine K: Ruby core with a hint of purple, pale rim and pigmented legs. Aromas and flavors of oak, bright fruit, chocolate and coconut. Needs time. Highly Recommended/Very Highly Recommended.

Spoilers: Don’t read on until you’ve made your guesses.

Putting the Wines in Order

Three wines were very easy to position, almost by color alone. As Cabernet Sauvignon wines age, their color changes from purple to ruby, to garnet (brick) and then to brown. Wine D was quite brown and its aromas and flavors thoroughly developed. It was clearly the oldest wine. Wine J had color so youthful it might have glowed in the dark. It was very obviously the youngest wine. The color of Wine K was predominantly ruby but it did have strong purple overtones indicating youth. It was obviously the second youngest wine.

From there, things got more difficult. There were four remaining wines whose color was mostly garnet. Each had the kind of flaky sediment often found in older wines. The color of Wine F was the least concentrated though and its flavors of very dry leaves and trail dust led me to believe it was second oldest.

The other garnet wines were G, H and I. I found it difficult to put them in order. This is where I made my first mistake. I correctly identified Wine I as older than Wine H, mostly due to the fuller body of "H" resulting from it’s less resolved tannins (chewy, chalky). However, I messed up on Wine G, thinking it older than it was, becuse the aromas of cedar, leaves and earth suggested considerable development. If I had reviewed my notes more carefully, my comment about it’s rich chocolate palate would pulled me in the direction of youth.

Moving back to the ruby-colored wines, the concentration and brightness of the color in Wine B  distinguished it from the rest, as did its flavors. I marked that down for third youngest. The juiciness of Wine C and it’s relatively heavy tannins convinced me that wine was younger than Wine A.

On a side note, Wine B, which I mentioned reminded me of some Bordeaux took 1st place among the “young” California reds in the 2006 reprise of the 1976 Judgement of Paris Tasting. To further digress, the reprise also included a tasting of the same wines included in the original tasting. The 1971 Ridge Monte Bello beat all contenders, American and French, by a huge margin.

So, back to Wine E. I thought that the chunky tannins and baked, rather than stewed, berry and black currant flavors meant it could be younger than either A or C. Again, if I had looked more closely at my notes, the “forest floor” might have pulled me in the opposite — and correct — direction.

Which Wines Were Which?

Here are the actual vintages in pouring order along with their library offering price: A 1995 $300, B 2000 $225, C 1999 $225, D 1977 $400, E 1994 $250, F 1978 $475, G 1990 $250, H 1985 $300, I 1981 $185, J 2010 not yet bottled, K 2006 $150.

The blogger with the highest score got a great prize! It was a clear 750ml bottle with a white Avery label on it. Inside, was inky purple nectar — 2010 Ridge Monte Bello straight from the barrel. Richard Jennings and I were very happy with our 2nd place prizes as well, 375ml bottles of 2008 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

monte-bello-unbagged
Monte Bello is so good, you can't drink just one...

Analysis and Take-Aways

This tasting clearly demonstrated that Ridge Monte Bello is long-lived wine which improves with age. That will not come as a surprise to anyone who closely follows the finer wines of California. However, the extremely high-level of quality across more than three decades is impressive.

I  also found it interesting that these particular Ridge Monte Bello wines appear to have developed in a manner that is consistent with their age without major impact from the character of particular vintages. I was able to very effectively put the wines in order by analyzing what was in the glass without taking into account the peculiarities of weather in specific years. I did not factor that it in at all, yet only placed two wines of eleven out of sequence.

That said, though the wines showed their age in a consistent manner without respect to vintage, the character of each wine is distinct. No wine tastes substantially like another, even if one discounts the variation likely due to the wines being at different levels of maturity. In this respect, vintage and blend clearly do show their impact. Each wine has a distinct and interesting personality, a reason for being in one’s cellar and a story to tell.

I was somewhat surprised by the level of browning in the 1977 and 1978 wines. Based on other wines of similar age and quality that I have tasted recently — from other wineries and appellations — I would have expected the color to hold another five years or so. For example, 1978 and 1979 vintages of Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted two months ago were both in transition from ruby to garnet with no browning whatsoever. However, the aromas, flavors and palate sensations of the Ridge wines do not suggest that they are on their last legs or even close to being so. These are not tired wines. They offer considerable fruit. One doesn’t smell or taste color. I see this browning as a interesting sidelight, not an issue.

The vertical tasting of eleven Ridge Monte Bello reds was challenging and interesting. And it was a great pleasure because the wines were so good. Tastings this extensive are rare. But it's good to know that bottles are available should someone want to put together their own mini-vertical or simply enjoy a great bottle to commemorate a birthday or anniversary. I may have to start checking into my friends' birth years...

For another take on this tasting, check out Christopher Watkins’ Ridge Blog. @yumivore has posted some excellent photos from the event. If you're a Twitter user, you can also see the tweets that were sent live during the tasting.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

 

 


Wine A - 1995 Ridge Monte Bello: The color is a soft ruby on the verge of being garnet, but not quite there. There is cooked sweet cherry, blackberry, pencil lead and cedar on the nose. Smooth, well-integrated palate with chocolate milk texture and a long finish. Flavors include tart cooked cherry, black currant and cocoa. I liked this wine a lot. Very Highly Recommended.

Wine B - 2000 Ridge Monte Bello: Ruby in color with a pale rim and pigmented legs. The color in this wine is both more concentrated and brighter than in Wine A. The nose is meaty with crushed and slightly jammy dark fruit and notes of earthy spice. The palate also holds dark fruit, game and earthy spice. The recurrent game and spice are reminiscent to me of many Bordeaux wines. Highly Recommended.

Wine C - 1999 Ridge Monte Bello: Ruby with a pale rim, pigmented legs and garnet highlights. Rich, stewed cherry and black currant, dry leaves and sweet spice on the nose. A juicy palate with chalky tannins and flavors that match the nose. Balanced and delicious. Very Highly Recommended.

Wine D - 1977 Ridge Monte Bello: This wine has medium plus color intensity at the core but was garnet on the verge of brown. There is a fair amount of fine sediment in the glass. The nose shows considerable development, though aromas of sweet dried cherry and currant remain along with dry leaves and dry cedar wood. The palate offers a lot of forest floor plus cooked and dried fruit and cedar. It can continue to hold for several years but won’t improve much, if at all, with further age. Highly Recommended/Very Highly Recommended.

Wine E - 1994 Ridge Monte Bello: Ruby with a pale rim and pigmented legs. I got forest floor, soy, black currant and spice on the nose. The palate features chunky tannins with dark fruit that remind me of berry pie filling. The component I called soy was troubling to some people. Richard Jennings said the wine was funky, Dave Tong thought it smelled of cheese. It was not my favorite wine by a long shot, but I didn’t think it flawed. It just needs very extended aeration. A second bottle seemed better and continued to improve with air. Recommended.

Wine F - 1978 Ridge Monte Bello: Pale garnet color with an even paler rim and flaky sediment. The nose is approaching full development with aromas of cedar, cherry, currant, trail dust and dry leaves. Despite the wine’s aged appearance and aromatic development, predominant flavors are cherry and chocolate. The tannins are drying, but pleasant. Highly Recommended/Very Highly Recommended.

Wine G - 1990 Ridge Monte Bello: Medium-intensity garnet core with a pale rim and sediment. The nose is developed with aromas of cedar, leaves and earthy, smoky fruit. The palate is rich with dark chocolate and fruit. Very solid. Highly Recommended/Very Highly Recommended.

Wine H - 1985 Ridge Monte Bello: Medium-intensity garnet with a pale rim and sediment. Rich fruit, cedar and pencil lead on the nose. This wine approaches full body with chewy, chalky tannins and a very long finish. Flavors include chocolate, herb and more cedar. Very Highly Recommended.

Wine I - 1981 Ridge Monte Bello: Medium-garnet with a pale rim and sediment. Cedar, black currant and other dark fruit on the nose. Extremely-well balanced with body, acidity, alcohol, fruit intensity and alcohol all in lock step. Flavors echo the nose and the finish is long. Very Highly Recommended.

Wine J - 2010 Ridge Monte Bello barrel sample: A horse of a different color! Intense purple core with a fuschia rim. A youthful nose with fresh fruit, cocoa, oak and coffee. Full-bodied with ripe, grippy tannins. Several people pegged this fresh wine as their favorite. Dave Tong said, “If this isn’t the 2010, I should hand in my credentials.” Very Highly Recommended.

Wine K - 2006 Ridge Monte Bello: Ruby core with a hint of purple, pale rim and pigmented legs. Aromas and flavors of oak, bright fruit, chocolate and coconut. Needs time. Highly Recommended/Very Highly Recommended.

Click here to return to the main article for analysis of the tasting and conclusions.

Quick Sips: Brief Notes on Eight Wines I’ve Tasted in the Past Week

The following are a few of the better wines I’ve tasted this week. Lucky me!

2010 Bokisch Albariño Alta Terra Vineyard Clements Hills AVA Lodi
The current vintage of this wine is 2011, but the 2010 was still drinking very nicely. Spanish-variety specialist Bokisch nailed traditional Albariño here. There are aromas of green apple and pear with subtle stone fruit and distinct minerality. The palate is medium-bodied and dry with zingy acidity and a hint of effervescence. Just 12% alcohol. It was perfect with a cold salad of dungeness crab, heirloom tomato, avocado, scallion and a touch of Kewpie mayonnaise with wasabi mayo on the side for dipping.

Corison_KronosCabernetSauvignon_Labelny_3001996 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon Kronos Vineyard Napa Valley
1996 was the first commercial vintage for Cathy Corison’s eponymous label. Her 1996 Kronos shows the virtues of her elegantly powerful style of winemaking, her old-vine Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard and of the patience to allow wines such as this age. It’s a nimble Cabernet Sauvignon, medium-bodied and silky on the palate. There is a chorus of aromas and flavors singing harmoniously and all at about the same level of volume. Gentle black currant, forest floor, black tea, spice, cedar and more. The wine is excellent now but will continue to build complexity for 20 years. (This wine was decanted for one hour prior to tasting.)

2002 Eberle Syrah Paso Robles
This wine is still dense and powerful. Dark, dark, dark in the glass with flavors of briary blackberry, unsweetened chocolate and oak. It’s full-bodied and sports medium-plus tannins. If I had another bottle, I’d either allow it to age further in bottle or give it 60+ minutes in a decanter.

2006 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc Reserve To Kalon Napa Valley
Still a deeply pretty wine, this Fumé Blanc has grown more elegant with the years. There are gentle aromas and flavors of soft white peach, pear, perfume-like spice, magnolia flowers, dry grass, ightly-sanded oak and ginger from the outset. These become more pronounced with time in the glass. Consider decanting it briefly before serving.

2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia Napa Valley
This former Wine Spectaor Wine of the Year is still plush and powdery on the palate. Even when pouring the wine at arms’ length, loads of creamy black currant and blackberry reach your nose. Swoon. Decanting is not required.

2009 Phillips-Hill Pinot Noir Wiley Vineyard Anderson Valley
Who in their right mind would drink a Pinot Noir after an 02 Phelps Insignia? I can’t testify to my mental state, but I did exactly that this week. And this Pinot Noir was up to the task. It’s acidity cleansed our palates while it’s beautiful layers of fruit and spice commanded our full attention. “Oh my God. What is this?” asked the multiply-certified palate sitting next to me.

2008 Phillips-Hill Pinot Noir Oppenlander Vineyard Anderson Valley
Less showy than the Wiley and more masculine, this is a handsome Pinot Noir with dark fruit and mysterious spice. Let it breathe in your glass for several minutes before diving in.

2009 Scholium Project Midan al-Tahrir
It was an appropriate week to drink this wine. It’s named for Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the marquee site for the protests which led to Mubarak’s ouster. This white blend includes 70% Verdelho complemented by Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurtztraminer. The nose is full of tropical fruit, pineapple, lychee and white flowers. It’s round and smooth in the mouth and gives the impression of slight sweetness. A very tasty wine this and it goes down easy and matches well with crab cakes. Be careful though, well-hidden inside all that fruit is alcohol of 16.35%. Drink this one with Asian fare, but nothing too spicy.

 

I purchased all of the wines above at shops or the winery except:
The 1996 Corison was purchased and consumed at Press Restaurant in St. Helena.
The Scholium was provided by a friend. 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Highlights from the Rutherford Dust Society Blind Tasting - 2008 Cabernet

The Rutherford Dust Society held their annual tasting on July 13 at Rubicon Estate. In the morning, before the larger trade tasting, there is a seated media tasting. This year, there were 22 wines, poured in two flights of eleven. All of the wine was from the 2008 vintage. Some of the wines have already been released, many have not. After tasting, there is a lunch at which the same wines are available, no longer blind. This allows the media to double-check their initial impressions of certain wines.

rutherford-dust-blind-tasting
Wine Writers Nose Wine! Rutherford Dust Tasting, July 13, 2011
Photo: Fred Swan

Overall Impressions

During the tasting, I was impressed by the fact that most of the 2008 Rutherford Cabernet blends I tasted are very drinkable now. And they had not been decanted, just opened and left in the bottle for an hour or so. The extra five months in bottle since I last tried many of them has allowed their tannins to soften and integrate. The fruit has become less dominant as well. There are still plenty of cherries, berries and currants, but they no longer shout so loudly that you can’t hear the interesting secondary voices which make wine so interesting. Despite their early accessibility, there is plenty of power in the fruit and tannins. Most of the wines have the stuffing to age nicely for ten or more years.

2008 started cold and some vineyards saw severe frost early in the season. This, and generally low yields for others reasons meant the crop for some growers was down by 30% or more. The weather warmed up later, but wasn't excessively hot. This was fortunate because 2008 was also very dry with rainfall at about 60% of average. The end result was a small crop of small-berrIes, great for quality but not for volume. In the wines I noticed no significant signs of either over- or under-ripe fruit. They are generally well-balanced, even elegant, due in part to the cool to moderate temperatures throughout much of the year.

Alcohol levels ranged from 13.7% [Frog’s Leap] up to 15.3 [Beaulieu Vineyard] with an average of 14.6. That is normal, perhaps even a bit light, for the area these days. Paul Wagner (Balzac Communications) pointed out quite correctly that the higher alcohol levels tended to come from the western part of Rutherford rather than eastern. The normal expectation would be the opposite since the east gets more of the harsh afternoon sun. This demonstrates once again that location isn’t everything. Row orientation, clonal selection, leaf pulling, pick dates and many other factors have a significant impact on grape ripeness and sugar levels.

There was dramatic diversity in the prices of these wines. The most expensive wine was the Rubicon from Rubicon Estate at $200. The bargain-hunters’ wine is Pedemonte Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford for just $26. Sadly, only 360 cases of that wine were made. On the bright side, the next three lowest priced wines are very good as well and two of them had much higher production volumes.

 

eva-swan-rutherford-dust
Eva Swan evaluates Cabernet Sauvignon at the Rutherford Dust Tasting, July 13, 2011.
Photo: Fred Swan

Tasting Notes

Here are the wines I liked best from the tasting with some brief notes. The wines are listed in alphabetical order. Bear in mind that my ratings are provisional, since the tasting conditions, while excellent, didn’t allow me as much time with each wine as I would want for an “official” review.

2008 12C Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard Rutherford, $70. Alc. % n/a, 120 cases, release 8/1/2010
Highly Recommended; A great, fruity nose of black cherry and sweet spice. Gorgeous, ripe black fruit with coconut, fall leaves and vanilla on the palate. Ripe, powdery tannins.

2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $115. 15.3% alc., 8200 cases, release 8/1/2011
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, currant leaf, cedar and pencil lead aromas. Flavors of black currant, mild vanilla and spice. Ripe chalky tannins, pleasantly zingy alcohol.

2008 Conn Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Hozhoni Vineyard Rutherford, $45. 14.5% alc., 200 cases, release Spring 2012
Highly Recommended; Ripe black currant, macerated black cherry and currant leaf nose. Black cherry, herb, sweet spice and milk chocolate flavors with fine, ripe, chalky tannins.

2008 Hall Wines Exzellenz Sacrasche Vineyard Rutherford Red Wine, $165. Alc. % n/a, 219 cases, release 11/1/2011
Highly Recommended; Nose of dried black currant, nutmeg and oak. Black currant and sweet spice. Alcohol sticks out just a little.

2008 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard Rutherford, $75. Alc. % n/a, 250 cases, release 6/1/2012
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, cherry, coffee and bay leaf aromas. Flavors echo the nose and add chocolate and sweet spice. Very fine and ripe chalky tannins.

2008 Meander Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard Rutherford, $125. 15.2% alc., 40 cases, 3/1/2011
Very Highly Recommended, A savory nose of rare roast beef, dark spice and sage. Flavors of black fruit and cocoa. Very fine and ripe chalky tannins. Smooth.

2008 Pedemonte Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $26. 14.5% alc., 360 cases, release TBD
Highly Recommended; Red cherry, cedar and mint on the nose. Flavors reminded me of a cherry and herb lozenge. Chalky, drying tannins.

2008 Peju Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, $105. 14.4% alc., 900 cases, release 9/1/2014 [I spoke with HB in the afternoon and she told me that if someone really, really wants the wine sooner that will be possible.]
Highly Recommended; Juicy black currant and raspberry with notes of tobacco, spice and oak.

2008 Pina Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard Rutherford, $85. 15.1% alc,, 237 cases, release 11/1/2010.
Very Highly Recommended; Black currant, dark flowers, dust and pencil shavings on the nose. Black currant, blackberry, light cedar and sweet spice on the palate. Voluptuous body with fine and ripe chalky tannins. Gorgeous.

2008 Sawyer Cellars Cabernet Reserve Rutherford, $49. 14.1% alc., 850 cases, release 6/1/2012
Highly Recommended, A great nose with beautiful warmed spices, spiced fig, oak and vanilla. Very ripe red and black cherry flavors with spice and milk chocolate.

2008 Round Pond Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $50. 14.5% alc., 3210 cases, released 1/1/2011
Highly Recommended; Plenty of black currant fruit plus currant leaf/tobacco, sweet spice and vanilla. Chalky, drying tannins.

2008 Staglin Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, $185. 14.9% alc., 2600 cases, release Fall 2011
Highly Recommended; Black cherry, blackberry and spice nose echoed by the palate which adds dried coconut. Ripe, lightly chalky tannins.

If you found this article interesting, you may also enjoy:
What is Rutherford Dust?
Spotlight on the Rutherford AVA

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.