The Taste of Time

The Taste of Time

I am a big believer in fate.  Sometimes, there is no other explanation.

A few weeks ago, I drafted a post on one of my favorite wines.  Not just a favorite, but perhaps most favorite.  I held back from posting for rather selfish reasons. Please understand, I just did not feel prepared to share yet. For now, let’s just say that my favorite wine is a Ridge.

Then last week, as I was catching up on my reading, I saw on the Ridge Blog a call for California wine bloggers to participate in a special Tasting Event at the Monte Bello Tasting Room.  I may have let out an audible gasp.  Now, by no means am I a wine expert.  I am not even a wine-specific blogger.  But I am certainly a wine enthusiast — and definitely a lover of Ridge wine.  I felt compelled to message Christopher Watkins, the Monte Bello Tasting Room Manager, to express my keen interest.  I was beyond thrilled when he extended an invitation to join the soft launch of the Wine Blogger’s Tasting.

If you are not familiar with Ridge Vineyards, they are a small, dare I say “boutique,” winery founded in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1885.  Monte Bello was the first Ridge winery that was built, but it was not until closer to the 1960’s when Ridge’s growth as a premier wine producer took hold.  At that point, the unique backgrounds of the partners (Stanford Research Institute engineers and a Stanford philosophy alumnus turned wine maker with experience from a Chilean winery) lent to its growth in producing excellent Cabernets and Zinfandels.  A little bit of Chardonnay was also produced.  In 1991, Ridge acquired Lytton Springs Vineyard in Sonoma.

So, about a week after I received the fateful invitation, I found myself zipping towards the western hills of the Bay Area.  Northern California had burst into Spring, and I can’t even describe how perfect the day was as I drove up the winding roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains to reach the Ridge Monte Bello Winery.  The skies were blue, the air was warm, and as my car rolled through the very unassuming gates leading to the intimate tasting room, I was treated to a gorgeous view of the San Francisco Bay Area.  This is why I love living in California, I thought.

I found myself in the company of true aficionados – wine experts with noses that have been indoctrinated in the nuances of bouquet by years of experience and well-trained palates that easily parcel out the key characteristics in a wine.  I am clearly not as educated when it comes to wine.  As they likely scribbled down industry words in their notebooks, I took note of the wines in my own way.  I may not be an expert, but I know what I like.  When I taste wine, I consider when would I drink this? With whom?  And most importantly, with what?  So, I will not assign points, nor will I use buzz words…I will simply share my experience.

And what an experience!  The tasting featured wines that are part of the Spring release, many of which will be made available April of this year.  Ridge was extremely excited about their recent extensive write up by Robert Parker for the Wine Advocate, and the idea was to mimic, bottle for bottle, the wines he reviewed. It was a unique opportunity to taste their collection of wines across several varietals and many vintages.

Chardonnay

The tasting began with a few Chardonnays.  The most exciting was the chance to try their very first release of the Jimsomare Chardonnay.  The 2008 vintage will be a winery only limited release, and takes its fruit from the lowest level planting of the Monte Bello vineyards.  This very special wine was bottled just last fall, and of course, it tasted quite young.  But I can imagine that in a few years, it would be a wonderful choice for an elegant weekend backyard gathering with friends.  I couldn’t help but think of grilled herbed shrimp, fresh salads and even a nice whole grilled fish, as I tasted the Jimsomare.

The 2008 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Chardonnay was more vibrant in taste and Monte Bello in style.  This wine will be released nationally in April and is one that could be enjoyed younger, which is good news for those of us who have a hard time waiting to open a bottle.  I love the Ridge Chardonnays, and secretly wish they could produce more.

Zinfandel

We moved into the Zinfandels, starting with Ridge’s newest designation: East Bench.  The 2008 East Bench Zinfandel will be released in mid-April and is one of the first debuts of the planting.  The 2008 East Bench definitely tasted quite young, and was very spicy to me.  In about 5 years, I imagine it would be delicious with a flavorful eggplant parmigiana or roasted garlic pork loin.  We compared the ’08 with the 2006 East Bench Zinfandel, and this vintage had definitely mellowed out, but still had its nice spice and was fairly dry.  It was a great sneak peek into the 2008’s potential.

The Geyserville Zinfandels were next.  We tasted both the 2008 and 2007 Geyserville Zinfandels, and with the first sip, you could tell we had moved into Ridge’s flagship Zinfandel.  While the 2008 was very dry and tannic, it was so refreshing, and had a smoother texture than the East Bench varietal.  Due for release in April, the 2007 Geyserville Zinfandel spoke to the very care that Ridge has used in every aspect of the wine making process.  From vining, to picking, to how each vineyard is broken down, you could really taste the exceptional quality that Ridge pioneered when they began producing their Zinfandels.  My taste of the 2007 really reflected more complexity and maturity; it was amazing to taste how much one year could make a difference.  I can imagine how well it will taste in the next 5 to 7 years, and if one could be patient, even in 10 years.  These Zins had such style, and they would pair beautifully with Asian foods —  I couldn’t help but think of seared ahi tuna with cilantro and soy sauce, Thai curry coconut noodles, or spicy Korean barbeque.

The Zinfandel portion of the tasting closed with the 2008 and 2007 Lytton Springs Zinfandel.  The 2008 Lytton Springs Zinfandel is due for release in Fall 2010, and was very recently bottled just a few weeks ago.  Ridge considers Lytton Springs to be their other “twin tower” of their Zinfandel collection, and it really was a beautiful complement to the Geyserville.  It tasted much more fruity, and while it was so young, it was very nice!  Lytton Springs is very different in character to the Geyserville, and I can see enjoying the Lytton Springs Zinfandel with braised pork chops or a Caprese salad with beefy heirloom tomatoes and luscious mozzarella.  [Oh dear, I’m getting hungrier as I write this.]

Cabernet Sauvignon

Now for what many consider to be Ridge’s crown jewel: their Cabs.  This portion of the tasting included three vintages of the Santa Cruz Mountain Estates Cabernet.  The 2007 is en route to be released this Spring, and this first taste gave a great sneak peek into what I could expect from older vintages.  This is a cab that will hold up very nicely to traditional food, but it certainly needs time in the bottle.  My next taste was the 2006, the current vintage that is available in markets right now.  It was definitely more mellow and I couldn’t help but imagine a perfectly grilled, meaty portobello mushroom, perhaps with blue cheese. However, the big surprise was our tasting of the 2005, a sold out vintage,  and I couldn’t help but think, Wow, this is fantastic! It was dry but bright, and I envisioned a lovely dinner party with friends over prime rib or a succulent leg of lamb.  The progression of tastings from 2007 to 2005 really allowed me to see the promise of the 2007 that will be released next month.

Time in a Bottle

Finally, it was time for the Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon, the crown jewel of Ridge.  We had the rare treat of a barrel sample of the 2008 Monte Bello, which is en route to bottling and scheduled for release in March 2011.  This wine is most definitely young, but oh my, I could already imagine how wonderful it will taste in seven years.  In general, the Monte Bello is a much more serious Cab than the Santa Cruz Mountain Estates.  It is the type of Cab that you can most certainly enjoy on its own or for those special occasions.

The Monte Bello tasting was most impressive, starting with the 2008 barrel sample, tasting each year down to 2003.  To smell, feel and taste the wine mature with each glass was most enlightening and such an educative wine experience.  And to also experience the nuances between so many vintages was incredible.  In particular, there were huge differences between the 2006, 2005 and 2004 vintages, where the 2005 was practically polar opposites to its surrounding years.  Robert Parker raved about the 2005 vintage, but I have to admit that it was not my cup of tea (or glass of wine, rather).  I think that of all the Monte Bello Cabs we tasted, my absolute favorites were the 2006 and the 2003.  They were so classic and had such a beautiful complexity to them. In a word, they were: perfect.

Regardless of vintage, Monte Bello Cabs would be lovely with that roasted Thanksgiving turkey, but I think it would also be fantastic with a thick Kobe beef burger, topped with sautéed mushrooms and a spicy cheese, and a side of crispy sweet potato fries.

In case you were wondering, the 2007 Monte Bello will be offered initially to Ridge Futures Members, then to the general public this fall.

The grand finale of the day’s tasting was the 1996 Monte Bello they pulled out as their last treat of the day (as if we haven’t had enough!).  It truly was the pinnacle of the tasting, and had all the wonderful characteristics of the classic Monte Bello, but with the perfection and maturity that only time can provide.  For me, this was just a perfect way to end my morning at Ridge.  It is also what I need to keep in mind the next time I am tempted to open a bottle of wine that I know would be well served to stay corked longer.

Two Hours Later…

When the tasting was complete, this was the resulting line up.  It was most impressive. Go ahead, count ’em. That’s 17 bottles. Seventeen! Wait, it’s actually 18 bottles!  My line up is missing the 1996 Montebello! [Thanks to fellow taster Iron Chevsky for catching that omission!]

It was perhaps the most ambitious tasting I have ever experienced, and certainly one of the most memorable.  My taste buds were so fatigued at the end, but I can’t even tell you how much I loved learning so much about one of my favorite wineries. It opened up my eyes to some of their wines I have not yet encountered until now, and reaffirmed my love for the wines I already know are phenomenal.

As for my favorite Ridge wine, I promise to reveal that soon. In the meantime, here are my top choices from this incredible tasting:

Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Monte Bello

2003 Monte Bello

2006 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate

Zinfandel

2007 Geyserville

Chardonnay

2008 Jimsomare

I hope you get a chance to try these wines and enjoy them as much as I did!  If you’re curious to see how my experience compared to the other bloggers in attendance, you can check them out at:

WineBookGirl

Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara Valley Wines

The Iron Chevsky Wine Blog

Luscious Lushes

Barton Orchard

Comments

  1. merry jennifer

    What a fabulous post! Looks like you had an amazing time. I also love Ridge. I haven’t tasted many of the more high end of their wines, but I like the Ponzo Vineyard zinfandel a lot. Congrats on getting to attend this event, and even more congrats on a beautiful write-up of the experience and the wines.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Thank you! I really did have an amazing time. For me, it was certainly a rare opportunity and a wonderful chance to try the higher end wines. My approach in the write up will surely be different from the other bloggers there, but I can’t help but think about food and pairings rather than points! Glad you liked it :)

    • Liren

      Don’t be, when you come out, you will enjoy some fantastic Ridge and a delicious dinner, too.

  2. Holly

    Awesome post! I loved that it wasn’t a pretentious write up for wine. Your suggested pairings were fantastic and came across as very doable. I’m sold on trying some of this wine if I can find it. Thank you!!

    Reply
    • kitchenworthy

      Hi Holly, thank you so much – I’m really glad you liked it. I hope you are able to find some Ridge to try, it really is such a fantastic winery with top notch wines. I feel like you can’t go wrong with almost any of them.

  3. Dave Tong

    You nailed the shot of the bottles beautifully. Nice job. I wanted something similar, but I’m working with a new camera and haven’t got the hang of its macro focus yet.
    Nice write-up – an alternative perspective is always good.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by! Glad you liked the photo — it always takes a while to get used to a new camera, but you did capture some great shots, too. Glad you liked the write up — I know it’s not a traditional wine review, but it’s the way I know best!

  4. Sasha

    What a fabulous post – you have such an amazing knowledge and writing style to detail the winery and wines you tasted. Lovely. I really enjoyed your post and your blog!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Sasha, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post — it was fun to write. I’m glad I took lots of notes during the tasting, there’s no way I would have remembered it all!

    • Liren

      Thanks, Debi! I really wanted to convey the full experience, through words and photos. I still can’t believe the line up when I look at that picture of all the bottles!

  5. Stephanie G.

    Thank you for introducing us to a wine that I’ve never heard of! I can’t wait to search it out and try it sometime. Great write-up :)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Stephanie! Nothing makes me happier than to introduce others to Ridge. Hope you try it sometime and let me know what you think!

    • Liren

      I haven’t yet been to the Lytton Springs tasting room — it’s on my list of stops when my sister comes out this summer — she wants to go tasting while she’s here! Can’t wait!

  6. denise @ quickies on the dinner table

    Jealous does not begin to describe what I’m feeling, reading this! Glad you had a wonderful time – wish it had been me though LOL I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting Ridge wines but hope that will change soon. Beautiful photography and a fantastic read!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Aw, don’t be jealous! I sometimes feel the same way when I read about ingredients such as pandan, and fresh tuna from the Maldives ;) LOL. Seriously though, I hope you get to try Ridge soon, because I know you’ll make something perfect to go along with it!

  7. Marilyn

    Loved this post, just discovered your blog. It is so interesting, will look forward to reading more! Am not familiar with this Vinyard but will look for it now. Thank you for such a easy to read and very informative review.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi, Marilyn and welcome! I’m so glad you discovered my blog and enjoyed this post. That really means so much to me! Thank you :)

    • Liren

      You’re right, sometimes the best things just happen! Like…your recipe making the final five at Baconfest Chicago! So awesome :) Good luck!

    • Liren

      Zinfandels are special, but to have the opportunity to be in Paris and explore French wines sounds fabulous! Enjoy the vin! Salut!

  8. Laura

    Well look who made the Top 9 again! Great, great post that totally makes me want to go peruse the wine aisles!

    I’ve nominated you for an award on my blog. I hope you’ll swing on by SoCal and check it out. Also, I noticed you just received this same award not too long ago… aren’t you popular :) I think you’re totally exempt from passing it along to another dozen bloggers, unless you want to!

    Have a great day,
    -Laura :)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Laura, you made my day! Thank you so much – I’m so glad to have crossed paths with you on this blogging adventure — I never imagined it would be this fun or that I would have met such a great community of like-minded foodies!

  9. Josie

    My word woman – that is a lot of wine! I don’t often lust after living in California, but that sounds like the most wonderful day. I need to convince my boyfriend to do a California wine trip one of these days.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Oh, you must drag the BF for a California wine trip! He would love it. It was certainly a lot of wine…such a shame I couldn’t really linger and “enjoy” it all!

    • Liren

      Hi Nam, yes, the grounds are very pretty with such a nice view. I would love to go back to leisurely enjoy a picnic with some good wine. I haven’t tried the Carignane — I’ll have to seek that one out soon!

  10. Spicy Green Mango

    Liren-

    I love your write-up and non-traditional approach to describing wine and your preferred pairing. I never quite understood the wine jargon, but like you, I know what I like and what will probably taste great with it!

    Such great writing..you are lovely!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Thank you so, so much — I decided that I had to write about it in the way I know best, and I’m so glad so many people could identify with my experience and approach. I think there are so many people who are like us, who have a very strong idea of what we enjoy in a wine, but the world of wine can be a tad intimidating, especially when you’re first starting out. I remember my very first “formal” tasting years ago when we first moved to California, and it was so enlightening that it took away a lot of the mystique. I think it’s just important to enjoy the wine and to follow your gut!

    • Liren

      Thanks for stopping by, Drew! Glad to know there are more Ridge fans out there and that you enjoyed the post!

  11. Beth

    LOVE this post!! I adore Ridge and they’re often my go-to at the shop for a no-fail excellent wine. Thanks for such a thorough post and a view inside the gates of my favorite winery!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Thank you so much, Beth! I am so pleased you loved the post. And I agree — when in doubt, buy a Ridge; it is hard to go wrong.

  12. Stacie D

    The setting at Ridge is so magnificent. My husband and I love going there and enjoy their wine. Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Stacie, thank you so much – I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

    • Liren

      Hi Gary, thanks for stopping by. Thanks for catching that omission — my picture of the line up is missing the 1996 Monte Bello! I’ve edited my post. Your words mean a lot, I’m pleased that you liked my approach to the write up, and my blog as well. Look forward to seeing you at the next tasting!

  13. Saucy Seasonal Chef

    Ridge Wine…is the BEST! This must have been such an incredible experience. Their consistency to me is what is really the most striking. Great read!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi! Glad to hear from another Ridge fan. Yes, their consistency is absolutely remarkable – there really isn’t a Ridge I dislike. And when you drink a Ridge, you KNOW it’s a Ridge.

  14. Plate and Pour

    What a fabulous experience, thanks for sharing! I first visited Ridge early this year during a trip to Sonoma. Ridge is the winery that made this Cab-lovin’ girl fall in love with Zins.

    Reply
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