Ridge Vineyards & Berkmann Wine Cellars host vertical tasting of Monte Bello to celebrate 60th anniversary
Having organised a similar event on a smaller scale in New York earlier this month, head winemaker & chief operating officer John Olney and senior vice president of vineyard operations David Gates flew to London to host this once-in-a-lifetime tasting, which was the grand finale of the anniversary celebrations.
The tasting featured twenty vintages of Monte Bello from the past six decades, including 1985, 1977 and 1964. Separated into two flights of odd- and even-numbered vintages, the wines were organised chronologically from youngest to oldest, eloquently painting two pictures of Monte Bello’s rich 60-year history.
The tasting comprehensively demonstrated the longevity and balance for which Monte Bello is renowned. While the 2019 vintage showed delightful youthful fruit, the wines from 2018, 2016 and 2014 were closed and brooding despite being double-decanted. Eschewing the trend towards early appeal, these wines exuded raw potential, the realisation of which was foreshadowed by the older wines in the line-up. 2011 and 2008 are already open and enjoyable, while tasters reserved particular praise for the bright, vigorous 1999 and the perfectly poised 1996. The wines from the 70s and 80s, all served from magnum, revealed great delicacy, charm and sweet perfume within a fully resolved structure, while the 1964, though fragile now, retains a touch of fruit and still showed fine balance.
In an era when California is routinely associated with higher-alcohol wines, it is notable that only one vintage of Monte Bello – 2001 – has ever exceeded 14%. The graph below shows that the increase over the last 40 years is minimal, and in part explains the consistency in structure and freshness from those early vintages to the present day. This contrasts markedly with overall trends in premium California (and beyond), confirming that stylistic choice is the principal driver of increasing ripeness. Paul Draper, Ridge’s chief winemaker from 1969 to 2016, has created and maintained an enduring vision of how best to express the remarkable Monte Bello vineyard; this historic tasting was testament to that vision.
John Olney writes, “for the past six decades, we have searched California for those unique sites where soil and climate come together to produce fine wine. These wines have been made using ‘pre-industrial’, traditional techniques with the belief that wines from exceptional terroir do not need modern additives or processing. Our first export shipment to the UK was the 1971 Monte Bello to Averys in 1973. Fifty years later, the UK remains our largest and most important international market.”
Alex Hunt MW, purchasing director of Berkmann Wine Cellars writes “Monte Bello is perhaps the most successfully contrary wine in the world. Grown outside the Napa bubble, unrepentant in its use of American oak, unswayed by the fetish for physiological ripeness and steadfastly unapproachable in youth, it bucks pretty much every trend of the last 30 years. Yet by staying true to a simple premise – the nuanced expression of an excellent site which gains depth and complexity over time – it has won generations of loyal fans. To resist trends takes sustained conviction and unwavering quality. The result, however, speaks for itself, and we were privileged to offer a retrospective of a timeless classic through the vertical tasting and masterclass.”
Never before have so many vintages of this iconic wine been presented at a trade tasting. It was a fitting celebration to honour and bring to life the story of one of the world’s most distinguished wineries.