Although my wine preferences are largely Europhilic — my favorite reds come from Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Rhone and Loire Valleys — I’ve always enjoyed the wines I’ve had from Ridge.
While I’m not the biggest fan of Zinfandel or Chardonnay, I’ve found Ridge’s Monte Bello Cabernets are always compelling. And one of my most memorable wine experiences remains a 1975 York Creek Petite Sirah I tasted just a few years ago. Until very recently, however, that Petite Sirah was the only Ridge wine I had with adequate age.
The Ridge I’ve had have always been marked by the “Draper perfume” — a vivid, sweet vanilla and oak scent that I’ve always been told will integrate with time. These wines have been young, of course, and there’s always been enough rich fruit to balance the oak.
I recently had the opportunity to explore various wines from Ridge with more than 20 years of age — including many from Monte Bello — and they were absolutely thrilling. Without question, older wines from Ridge can provide a sensory experience that can rival some of the best wines from Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone.
While that “Draper perfume” was still noticeable in a number of the older wines, it seemed far more restrained and better integrated with the countless nuances that had developed in bottle.
What was most striking, though, was the consistency in the wines across a range of vintages.
One buying axiom in Burgundy and the Rhone is to always focus on great producers rather than great vintages. With Ridge, the same is obviously true. For example, I approached the 1985 Monte Bello with high expectations, as it’s been praised by many. It lived up to expectations, but I was blown away by the bottles from less-heralded years, like the 1989 Monte Bello and the 1992 Mataro from Evangelo Vineyard.
Clearly, patience is necessary with Ridge. While the younger wines are very appealing and fun to drink, a couple of decades — or more, especially for the Petite Sirah — in the cellar can lead to so much more elegance, complexity and depth.
Tasting notes follow below the fold.
1985 Ridge Monte Bello
Superb; impeccably balanced, so polished and texturally refined, and drinking so well right now. It has a rather high toned minty/herbal fragrance leading into a palate full of ripe red and dark fruit that’s framed by more savoury earthy, vanilla and cedary elements, and it’s at the stage where the flavours and structural elements all seem to come into a single, seamless whole.
1988 Ridge Monte Bello
First bottle was corked, second bottle was a beautiful Monte Bello that’s drinking superbly right now. Elegant, refined, full of ripe red and dark fruit seasoned by cedar, herbs and more savoury, developed earthy flavours. Very polished and graceful on the palate with the tannins mostly integrated, and finishing with good length.
1989 Ridge Monte Bello
Comes across perfectly mature with the tannins fully integrated and a remarkably polished, finessed texture. There’s still plenty of richness and vibrancy to the ripe red and dark fruited flavours, and they’re framed by layers of developed cedary, tobacco and other savoury elements. This is drinking stunningly well right now.
1991 Ridge Geyserville
The first impressions are all youthful fruit, it shows a core of brambly red fruit initially that still feels very fresh and ripe, but with air accents of leather, smoke, vanilla and higher toned spicy elements develop around the fruit as it becomes much more aromatically complex. The balance here is excellent, it’s certainly quite ripe but there’s also a fair bit of acidity and some grainy tannin on the back end, and this is a really lovely wine to drink now though it seems to have the fruit and structure to age a while longer.
1990 Ridge Petite Sirah York Creek
I’ve had freshly released Bordeaux that showed more development and less structure than this. This is absurdly young with a core of very fresh dark fruited flavours tinged with oak spice and earth, and a fair amount of tannin on the back end. The balance is excellent though, but I wonder just how long this really needs before the structure integrates and the flavours start to develop into something more mature and savoury.
1992 Ridge Mataro Evangelo Vineyard
An absolutely stunning bottle of Mataro (Mourvedre); a seamless combination of ripe red and dark fruited flavours, touches of oak spice and mature leathery and savoury earthy flavours all coming together on a fragrant, polished, medium weight frame. It’s certainly ripe and showing its Californian roots, but the balance is impeccable and it’s drinking superbly now even though the fruit, acidity and balance suggest there’s plenty of time ahead here.