Ridge Monte Bello has continued to shine brightly since its famous victory over Bordeaux at the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting. Below, William Kelley tastes and rates vintages to look out for, including the rather special 2013 wine. Copy by Chris Mercer and Stephen Brook, and tasting notes by William Kelley.
Ridge Monte Bello has been a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blend since 1975, also including the classic Bordeaux varieties of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.
It was originally a pure Cabernet wine, and the name cemented its rank among California wine royalty when the 1971 vintage beat top Bordeaux in the now-famous 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting. Monte Bello is made high up in the Santa Cruz mountains at up to 850 metres above sea level.
Read more about Monte Bello history, winemaking and terroir below the wine reviews.
For premium members: Ridge Monte Bello wines to try
All tasting notes and scores by William Kelley.
Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet was already beating a path in the 1960s.
It was the 1971 Monte Bello that won in Paris, two years after the now renowned Paul Draper joined as a philosophy graduate-turned winemaker.
Yet, Ridge Vineyards was born in 1885 when Italian immigrant doctor Osea Perrone bought 180 acres of land on Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
He built a winery and in 1892 produced the first vintage of a wine named ‘Ridge Monte Bello’.
The property was later abandoned and Cabernet wasn’t planted there until after the Second World War, when a group of Stanford research engineers began producing Monte Bello Cabernet.
They replanted the Monte Bello terraces and were making 3,000 cases of Cab per year by the time Draper arrived in 1969.
Draper has since become one of the best known ambassadors for California wine and his non-interventionist and more ‘Old World’ oriented approach is interwoven with the Ridge Monte Bello style.
Ridge Monte Bello terroir
Words below by Stephen Brook, Decanter magazine, 2016.
With vines at between 400m and 800m, the Monte Bello vineyard is, according to Draper, one of the highest and coolest Cabernet Sauvignon sites in California.
The soil is decomposing Franciscan greenstone mixed with clay over a subsoil of 100-million-year old limestone, which is very rare in California. The average age of the vines is more than 30 years and yields do not exceed 30hl/ha.
Elevation keeps the site free of sea fogs, but the ocean is just 24km to the west so the vines still benefit from maritime influence.
The climate is as cool as Bordeaux, but much drier in summer, and its imprint on the Cabernet from here is relatively high acidity and a taut structure that requires bottle age to show at its best.
Draper finds a short maceration necessary to avoid over-extraction of tough tannins, which typically means racking off the skins at between 1% and 4% residual sugar. The fermentation then continues to dryness.
The blend is made up soon after the malolactic fermentation is completed and between 10% and 20% press wine is added.
Monte Bello differs from other prestigious Californian Cabernets in being aged primarily in new, air-dried American oak, as Draper has always wanted to avoid making a wine that could be regarded as an imitation claret [for all his traditional leanings].