By Caroline Conner
Although I am originally from California, my wine education has taken place in the UK, and as such I’ve always felt like I haven’t been familiar enough with the wines from my home state. During my holiday I had the pleasure of tasting some truly great Californian wines, Cabs from the 70s and 80s, and a flight of wines from Ridge Vineyards among others and some great meals!
I met up with former Bibendum buyer Tim Marson MW, for lunch at Chez Panisse, the famous Berkeley restaurant known for pioneering the local organic movement in California. We then travelled down the peninsula to my house where we convinced my dad to let us taste some of his old Cabernets! We rooted around and found a bottle of 78 Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, 79 Joseph Phelps Insignia, and a bottle of 84 Diamond Creek. With all of these I was struck by the quality of their structure, these wines were made for ageing, with plenty of fruit, strong acidity and high quality, fine tannins.
Later in the week I attended the famous Wine Spectator ‘Bring Your Own Magnum’ event at TraVigne restaurant in Napa. Packed with the crème de la crème of the Napa wine scene, as well as top players in the wine business throughout the states, it was a spectacular event. Basically, everyone brings a magnum and then they are all placed on tables throughout the party, and you can go and taste everything! I met some great people, including Shari and Garen Staglin, of Staglin Family Vineyard, one of Bibendum’s fine wine producers, whose wines will be at Bibendum’s America’s Most Wanted tasting on Tuesday 21 June.
The highlight of my trip was certainly my wonderful excursion to Ridge Vineyards. Nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Ridge is a whole different kettle of fish from the vineyards of Napa. After driving up a treacherous, winding road, up a mountain, we reached Monte Bello, the home of Ridge.
Our tour of the vineyard took us through some of the gnarled old vines and gave us the most spectacular views from the top of the mountains. Our guide Amy gave us the history and philosophy of Ridge, originally planted in 1885, and then bought in 1960 by engineers from Stanford University. Winemaker Paul Draper came onboard in 1969, emphasizing sustainable practices and a natural approach to vinification. Their top terroir, wine from the Monte Bello vineyard won top marks in the Judgement of Paris, and this Cabernet dominated wine is famous around the world for its sophistication and quality.
Back in the tasting room, we tried the following:
2009 Chardonnay – toasty oak, luscious, lemony and zingy
2009 Geyserville – 70% Zinfandel, juicy raspberry, mint chocolate, bold and sweet fruit, fine tannins, one for ageing
2006 Lytton Estate Syrah – perfumed, blackberry, peppery, delicious
2007 Monte Bello – blackberries, very fine tannins, loads of acidity, bit smoky, very young
1995 Monte Bello – persistent fruit, with earthiness from age, tobacco, velvety tannins, great acidity, liquorice finish
Everything we tasted was seriously impressive, with such a high quality of fruit, sophisticated structure and absolute deliciousness. The folks at Ridge were incredibly hospitable, and we had an absolutely wonderful time. I would recommend visiting (and buying!) Ridge Vineyards to everyone, even though it is off the Napa wine trail, it is an extremely special place with wonderful people and top wines. I know I’ll be back when I next visit my family in California!
Visiting California soon, check out some of previous travel posts on on the region -