This was a really cracking dinner. A motley true of mostly die-hard Zucca-ites gathered to taste (drink!) through a lovely array of Ridge Monte Bello and one other treat all provided by our splendidly generous host – Mr Ross! I also have to say many of the facts and background on Ridge and the wines below was also courtesy of the very same man.

John, one of Sam’s chefs at Zucca produced a great menu which included many old school Zucca (or Malting’s for those that remember) classics.

Vitello Tonnato
Tropea Onions, Burrata, Hazelnuts & Basil
Mushroom and Castelmagno Frittata
Grilled Sirloin, Bagna Cauda & Celery
Spinach, Stichelton & Walnut Lasagna
Pappardelle, Pigs Cheek Ragu
Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder
Bobby beans, Anchovy and Tomato with Yellow Polenta and Salsa Verde
Marmalad Tart, Sourdough Ice Cream

Now to the wines:

Monte Bello is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, at an elevation of 2300 feet, on the Monte Bello ridge. The first wines were grown here in 1892 but it was when a group of Stanford University students bought the land in 1959 that the serious winemaking started. 1962 was the first vintage of Monte Bello. Paul Draper, former Decanter “Man of the Year” and greatly respected winemaker, joined in 1969. The defining elements of the site/wine are that it is made at serious altitude, from Bordeaux grapes, on a limestone-based soil from low-yielding vines by one of the greatest wine-makers there is. It’s the sort of combination that works.

We started the evening with 2009 Estate Chardonnay as an aperitif. There was no Monte Bello Chardonnay in 2009 so all the fruit went into Estate bottling. The main reason for this was that drought early during vintage then late spring rains so yields were just too low to make both Monte Bello and Estate Chardonnay. There is a savoury edge to the wine that doesn’t entirely match the quite high octane Californian Chardonnay nose and slightly sweet palate. I didn’t mind the wine but nor did it excited me. Better with food though. 15.5-16

Then onto the business of the reds which were served in pairs:

2005 Monte Bello – 70% Cab Sauv, 22% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 2% Cab Fr. 13.4%. The Lowest yields in 10 years due to rain and wind. The vintage as a whole was saved by a warm summer. A mellow cassis nose with tannins on the palate that are a touch grainy. The fruit character is a little sharp but fresh and bright. Good to enjoy now and will keep. Given the trickiness of the vintage this is good. 16-16.5

2001 Monte Bello the 40th Anniversary Vintage – 56% Cab Sauv, 36% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot. 14.2%. A cool and rainy vintage. Early spring gave moderate heat then hot spikes, which helped Merlot followed. Quite muted on the nose in a serious sort of way, lots of depth and complexity, multifaceted. It demands more time. Definitely black fruit but a very complex combination of different types. Long. 18  

Tropea Onions, Burrata, Hazelnuts & Basil

1997 Monte Bello – 85% Cab Sauv, 8% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 3% Cabernet Franc. 12.9%. The growing season started badly with a very rainy winter, ultimately saved by long, mild spring. Overall the earliest vintage since 1962. All in all a tricky vintage. A slightly degraded wine in a sort of “Mitjavile” style. There is a opulence there but nicely counter balanced by the saline side. It has a quite lush texture, good to enjoy now. 17 

1996 Monte Bello – 80% Cab Sauv, 11% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot. 13.2%. 
A very stormy year with 40% less production. Interestingly Paul Draper feels this is one of the best of the ‘90s. I was impressed, has a nice gritty grip, poised with good focus and more clarity than the 1997. A young wine even now but not overly tight. A little way to go to its peak, very promising. 18
1992 Monte Bello – 80% Cab Sauv, 11% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot. 13.4%. Good weather and a quite rare “bumper” crop which therefore lead to a savage selection (40%). This caused quite a stir at the table as it was served with the 1991. Both wines are very impressive. There is a quite saline, seaweed “stink” that disappeared with one swirl of the glass…then there was a purity of fruit with a real lift, good acidity, very fine, something about it reminded me of the 1996. Serious but very easy to enjoy as well. 18.5
1991 Monte Bello – 85% Cab Sauv, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. 13.1%. Pretty much “drought” which was then followed by lots of rain. Another large yield and an even more strict selection required (50%). Very fine. Where the 1992 reminded me of the 1996 this reminds me of the 2001. Just love the texture which is a way of saying it’s bloody good but I don’t quite have the words to say why. It just works and makes you smile. On the savoury side too may be. It’s NOT a competition but just shaded the 1992 on this night. 18.75-19 

John and the Lamb Shoulder

1985 Monte Bello – Not totally sure of blend but very high Cab Sauv. 13.1%. A hot year with very ripe fruit so strict selection (45%) for different reasons than above. Merlot was little used as it was on the “flabby” side. There is fully maturity here, soy and asian spice, lean but lovely with herbs and cedar. Very good, very complete. 18.25

1981 Monte Bello – 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot. 12%. A good vintage which Paul Draper says, even today, is one of the most ‘Bordeaux’ like wines made at Ridge. This bottle was good, fully mature, may be a tad over mature but with a saline quality and a precise acidity that kept it lively and enjoyable. 17

We did have one other Ridge wine which Mark kindly opened for us – Geyserville Zinfandel 1992 – which was very generous and fascinating. It was though, sadly, on the vegetal side and a little like jam that wasn’t sweet. Colour still good and I am sure that there is  case for letting Zinfandel from this great team “mellow” but may be 22 years is beyond mellow? who knows?

We weren’t, however, fully done for quality wines.

1905 Verdelho, d’Oliveira – This was stunning. I have always loved Madeira and I am going out there in September, this made me even more excited about that prospect. If I had to use three words for this (and I don’t it’s just that I don’t have the words to describe Madeira fairly) they would be – Salty, dates, acidity – now for those that read my ramblings a bit they will realise why, for me that Combination really works…

I left, we all left, with smiles on faces and happily full bellies…can’t ask more than that. Well done Zucca, well done Mr Draper and Thank you Mr Ross