Thursday, July 29, 2010

Food Night Field Trip - Ridge

If you missed Part 1 of Food Night Field Trip, please click here. Otherwise, we resume our narrative from…

MONTE BELLO ROAD, CUPERTINO, CA – After Tyler Durden collected Alex and I from SFO at about midnight local time on Thursday, we retired to our palatial accommodations at La Quinta Inn. After circumnavigating the building and not finding one available parking spot, we thumbed our noses at a “Denny’s Parking Only” sign, and matriculated up to our room. We needed to rest up for our journey south the next morning to…

That’s right. We had a 10am appointment at Ridge for a little Monte Bello tasting! And hey, that's Noon Central Standard Time, so... stop freaking out. I’m sure you recall that the 2001 Ridge Monte Bello was one of THE best wines we have had at Food Night. Hence, we were pretty stoked for this initial tasting.

On our way up the mountain, we noticed lots and lots of signs indicating multiple consecutive and DRASTIC changes in direction, and couldn’t help but think…

… if there happened to be a truck of any consequence heading down the mountain as we were heading UP the mountain... well, our zippy li'l Jetta would be on the losing end of that equation. The end result of said equation would be us going from an elevation of 2300 feet (where the Monte Bello vineyards reside… yeah… they are way up there) to the bottom of the mountain in an entirely unacceptable manner.

We later learned that there are “procedures” in place for when the large trucks that ferry the grapes/juice/whatever to and fro are present on the mountain. A wise policy to be sure.

Once at Ridge, we were greeted by the extremely affable* Christopher Watkins who took us on a tasting tour that began with one of the best domestic Chardonnays we’ve had… the 2007 Monte Bello Chardonnay. Very Burgundian, fresh and lively, beautifully balanced acidity and fruit, this Chardonnay certainly lives up to its pedigree as a wine from Monte Bello.

* From the Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary... "Affable (adjective); being pleasant and at ease in talking to others". Bang. That was Christopher. In such a potentially snobby situation, where too many people seem to want to engage in a verbal wine-wits war, Christopher's vibe couldn't have been more on point. Relaxed, chill, yet extremely informative. So refreshing.

After that delicious Chardonnay, we tasted through a handful of very delightful zinfandel blends. Included here was the 2008 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel…

This blend included 10% Alicante Bouchet, which is not a grape I had heard of before. The resulting wine was very autumnal in nature I thought, with beautiful spice aromas, yet still young, fresh and almost Sangiovese-esque maybe? But what do I know. Regardless, it was really cool stuff.

We concluded the tasting with not one but TWO Monte Bellos. And since I was the dumb kid in the room, I decided to ask Christopher “What exactly IS Monte Bello?”

Is Monte Bello a road?

Is Monte Bello a wine so uber-deece and massive and unctuous and broodingly brilliant that it will only fit in large format bottles?

Is Monte Bello a place William the Conqueror visited on vacation in 1066* after the Norman Conquest?

* We all noticed the "EST 1066" part of the above sign outside the Tasting Room at Ridge and thought... um... not much was established here in "California" in the year 1066. So I decided to pose this conundrum to the Ridge website after we got home, and I got the following explanation; "The principal writer and marketer at Ridge in the early days was a Stanford classmate of Paul Draper (Ridge's winemaker), and a philosophy, literature, and history major. The humor in those days popped up in all sorts of ways. For many years, that 1066 portion of the sign was actually turned backwards. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms didn't find it funny and declared it to be false advertising. No sense of humor. Just in the last year or two, it made a reappearance, signifying that the feds aren't paying attention anymore, or someone explained the joke." Classic, no?!

Apparently, Monte Bello is both a “property” and a “vineyard designation”. The wines from this location focus on terroir – vineyard specific characteristics that express themselves effortlessly in these stunningly beautiful wines. First we tasted the 2007, and then a 375ml bottle of the 1995 Monte Bello.

The 07 had a preposterous nose to it… singular. Almost Paulliac-like in nature, with hints of graphite/pencil lead, it screamed sophistication and elegance. And the 1995 was gorgeous, almost like a distinguished gentleman sitting comfortably in his recliner knowing full well the breadth and depth of his well constructed existence, yet completely friendly and accessible. Like a wise uncle, perhaps. The bouquet on the 1995 hinted that this was not a recent vintage, and the palate revealed a wine well within it’s prime. An absolute gem.

So there you go! Ridge Monte Bello Tasting - that just happened!! We would like to send our thanks to Chris Griese at World Class Wines for coordinating this tasting for us, and of course to Christopher Watkins for sharing and discussing these beautiful wines with us, and for starting off our wine sojourn on such and enjoyable note.

Oh wait, one more little ditty before we conclude the Ridge chapter of Food Night Field Trip. While we discussed wine as it relates to food, and wine as a food accompaniment, Christopher gave us the gem that “Some wines come alive via culinary juxtaposition”. How beautiful is that?! And how true. Well said, sir. You can get more excellent wordsmithing from Christopher via Ridge’s blog.

And so with this memorable experience under our belts, we descended the mountain’s hairpin turns, hoping subsequent tastings could rival a bar set this high. 2300 feet high, to be exact.

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