We left Cambria about 9 am for the 3-hour drive to Cupertino. Route 46 is the connector from the Pacific Coast Highway to Highway 101 and the scenery is stunning. The Santa Lucia Range (about 1500 ft elevation) serves up spectacular views of rolling hills all the way back to Morro Bay. Most impressive.
Our stop in Cupertino was simply to pick up lunch at O.G. Sliders Organic Food and Gourmet Burgers . . . on our way to Ridge Vineyards at Monte Bello. Ridge is situated at the very top of a limestone mountain between Cupertino and Santa Cruz. The drive up the winding mountain road will require your undivided attention; but the facility, the wines and the views were some of the highlights of road trip thus far. That vineyard view below has San Jose in the background.
While Ridge’s brand recognition may be built around their Zinfandel offerings (Lytton Springs, Geyserville, Pagani Ranch, et.al.), their reputation for excellence and ageability rests with their Bordeaux blend called Monte Bello. The 90-minute “Estate Tasting” began with a vineyard walk and a discussion of the history & geology of the mountain site. While the majority of the vines date from the late ‘60s forward, there remain a few old-timers: the photo on the left is of a Cabernet Sauvignon vine planted in 1949 . . . and still productive today.
The vineyard tour was followed by a sit down tasting of 5 Ridge wines: Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Torre Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Monte Bello. I was given the chance to taste the 1988 and 2004 Monte Bello, in addition to the recent 2011 release. I was struck by how the 1988 had the aroma of aged Bordeaux, yet remained lively and fresh, with bright red fruit amid hints of sage and mushroom on the nose. The 2011 Torre Merlot was also very impressive for its power and smokey, dark fruit, even with low alcohol (12.7%); absent was the jammy finish often attributed to California Merlot. The Estate Chardonnay was well made, but a bit oaky for my tastes. The Zin continues to deliver high quality for the money, vintage after vintage.
The key takeaway for me was how different Monte Bello is from a Napa Valley Bordeaux Blend. Both are typically Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant, with some Merlot, Cab Franc and Petite Verdot rounding out the blend. But Monte Bello’s pedigree of cool climate (avg. 2500’ elevation), long, slow, ambient yeast fermentations, and limestone subsoil is differentiating. Perhaps this is why Monte Bello bested most of the French Bordeaux in the famous Judgment of Paris blind tasting in 1976 and ranked No. 1 in the reenactment of that tasting in 2006. If you have the patience to wait 15+ years, Monte Bello can deliver Bordeaux First Growth quality at a fraction of the cost!
After the tasting, Trish expertly navigated down the mountain road and we spent the night at the Nikko Hotel in San Francisco. Dinner at the Slanted Door (Vietnamese) was excellent and highly recommended for its food, wine and service. Tomorrow: Sonoma Valley.
Note about Day 2: Rather than go to Cambria to spend the night, if you have not been to Paso Robles, then I suggest you spend the night there at the exquisite Hotel Cheval. Have dinner that night at the Artisan Restaurant, and visit the following wineries in the Paso area: Tablas Creek, Adelaida and L’Aventure.