But I recognize the Ridge Cabernets, grown at the estate Monte Bello Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, have a devout following. For me, the best of them are all about warm years versus cooler ones. I have the same attitude toward Merry Edwards' Pinot Noirs, and those from Gary Farrell, particularly when he was the winemaker at his namesake winery. The warmer-year versions from these wineries have more flesh and flavor.
I also like the Monte Bello reds from the warmer years and found a nice bottle the other day in a regular blind tasting. It's the 2008 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon bottling, which is a Cabernet-based blend made from grapes in the Monte Bello vineyard, but less expensive than the flagship Monte Bello label. Still, the 2008 is the most impressive bottling of this wine I can recall. (In previous vintages, this wine was labeled the "Ridge Estate Santa Cruz Mountains.")
Monte Bello is in one of the coolest areas in California to grow Cabernet, an area so marginal that ripening is often challenging in milder years. The climate is why Chardonnay does so well there. In some vintages, the Cabernets are declassified because they don't make the grade. Most of the time, that's due to underripeness.
Most grape experts don't advise growing Cabernet in areas like this. They warn that in many years the vines won't get sufficient warmth to ripen this late-ripening grape. But Ridge never went by the book. The founders inherited the vineyard and stuck with it. It has served them well.
The Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($40, with 4,500 cases produced) exhibits the signs of cool-climate Cabernet, with herb, dill, dried berry, loamy earth, tobacco leaf and mineral. It's medium- to full-bodied, very complete and well-balanced, ending with a dash of cherry and berry.
I'd highly recommend it for those unfamiliar with Ridge, or cooler-climate Cabernets. At $40, it's a third of what the Monte Bello bottling costs (the 2007 Monte Bello, rated 92 points, sells for $145) and a wine you can buy by the case and cellar. I liked it better than the 2007 version. This youngster should drink well for a decade or more. Looking forward to the 2008 Monte Bello as well.