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The Pleasures of Cool-Climate Cabernet

Ridge Vineyards proves that Cabernet can thrive in unlikely places
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 8, 2011 7:00am ET

Most Ridge fans are red heads, choosing the winery's Cabernets, Zinfandels or both. I'm in the minority camp. My favorite Ridge wines are the Chardonnays.

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.

Gloria Maroti
NY, NY —  June 8, 2011 11:39am ET
For readers who want to learn more about Paul Draper and Ridge, here are a couple videos Wine Spectator shot with Paul at his winery: http://bitly.com/RidgeCabernet
Chris A Elerick
Orlando, FL —  June 8, 2011 6:15pm ET

I had the '73 Monte Bello at Bern's Steak House this month, and it was top 3 most profound wines I've ever had! Perhaps the cooler climate translates to higher acidity and firmer tannins that bode well for aging.
Michael Myette
Sacramento, CA USA —  June 8, 2011 6:18pm ET
As always, educational. Thanks Jim.
Whit Thompson
Rochester, NY —  June 9, 2011 10:47am ET
When will you share your rating of the '08 Cabernet, James?
Kerry Winslow
San Francisco, California, USA —  June 9, 2011 7:24pm ET
Hey JL,
Good call on 2008 Ridge Cab, it is a fine and rich wine and a steal compared to other Cabs in it's price range...
Give the 2007 MB some time in the cellar though, it will certainly surprise later, I think it will end up as lovely as 1992 or close to 1994.
I expect 08 Monte Bello to be a star....

Thanks for your thoughts

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