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Too Much Excellent Wine and Not Enough Time

Posted: Oct 20, 2006 11:42am ET

This blog and the Grand Tasting at the California Wine Experience have a lot in common. I don’t have enough time for both of them!

Last night was fantastic, with so many outstanding wines to taste, but I just didn’t have time to try all of them. It’s frustrating. The fact that so many people from the U.S. wine trade are also there compounds the difficulty of getting to the wines I wanted to try. I felt like I was on the campaign trail, with all the handshaking and greetings.

Anyway, the two best wines for me last night were the 2002 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Hillside Select and the 1996 Ridge Monte Bello Santa Cruz Mountains. The former was so well-defined, with gorgeous fruit and sleek and racy tannins, while the latter was rich and powerful with beautiful fruit and round tannins. I loved the lead pencil and plum character of the Monte Bello. It reminded me of a top vintage of Mouton. Paul Draper of Ridge said to me that he wanted to prove that the 1996 was as good or better than the 1997, even though the latter had a better reputation. No problem, man. Great stuff.

Afterward, I had dinner with some friends at Boulevard. Wine merchant Andy Lench brought a few 1986 Bordeauxs including the Mouton, Leoville Las Cases and Latour. The Mouton stole the show. It was so rich and round and opulent. I didn't remember Mouton 1986 being so friendly and almost jammy. But when I was drinking these wines, I couldn't help but think about the 1996 Ridge. Am I crazy?

Alex Cobb
Fort Worth, TX —  October 20, 2006 1:18pm ET
Great post James... I really would like to make a WS Wine Experience some day. I have only been subscribing for a year and a half, and thus haven't had too many opportunities to go, but my wife and I have said we will make one of them eventually. Hope you all enjoy the weekend and keep the great blogs coming!
Brad Coelho
New York City —  October 20, 2006 1:21pm ET
Monte Bello is definitely a Bordeaux lover's California blend. I believe even the toughest of old world customers, such as Jancis Robinson, find it to be a spectacular bottle more often than not. I haven't been lucky enough to try a Ridge w/ a decade under it's belt (from a premium vintage), but it doesn't surprise me at all that it left that kind of lasting impression w/ you.Enjoy San Francisco, I'm there w/ you guys in spirit!
La Quinta, CA —  October 20, 2006 2:43pm ET
The 96 Montebello is drinking incredible right now! I had it at a trade tasting in Los Angeles back in May. I also just had the 1986 Mouton about a month ago. We actually let the '86 sit over night and went back to it the next day...brilliant! The wine showed so much better. James let me know when your in Palm Desert next time, so we can do an Eisch comparative tasting. Dustin
David Cochran
Sydney, Australia —  October 20, 2006 6:55pm ET
Certainly agree with you on that Ridge, James. I'd never tried it before last night, and Kramer's presentation this morning including the '99 Ridge Montebello chardonnay has placed Ridge in the middle of my radar (though God know's if I'll ever find it back home in Oz!).What a great opportunity the Experience has been so far!Cheers,Julian Gutierrez,Sydney Australia(but in San Fran for the show)
Apj Powers
Dallas, TX —  October 21, 2006 2:33am ET
This morning BEFORE reading this blog, I tried to re-order more 02 Hillside. Allocations OUT in Big D. Emailing for current Monte Bello tonight. I'll probably get the same response. MNF's Cowboys v Giants crowd in town. Man I envy you guys. but have fun. The SF dining scene must be so full of energy this weekend. A who's who of the wine world I'm thinking.
Robert Caruana Jr
East Islip, NY —  October 23, 2006 10:51am ET
James - First of all, thanks for all the great blogs...I like living the high life vicariously through you! Unfortunately I was unable to make it to the California Wine Experience and taste the wines for myself, so it's great to at least read the blogs/articles written about the exceptional wines being poured. I hope to be a first time attendee next time it comes to NY.

Anyway, understanding that your tasting experience at the Wine Experience was non-blind, I'm interested to hear what you would have scored the '96 Ridge Monte Bello; and more importantly what your tasting notes were (including what you believe to be the optimal drinking time frame) as I currently have two bottles in my cellar.
Marchello Chacchia
Connecticut —  October 23, 2006 12:46pm ET
James, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the tastings both Thursday and Friday night, and although we tasted as much wine as seemed humanly possible given the time, we still had not tasted them all. We were, however, struck by the '96 Montebello as it stood out among the 100+ wines we were able to sample. Sipping wine after wine mainly from the 2000-2004 vintages, the Montebello immediately had a different affect on the nose and palate as it was one of the oldest vintages available those nights. It was one of those wines that made you stop and take notice, not necessarily because it was "better" than all the rest, but because it was (to us, novices) noticably different. It wasn't so young and brash. That was refreshing. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. This lead us to question why vintors don't offer more mature vintages at tastings. Does it all revolve around the pressure to sell what is available now (i.e. is it always about the money?). I realize that wine is a business and that sales must be generated to stay in the game, but tasting a mature wine that is ready to be consumed now was such a nice change from the more "modern" recent vintages (most of which were also very good by the way, many excellent in fact, just not as seasoned as the Montebello). Overall, a great offering and fantastic experience in San Francisco. Well worth it and highly recommended to those pondering doing something like this in the future- make the leap- life is too short to mess around.

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