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In 1886, high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the first Monte Bello vineyards were planted, and winery construction begun. A first vintage from the young vines followed in 1892. During Prohibition (1920-1933), the vineyard was not fully maintained; some vines survived into the late 30s, but by the 1940s they were effectively abandoned. Eight acres of cabernet sauvignon were replanted in 1949. These were the source of the first Ridge Monte Bello (1962) and subsequent vintages until 1974 when younger blocks replanted in the 1960s were considered for inclusion. Since then, the historic vineyards on the ridge have gradually been replanted.
The Monte Bello (originally Monte Bello Cabernet; until 1975, 100% cabernet) is the wine that introduced Ridge to the world, and the world to Ridge. Today it is a blend of bordeaux varietals in which cabernet sauvignon still predominates. Exhaustive tasting of test blends during assemblage determines how much — if any — merlot, petit verdot, or cabernet franc will be included in the finished wine. Almost every vintage (an unbroken chain from '62 on) has something substantive to recommend it. Each decade has its high points, but year after year Monte Bello proves to be a consistently outstanding wine. There's structure, there's complexity, there's balance. And it develops for a long, long time.
The vineyards are grown organically.
BLEND: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot
VINTAGE 1992 REPORT: The 1992 growing season at Monte Bello began with late rains, which were followed by ideal spring weather. Often, during this crucial period, cold winds and fog interfere with the formation of fruit, called “set”, reducing the crop. This natural thinning gives intensity to the Monte Bello, but is indiscriminate. After late spring rains, mild weather allowed the vines to set a full crop. For concentration, we dropped a third of the clusters. A perfect summer and warm October gave us mature fruit and firm acidity. At assemblage, forty per-cent of the wine made from the twenty distinct vineyard blocks was held out as less intense. In a decade of exceptional vintages, this may be one of the very finest. Despite substantial tannin, the wine is supple, balanced, and accessible. It will continue to evolve in depth and complexity over the next twenty years.
In ’92, with a very full crop, thinning was up to us. On the smaller vines, we dropped half the clusters— on the more vigorous, a third. Harvest began October 1. We picked all the cabernet on the lower (2300′) vineyard over the next ten days. Between the 14th and 18th, we picked the merlot, franc, and petit verdot, as well as all the cabernet on the upper vineyard (2600′). With no delay at set, and summery days throughout much of October, sugars were high.
WINEMAKING: 100 tons from 50 acres. Warm temperatures promoted the natural yeast fermentations, which started within forty-eight hours of each crush. In most tanks, the small, intense berries deeply colored the juice even before fermentation began. We fermented twenty-two separate, small tanks of Monte Bello, representing twenty distinct sections of the vineyard. Two of these are large enough to divide into individual tanks, so we can run controlled experiments. (One experiment which we do each year compares a tank fermented only on yeasts present on the grapes with one to which a selected commercial yeast is added. This is a “reality check” of sorts, as Ridge is the only California fine wine producer to have used naturally-occurring yeasts in virtually all its red wines over the last twenty-five years.) Based on blind tastings, we held forty percent of the vineyard’s less intense wines out of the Monte Bello. The rich, complex ’92 has substantial tannin, yet— despite its size—is supple and beautifully balanced. It ranks with the ’90, ’91, and ’93 as one of the finest wines in our thirty-one years of making Monte Bello.