by Dale Blankenship

There are moments in time when great or rare things happen that change the historical narrative going forward. One such moment occurred May 24, 1976, when Ridge Vineyards’ 1971 Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the wines entered in the Paris Wine Tasting, a blind tasting of California and French wines organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant. The tasting, now referred to as the Judgement of Paris, saw the Monte Bello come in fifth place, behind one California and three French wines. Its success helped to change the perception of California winemaking throughout the wine-producing and consuming world. Prior to the Judgment of Paris, it was widely believed that the best wines in the world were made in Europe. However, the results of the tastings showed that California wines could compete with the best of the best.

Ridge Monte Bello was classified as a California First Growth in the book California’s Great Cabernets by James Laube in 1989. While the 1971 Monte Bello was 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, replanting of the vineyard over the decades has seen the wine evolve to a Cabernet Sauvignon-forward blend with Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. The complex and elegant flavors of blackberries, cassis, and tobacco age beautifully offering optimal drinking windows for up to 30 years. The wine world agrees as a second “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting challenge awarded the same 1971 Monte Bello first place 30 years later.

Cat Sansing and I were fortunate to participate in a tasting of Ridge Vineyards selections at Vault & Vino in Houston on July 27 led by David Gates, senior VP of Vineyard Operations, and hosted by Spec’s Wines and their Fine Wine Buyer, James Barlow. Having been fortunate to have these exceptional wines in my sales portfolio several times throughout my career and visiting the vineyards in the mid-1980s, it’s good to see that their pre-industrial approach continues to allow the wines’ natural, true character to shine.


All nine wines we tasted were excellent with my favorites being: 2020 Geyserville Zinfandel, 2020 Lytton Springs Zinfandel (all of the Zins would be perfect with smoked brisket or grilled meats), 2020 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (beautiful pairing with grilled steaks), and 2019 Monte Bello. Included in the tasting was a pour of the 2012 Monte Bello, which is no longer available from the winery. When tasting the two Monte Bellos side by side, you could taste what 10+ years can do to develop the mature silky tannins, toasty oak and dark berry fruit flavors with a long lingering finish. If I were to describe the 2012 Monte Bello in terms of music, the style would be akin to Luciano Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” – showing stellar flavor integration from start to long finish. We tasted the 2019 first. It was closed and muscular with tight tannins, multilayered concentrated dark fruit and long on the finish. The 2019 could use another 10 to 15 years of laydown time to begin showing its true legacy potential.

These wines are hard to find due to low, super boutique production, but not at Spec’s, it seems. Ridge Vineyards wine selection exemplifies what we at Umami.Life like to say is “a taste of time, place and passion in all the best bottles of wine”.