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When I travel, I love to check out wine shops in different countries and always notice that the California selection at any shop outside of the U.S. is minuscule–usually only a handful of wines. But I’ve noticed that in Australia and Europe, if a shop is going to carry a California Cabernet, it’s always from Ridge Vineyards. The estate’s flagship Monte Bello label is highly sought-after among collectors, so much so that every year hundreds of wine enthusiasts from around the world journey to the Santa Cruz Mountains just to taste Ridge’s iconic Cabernet.
However, Ridge is so much more than just Cabernet. Drinking and investing in the best Ridge wine means going beyond the Monte Bello label and diving into some of the estate’s other incredible wines, from its Chardonnay to its Zinfandel. Yet, building a diverse collection of the best Ridge wines can be a challenge, as the estate only makes wine in limited quantities and there is stiff competition over the finest bottles on the secondary market. Our guide to Ridge gives an overview of estate’s wine labels, great past vintages, and how to go about choosing, buying, and storing wine from this classic California producer.
Why Collect Ridge Wine?
There’s something truly special about Ridge. I know a collector who traveled nearly 3,000 miles from New York to Santa Cruz specifically because he wanted to see the Ridge estate in person. What makes these wines so alluring? The answer lies in Ridge’s terroir, limited yields, and value.
The Pedigreed Terroir Produces High-Quality Fruit
Ridge is one of the most collectible California producers in part because its terroir is so unlike that of Napa Valley, Sonoma, or other iconic wine regions in the state. Tucked away in the rolling hills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Ridge estate sits on rocky terrain at elevations of 1,300 to 2,700 feet above sea level. At the same time, the estate’s vineyards are located fewer than 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The cooling ocean winds and high elevations lend healthy acidity and firm structure to the best Ridge wines. There is usually a perfect balance between acidity and sweet fruit in the Monte Bello label, in particular. Moreover, the rugged, decomposing limestone soil in the Santa Cruz Mountains produces wine with plenty of minerality.
The minerality, acidity, and structure of these wines are what set them apart from many of their California peers; Ridge wines are almost Old-World in style. Fruit flavors are clearly present in each blend, yet they’re light on the palate, a far cry from the intensely concentrated fruit bomb style of many other California wines. If you usually collect Old-World wine but you want to add more New-World selections to your collection, then Ridge is a great place to start.
Limited Yields Increase Demand
Another reason collectors flock to Ridge is that the estate produces many of its labels in limited quantities. Ridge grows fewer than two tons of fruit per acre and strictly prunes their vines in order to maintain this ratio. By limiting the amount of fruit growing on each vine, Ridge is forcing the vines to focus most of their energy on a handful of grapes, which increases the fruits’ concentration. The estate believes that by doing this they can produce a wine with greater depth, complexity, and aging potential.
Limiting the number of grapes grown every year also increases the demand for Ridge wines on the secondary market. Even Ridge’s more common labels, like its Estate Chardonnay, are only released in limited quantity. The 2013 Estate Chardonnay had a record-high 2,000-case production, however, most other vintages average well under 2,000 cases per year. When fewer cases are available, very few collectors are able to buy wine directly from the estate, which is why many collectors purchase Ridge wine on the secondary marketplace instead. As a result, if you can find Ridge wines–particularly the flagship wine Monte Bello–for a reasonable price from an online seller or auction house, you should be able to resell those bottles for a profit later.
The Quality-to-Price Ratio Is Excellent
Yet another good reason to invest in Ridge wine is that these wines are very reasonably priced, especially considering the quality of the wine. The Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon vintage often receives perfect or near-perfect scores from critics, yet despite its high quality, it typically costs just $200 per bottle or less upon release. Collectors are often able to resell these bottles ten years later for $300 to $400 per bottle on average. Compared to cult California Cabernet of similar quality, Ridge wine sells for very reasonable prices, making it a great value for Cabernet-loving collectors.
What Are the Best Ridge Wine Labels?
What I love most about collecting Ridge wine is that the estate produces a diverse range of labels that appeals to different types of collectors. For example, if you think of your wine primarily as an investment, then Ridge’s flagship Monte Bello Cabernet will perfectly suit your needs. If you prefer to sip on a fine glass of Chardonnay over dinner with friends, then Ridge’s Estate Chardonnay will be a great addition to your collection.
Consider the following list of the best Ridge wine labels to determine which wines you should add to your cellar:
Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon
This flagship wine is Ridge’s most popular, and with good reason. This was the very first wine that the vineyard produced, starting in 1962. This debut wine was so impressive that it took fifth place in the historic Judgment of Paris, where it competed against nine high-quality French and Californian wines. Monte Bello is a structured, refined, Bordeaux-style blend made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. This label is known for its firm structure, intense concentration, and bright acidity. There is also plenty of oakiness on the nose of many Monte Bello vintages, so if you love this quality in a Bordeaux-style blend, this is the label for you.
Ridge’s Monte Bello label may offer you the best return on your investment, as these wines consistently hold their value. However, Monte Bello isn’t just an investment wine; it’s also among the most delicious labels that the estate produces. The best time to enjoy these wines is about ten years after release, when the complex aromas and flavors have opened up completely.
Ridge makes an energetic, assertive Chardonnay from grapes grown in the Monte Bello vineyard (the same vineyard in which its flagship wine is produced). Like the Monte Bello Cabernet, the Estate Chardonnay is usually brightly acidic, yet it also has sweet stone fruit notes. Ridge’s Chardonnay can be woody in its youth, but when it’s given a year or two in a cellar, the oakiness should mellow a bit. These wines aren’t designed for long-term aging and are usually best enjoyed within five years of release. Some of the best vintages can be kept for a longer period of time, however, this is a primarily a label for those looking for a quality, bold white wine that will be ready to drink soon.
Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Ridge makes two separate Cabernet Sauvignon blends and the key difference between the two comes down to aging potential. The Monte Bello is meant to develop slowly over time, whereas the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is far more approachable in its youth. The grapes used to make the Estate label come from more recently planted areas of the Monte Bello vineyard which produce wine with a very different flavor from the flagship label. Estate Cabernet label wine tastes fruitier and is fairly complex right out of the gate. While it’s not quite as sought-after as the Monte Bello, the two are close in quality. Invest in the Estate label if you’re looking for a Ridge wine that’s ready to drink right now. These wines can be enjoyed while you wait for your Monte Bello bottles to fully mature.
Ridge’s Merlot label is made from grapes grown at the highest altitude of the Monte Bello vineyard. Because these vines are exposed to more sunlight than the other grapevines scattered along the estate’s hillside, they produce grapes that are intensely concentrated and ripe. Ridge’s Estate Merlot tends to be fruit-forward, though still well-balanced, with limestone minerality. Collectors who prefer New-World wines or who like fruit-forward styles will enjoy the Estate Merlot label.
Some of the best Ridge wine is made from the estate’s many Zinfandel grapes. You’ll find a number of Zinfandel-specific labels, including:
- Blasi: Clean, floral, and medium-bodied.
- East Bench: Approachable, fruity, and full-bodied.
- Hooker Creek: Jammy, spicy, and full-bodied.
- Pagani Ranch: High acidity, red fruits, and medium-bodied.
- Paso Robles: Spicy, fruity, and medium-bodied.
- Ponzo: Jammy, soft tannins, and medium-bodied.
Some of these labels are made from 100 percent Zinfandel, while others include a small percentage of Petite Sirah or other varieties. You should sample all of Ridge’s Zinfandel labels to find the style that you prefer, as all of these labels differ significantly in flavor profile. They are all designed for easy drinking rather than long-term storage.
Ridge’s Other Labels
Ridge also makes a few other blends, some of which are one-offs and others which include an unusual blend of grape varieties. Here are just a few you might consider for your collection:
- Buchignani Carignane: Made from 100 percent Carignane.
- Geyserville: Made from Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, and Alicante Bouschet.
- Lytton Estate Petite Sirah: Made from 100 percent Petite Sirah.
- Lytton Springs: Made from Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Mourvedre.
- Three Valleys: Made from Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, and Grenache.
- Eisele: A one-off label made from Cabernet Sauvignon in 1971–it’s one of the most valuable Ridge labels in history.
This list is by no means comprehensive, as Ridge constantly experiments with new blends and labels every year. Because of this, it’s a good idea to do a tasting of their Zinfandel and more unusual blends to find the ones that you prefer. Most of Ridge’s Zinfandel wines and blends are for short-term drinking, though a good Zinfandel vintage will be able to age a few years.
The Best Ridge Wine Vintages of All Time
To invest in the best Ridge wine, it’s also important to know which vintages were most successful. Here are the best Monte Bello Cabernet vintages in recent history:
Although these vintages are among the best the estate has produced, that doesn’t mean that you should avoid investing in other vintages. Even middle-of-the-road Monte Bello vintages can be excellent additions to your cellar, as you can drink them while you wait for your longer-aging wines to mature.
You can also use the list above to guide your investments into other Ridge wines. The eight vintages listed above were successful years for all of the Ridge estate’s labels, from Cabernet to Chardonnay, though quality also varies slightly depending on the label. In a given year, the Estate Chardonnay might have been less successful overall than the Monte Bello Cabernet because weather conditions were more favorable to Cabernet than they were to Chardonnay that year.
How to Collect Ridge Wine
If you’re ready to build a Ridge wine collection from scratch, start by tasting a few different offerings from the estate. You can do this by putting together a tasting with friends, finding a tasting at a wine retailer, or driving up to Ridge’s tasting room in the Santa Cruz mountains (Ridge has a tasting room in Lytton Springs as well). The drive to Ridge Vineyard is steep and winding, but a beautiful view awaits at the top and it’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon picnicking and drinking Ridge’s flagship Monte Bello label along with their Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, and other unusual blends. Once you’ve found the labels that appeal most to you, you’ll be able to build a cellar of wines for early-term drinking as well as lay down Monte Bello for longer-term drinking and investment.
The best way to maintain a Ridge wine collection is to keep the bottles in a professional storage warehouse until you’re ready to drink or sell them and log the bottles you own in a cellar management app to ensure you drink your best Ridge wine before it begins to spoil. With a clear plan for storing and drinking each bottle, you can create and enjoy a Ridge wine collection that would make any California wine enthusiast proud.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.
At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most
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passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles–we love sharing a great
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Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.