Saturday, March 16, 2024

Iconic legendary Monte Bello and birthyear vintage Diamond Creek for birthday celebration

Iconic legendary Monte Bello and birthyear vintage Diamond Creek for birthday celebration ...

We joined son Ryan and his family for a celebration of D-in-law Michelle's and g-daughter Mackenzie's birthdays. For the occasion Ryan opened a birthyear vintage ultra-premium namesake Diamond Creek label that I obtained long ago at auction and gifted to them a while back for such an occasion. He also opened an ultra-premium Ridge Monte Bello to compare.

What better way to celebrate a special occasion than to serve a 100 point wine. This 2017 Ridge Monte Bello is a classic monumental release that got perfect 100 point scores from two critics, and near perfect 99 and 98 scores from the next three. 

I've written in these pages as guidance for neophytes and collectors, there are 'every day' wines, 'once a week' wines, 'once a month' and 'once a year' wines, and then there are 'once in a lifetime', and/ore special occasion wines. Choose your frequency, based on your budget, in any event, these would be 'special occasion' wines! 

This extraordinary exemplary wine "needs a solid decade of bottle age and will have 50-60 years of overall longevity", according to perfect scorer Jeb Dunnuck who wrote, "a legendary Monte Bello, pure perfection ... despite the long drinking window, it offers plenty of pleasure even today."

I wrote in depth about the Ridge Monte Bello vineyards and estate in a tasting journal blogpost back in 2015

Monte Bello has been called an American 'first growth' and is known for bold, complex, long lived Bordeaux style wines. Monte Bello is the unique flagship label of this prolific producer known for a broad line of vineyard select Zinfandels from throughout Northern California  including Sonoma and Napa Counties. Monte Bello is unique not only that it is a Ridge produced Bordeaux blend, but also because it is sourced from fruit from the Monte Bello vineyard, high atop the Santa Cruz mountains that separate Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay to the east and north, from the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Bay/Peninsula to the west and south. The Santa Cruz Mountains have their own AVA, little known but highly regarded for some legendary wines such as this.

This is especially notable to us since it is closest to, yet high above the location of our home from when we lived in Saratoga, California, nestled up against the Santa Cruz mountain range down at the bottom of Silicon Valley, near the crease where the road leads up into the mountains and over 'the hill' down to Santa Cruz on the Pacific coast.

Ridge Monte Bello 2017

The 2017 Monte Bello is a Bordeaux Blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, aged mostly in new American oak. It is sourced 100% from the Santa Cruz Mountains' Monte Bello vineyard.

Deep saturated garnet/purple colored, full-bodied, "incredibly powerful, and one of the most concentrated versions of this cuvée ever made", says Dunnuck.

Synopsis - Complex, yet elegant, bouquet of crème de cassis, lead pencil shavings, graphite, chocolate, and chalky minerality, roasted plums, tar, aniseed and exotic spices, incredible intensity and depth of blackberries, pine needles, blackcurrants and black olives, many layers of fruit and very fine, creamy, velvety tannins.

 RM 96 points.

As noted above, this was rated 100 points by Jeb Dunnuck and Wilfred Wong of, 99 points by James Suckling, incredible concensus of 98 points by Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, The Somm Journal and Wine & Spirits, 96 by Wine Spectator, #77 of Wine Spectator's Top 100 of 2020, and 94 by Connoisseurs' Guide. 

100 Points – Jeb Dunnuck,
100 Points –  Wilford Wong of
99 Points – James Suckling,
98-100 Points – William Kelley, The Wine Advocate
98 Points – Erin Brooks, The Wine Advocate
98 Points – Joshua Greene, Wine & Spirits
97+ Points – Antonio Galloni, Vinous Media
96 Points – James Molesworth, Wine Spectator

The accolades were substantial and momentous - "Ridge's Monte Bello occupies a rarefied space and time. This iconic wine, produced out of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has a life of its own that can never be replicated." - Jeb Dunnuck

"The 2017 vintage is cosmic." - James Suckling

What sets the palate apart is its purity: though incredibly layered, it offers a kaleidoscopic journey from blackcurrant to tobacco and dried flowers, offering continual sparks of flavor long after the wine has been swallowed.

Refined, spicy nose; velvety texture. Fresh and tangy, elegant and complex, with layers of juicy plum and berry; wonderful now, it will be spectacular in a few years - 98 Wine & Spirits

One of California’s most iconic Cabernets since its inaugural release some fifty years back, the Ridge Monte Bello bottling justly remains so to this day.

Winemaker Notes- Opaque purple-ruby color. Ripe blackberry fruit, barrel spice, anise, violets, and crushed limestone. Opulent mountain fruits on entry, fennel, sweet oak, well-structured tannins, and firm acid. Powerful complexity and tremendous length to the finish.

A tough act to follow but this is another legendary wine,vintage aged from a birthyear vintage, hence special in its own right, beyond comparison.

Diamond Creek "Gravelly Meadow" Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1983

We have fun with this label commemorating daughter-in-law Michelle, whose maiden name was Diamond. We hold a collection of Diamond Creek Vineyards single vineyard bottlings from their four estate vineyards dating back to the early 80's with highlights such as this birthyear vintage 1983. 

Special wines for special occasions -

We served a horizontal selection of each Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon from magnums at the wedding of our son Ryan to Michelle Diamond! Several magnums were birth year vintages. 

We have visited the Diamond Creek estate several times over the years including a private tasting during our Diamond Mountain Napa Valley Wine Experience in 2011, and again during their release tour open house for their release tasting of the 2015 vintage Diamond Creek releases at an Open House held at the Estate as part of our 2017 Napa Valley Wine Experience.

Diamond Creek Vineyards was founded in 1968 by Al Brounstein, an entrepreneur and was the first California estate to focus solely on and produce only Cabernet Sauvignon.

Located in the Diamond Creek district, on the lower reaches of Diamond Mountain, at the northern end of the Mayacamas range, just south of Calistoga, Diamond Creek, Brounstein was also an early American adopter of the European practice of bottling wines according to which vineyard had produced the grapes, , focusing on, taking advantage, and highlighting the area’s numerous micro-climates and soil types by selecting and bottling distinctive single vineyard designated wines. . 

By the early 1990s he was bottling by even smaller “microclimates” within the various vineyards. Diamond Creek wines are known for their concentration, austerity and deep color and they consistently earn high marks from reviewers. They are known to be long lived, age-worthy wines lasting decades with proper cellaring.

This is another unique tasting experience - one of the four Diamond Creek labels - all single vineyard designated bottlings from one of their distinctive four vineyards at the estate.

 Diamond Creek is a case study in terroir - each of its four vineyards with its own micro-climate, soil type and geography that are revealed in their single vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon wines - named for their four distinctly different origination vineyards. 

The vineyards of Diamond Creek, as pictured here are Gravelly Meadow (5 acres - center left), Red Rock Terrace (7 acres front), Volcanic Hill (8 ac,res opposite), and Lake (¾ acre), plus Petit Verdot (1 acre) to the left outside of frame. 

The vineyards are amazingly co-located close to each other yet have distinctive individual characteristics that are revealed in their wines. 

Though Brounstein died in 2006 the wines remain highly collectible. Today the vineyards are planted to Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. About 3,500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon are produced annually.

With co-founder, matriarch
Boots Brounstein

With fellow 'Pour Boys' Dan and Bill at the
Diamond Creek estate open house

Winemaker notes about Gravelly Meadow - "Our second coolest microclimate is our five-acre Gravelly Meadow vineyard. Originally a prehistoric river bed, this stony, gravelly soil drains rapidly and the vines struggle for moisture.'

"Gravelly Meadow is our lowest yielding vineyard. The wines are described as "earthy, cedary, jammy and ripe blackberry with a spicy expansive finish."

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At forty years, this aged Napa Valley Cabernet was still approachable, showing and drinking remarkably well. While past its prime, it was still within its drinking window, showing very little diminution from age.

James Laube of Wine Spectator cited, "A successful 1983, with remarkable length, finesse and texture, remarkable flavor for such a difficult and tannic vintage..."

Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, complex and still vibrant plum and berry fruits with notes of cedar, tobacco, earthy leather and hints of anise, dark bitter mocha and smoke with moderate tannins on a moderate lingering finish.

RM 88 points.  

Ryan then opened one of our favorite producer's labels.

Robert Craig Napa Valley Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

How touching for Ryan to open one of our favorite producer's labels for continuing the Cabernet flight. Robert Craig is one of the broadest and deepest producer holdings in our cellar collection. Our Cellartracker records show we hold four cases of this label across a dozen vintages. Notably, this was the last vintage release of this storied label.

Robert Craig produced five different labels - what he called four mountains and a valley - a mountain fruit Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from Atlas Peak, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, and this one from Mt Veeder. I recall Robert telling us on numerous occasions that his favorite label was the Mount Veeder (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon. This was likely in light of his early years managing vineyards up on Mt Veeder on behalf of Hess Collection, and then Robin William's winery (Toad Hollow, named for his brother Todd, whose name he couldn't pronounce as a child calling him Toad instead of Todd), and then his long history sourcing fruit from vineyards there to supply one of his key labels, the Mt Veeder Cabernet of the Robert Craig portfolio. 

This long association ended just a couple of years ago with the purchase of the vineyards by the Tesseron French conglomerate from the estate of the departed Robin Williams. This was the last vintage release of this label as noted by the producer - "After 22 years sourcing our Veeder Cabernet from the Pym Rae Vineyard, the 2015 will be our final bottling from the late Robin Williams’ 19-acre property. Pym Rae is on the north end of the appellation, free from coastal influence, where the fruit develops incredible structure and purity. For now, we say a fond farewell to an outstanding property and old friend, while looking ahead to 2019, when we will introduce our first Cabernet from our new estate vineyard—newly christened “Amentet Vineyard”—which abuts the Pym Rae property.

Notably, Robert Craig also passed away around this time. I wrote about Robert and this label in a tribute in these pages in 2019 - Robert Craig Tribute - Robert Craig Tribute and Remembrance - Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. Sadly, this is the end of an era for this label with which we have a long history and many memories dating back to the inaugural release in 1993-94.

Winemaker's Notes - "Our 2015 Mount Veeder offering is a towering wine of tremendous tannin structure coupled with dense color. Classic Mount Veeder markers are present in force; dried cocoa, pencil shaving, cassis, and mountain violet are woven into this tightly wound wine. This Mount Veeder release is without doubt one of the most profound Cabernets that we have produced at Robert Craig Winery in terms of its size and power. If enjoying this wine young, a two-hour decant is recommended. The 2015 Mount Veeder will cellar comfortably for decades yet should start to show well as soon as 2020."

This was a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon and 24% Merlot. It was aged 18 months in Chateau-style French oak; 80% new & 20% 2nd year.

This was described as Amentet Estate Vineyard, Mount Veeder and was rated 95 points by Antonio Galloni of Vinous. He wrote: "One of the highlights in this range, the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Mt. Veeder) is seriously beautiful. A healthy dollop (24%) of Merlot gives the wine terrific mid-palate pliancy and fruit depth to play off of the more intensely mineral and soil-drive signatures, of which there are many. Raspberry jam, crushed rocks, blood orange, white pepper and red cherry jam infuse this deep, powerful Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Craig." Antonio Galloni, Vinous, March 2018

Going forward, this label will continue with the 2019 vintage, explained by the producer below:

"Perched at 1,700’ of elevation along Wall Road on the north end of the Mount Veeder AVA, this 6.5-acre vineyard is destined for greatness. After 22 vintages of purchasing fruit on a handshake contract with the late actor Robin Williams from the neighboring Pym Rae vineyard, it was a joy to receive a first harvest from our own immaculate young vineyard in 2016. We christened the property Amentet Vineyard, after the Egyptian Goddess of the West. With the “rebirth” of our Veeder Cab, Amentet (pronounced “AH-men-TETT”) seems the perfect patroness—the goddess of fertility and rebirth, who was often depicted with a hawk perched upon her head. Given the number of red tails spotted from our new vineyard, this seems particularly providential. The site was planted and managed by the same man who farmed the neighboring Pym Rae vineyard for Robin for more than two decades, and it is no surprise that the resulting wines are so similar. The sandy, gravel-based soils of shale with a sandstone topsoil produce wines that are black in color with very low PH values and naturally high acids. A perfect combination for longevity. The beauty of this warmer, fog-free northern section of Mount Veeder is that the wines are free of any unwanted vegetal or rustic characteristics that can affect cooler climate sites to the south."