Ridge Estate Merlot 2014
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
Ridge's history begins in 1885, when Osea Perrone, a doctor and prominent member of San Francisco's Italian community, bought 180 acres near the top of Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He planted vineyards and constructed a winery of redwood and native limestone in time to produce the first vintage of Monte Bello in 1892. The historic building now serves as the Ridge production facility.
Though Ridge began as a Cabernet winery, by the mid-60s, it had produced several Zinfandels including the Geyserville. In 1972, Lytton Springs joined the line-up and the two came to represent an important part of Ridge production. Known primarily for its red wines, Ridge has also made limited amounts of Chardonnay since 1962.
The Ridge approach is straightforward: find the most intense and flavorful grapes, guide the natural process, draw all the fruit's richness into the wine. Decisions on when to pick, when to press, when to rack, what varietals and what parcels to include and when to bottle, are based on taste. To retain the nuances that increase complexity, Ridge winemakers handle the grapes and wine as gently as possible. There are no recipes, only attention and sensitivity.
A rugged and topographically diverse cool-climate appellation with a rich history, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA stretches from Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco, to the northern border of Monterey County. Elevations range from 800 feet to upwards of 3,000 and microclimates vary substantially depending on which side of the mountains the vineyards lie; cool ocean winds and fog play an important role here. This can be a challenging region in which to grow grapes, but it is well worth the effort. Santa Cruz Mountains wines are noted for balanced acidity levels, often showing great aging potential. Wine has been made here since the 1800s, most notably from the legendary Ridge Vineyards, whose Monte Bello vineyard garners international admiration.
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are the stars of this region, while Merlot and Zinfandel also perform quite well. Organic and sustainable vineyard practices are becoming increasingly common.
An easy-going red variety with generous fruit and a supple texture, Merlot can be made into a range of styles from everyday-drinking to world-renowned and age-worthy. Merlot is the dominant variety in the best wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank regions of St. Emilion and Pomerol where it is blended with Cabernet Franc. On the Left Bank in the Medoc, it plays a supporting role to Cabernet Sauvignon—in both cases resulting in some of the longest-lived and highest-quality wines in the world. Merlot also frequently shines on its own, particularly from California’s Napa Valley.
In the Glass
Merlot is known for its soft, silky texture and approachable flavors of ripe plum, red and black cherry and raspberry. In a cool climate, you may find earthier notes alongside dried herbs, tobacco and tar, while Merlot from warmer regions is generally more straightforward and fruit-focused.
Lamb with Merlot is an ideal match—the sweetness of the meat picks up on the sweet fruit flavors of the wine to create a harmonious balance. Merlot’s gentle tannins allow for a hint of spice and its medium weight and bright acidity permit the possibilities of simple pizza or pasta with red sauce—overall, an extremely versatile food wine.
Since the release of the 2004 film Sideways, Merlot's repuation has taken a big hit, and more than a decade later has yet to fully recover, though it is on its way. What many viewers didn't realize was that as much as Miles derided the variety, the prized wine of his collection—a 1961 Château Cheval Blanc—is made from a blend of Merlot with Cabernet Franc.