Ridge Monte Bello – An American Premier Cru Classé

America’s Premier Cru Classé


My times spent tasting with Paul Draper are among the most memorable in a lifetime spent tasting the world’s finest wines. No matter how hectic his schedule, Paul always took the time to personally usher me through his top selections of any given vintage. He was always happy to open verticals of his most profound wines without blinking an eye.

And so it was one warm spring afternoon that I spent a few hours exploring multiple vintages of California’s Premier Cru Classé, the Ridge Monte Bello (unofficially classified to match the great Growths of Bordeaux by practically every professional critic this side of the pond). Beginning with the 1974, we would taste through multiple precious, perfect, unmatched Monte Bello’s, finishing off with the 1992, one of the last vintages Draper produced before a new team joined him in the cellars – as we all know, Draper would finally retire at the age of 80, a few years after this tasting.

There have been countless incredible bottlings from the Monte Bello vineyard, first planted in 1885 by Osea Perrone, a San Francisco doctor, originally from northern Italy. Much like other California Heritage sites, this special location was terraced without the assistance of modern-day machinery, the rugged, jagged Santa Cruz hillsides a formidable foe.

And we all know the famous tale of the Judgement of Paris, where the ’71 Monte Bello toppled all others; California Cabernets and top Cru Classé Bordeaux alike. Those were Draper’s early years – he arrived in 1969 – and the work he performed with this site is historical. Today, Draper’s legacy is in the hands of Winemaker Eric Baugher, Ridge COO since 2016 and Monte Bello winemaker since 2004.

I recently tasted the 2014 and can tell you that if you’re a true, die-hard fan, one taste is all you’ll need – you’ll know immediately why Baugher is in charge. You should seek out this monumental effort if you’re a Monte Bello lover. It’ll make the same old bones as that 1974 and 1992 I enjoyed back on that awesome spring afternoon.

Desparada Wines of Paso Robles – The Most Important Winery In The Most Important Wine Region In California

                     Just a Few of Vailia’s Must-Haves – Desparada Wines


Centered at the halfway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been one of my favorite hunting grounds for unique, thoroughly one-of-a-kind wines for years. It’s where I first discovered the Rhone Ranger glories of L’Aventure, and stumbled upon the mind-bending Syrahs grown in the western reaches of Paso Robles by Justin Smith of Saxum. Also home to some of the most prized bottlings in my personal collection – Linne Calodo – Paso Robles is one wine region I simply cannot visit often enough.

In the early days, the A-listers could be counted on a few fingers, to include the aforementioned and – of course – the ethereal Zins of Turley. That’s all changed though, with a new group of settlers finding their way to Paso Robles over the past decade, lured to the gentle rolling hills of this chaparral environment. Vineyard owners seem to be everywhere these days – eager to rent their homes when you come to town – thanks to the need for high quality grapes by some big name producers here.

But I’ve fallen in love with the wines of a winery I hope remains as boutique and under the radar as they’ve been for years. That winery is Desparada, and its owner Vailia is among my top 5 – make that 3 – very favorite people in the wine business. My wife and I recently paid a visit to Paso Robles, and our two hours in the cellar with Vailia were unforgettable.

The first thing you notice about Vailia is that smile. It’s real; never departing from her face, it reaches all the way to her eyes. That smile is as real as the wines she makes, wines that now fill at least 50% of our small 15 case “cellar” at home. Wines that speak of Vailia equally as much as Paso Robles and the single vineyards she sources from. Wines that perfectly speak of varietal – she works with so many, so unique – and, just as important, wines that allow each unique vintage to share their story. Vailia is a tremendous winemaker. As such, she thoroughly understands and respects her role as steward.

Working with some of Paso Robles’ great single vineyards and perfectly tended vineyards, Vailia has shown me bottles of shockingly delicious blends spanning multiple vintages. My first experience has turned into a vertical of “Sackcloth & Ashes”, a multi-site, multi-varietal blend which I first encountered with the 2012 vintage. Now into my fourth vintage, I will attest that this striking wine – Cabernet, Petit Sirah, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec; hailing from the Happy Canyon, Coghlan, Roadrunner, Santa Barbara Highlands and Vogelzang vineyards – is one of the most profound of its type; worth 2-3 times what we pay.

Then there’s the vertical of “Borderlands” I cannot keep my hands off. Another stunning blend – this time equal parts Cab, Cab Franc, Grenache and Syrah – from the Coghlan, Santa Barbara Highlands, Spanish Springs and White Haw vineyards, it is so immensely irresistible that I’ve asked my wife to hide two bottles of each vintage from me. How Vailia bottles such deeply soulful wines at these earthbound prices is one of life’s great mysteries.

But there’s so much more – so VERY much more. So many shockingly delicious versions of Sauvignon Blanc; one that I’ve “blind” tasted my Francophile buddies on and convinced them it was La Mission Haut Brion Blanc (go ahead, look up the price difference). Amphorae fermented and aged wines of every type and description. Barrel fermented, stainless fermented wines based on the same varietal – just so Vailia can follow their evolution. Italian varietals, Spanish varietals – that truly and completely honor their native land while reflecting Paso Robles AND Vailia.

I’ll close now – probably said too much already (just can’t keep a secret) – by encouraging you to (at the very least) sign up for the

Desparada newsletter

the wines will quite possibly change your outlook…



Arietta “Quartet” Proprietary Red, Napa Valley ~ The Screaming Eagle Connection

Christopher’s Wine Country Connection

2011 ARIETTA “Quartet” Proprietary Red, Napa ValleyArietta Quartet 1

*From Stephen Tanzer, one of the toughest critics in the industry…

Dark red-ruby. Expressive aromas…Dense and sweet…boasts excellent energy...” 92-94

*Accomplished Napa winemaker Andy Erickson (Made Screaming Eagle from 2005-2010 with 2, 100 Point Wines, & assisted at Harlan Estate…)

*The Vineyard, located in the red hot Coombsville AVA in Napa Valley, was planted by world renowned viticulturist David Abreu…

$64.99/btl + Ground Shipping Included on Case Purchases

Dark red-ruby. Expressive aromas of black raspberry, pepper, mocha, leather, menthol and coffee. Dense and sweet but youthfully tight, with a sappy impression of firm acidity energizing the mid-palate. Finishes savory, peppery and perfumed, with a firm tannic spine. Not a thick wine but one that boasts excellent energy and supporting spine.”92-94 Tanzer

2011 ARIETTA “Quartet”
Proprietary Red, Napa Valley
62% cabernet, 19% cabernet franc, 17% merlot & 2% petit verdot

At a tiny fraction of the price that you would see a bottle of Screaming Eagle or Harlan Estate going for in the marketplace, Arietta’s “Quartet” packs in more bang for your buck in this price range than seemingly possible.   An expertly crafted blend by accomplished winemaker Andy Erickson

During Andy’s five year tenure making Screaming Eagle, he expertly crafted two 100 point perfect wines, the 2007 & 2010.   Andy was also the former assistant winemaker at Harlan Estate, is currently involved in his own label Favia, and is also winemaker at cult producers Dalla Valle, Dancing Hares and Ovid…  If you still aren’t quite convinced, Stephen Tanzer who is well known for being one of the toughest critics in the business raved about the 2011 Quartet and awarded it 92-94 points.   I strongly recommend securing a 15 bottle case of this magnificent red for your cellar….

If your account is already established, simply reply to this post to order.

OR call me at my office number (510.749.0325) to set up an account.

All the best in wine & life,

Wine Country Connection



Spotted Owl Vineyards Mountain Cuvee 2008 – Ultra Rare Mount Veeder Stunner

Christopher’s Wine Country Connection2008 Spotted Owl Cuvee gif

2008 Spotted Owl Cuvee Cabernet Blend, Mt Veeder

* The Wine Spectator dubbed the SOV (Spotted Owl Vineyards): “Sensational

* Our last email on Spotted Owl SOLD OUT in 4 hours Don’t miss this opportunity to secure this incredibly rare, mountain grown wine.

* Sourced from the rugged slopes of Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley, (800-1700 ft elevation).

* This explosive Cabernet Blend was crafted by Rolando Herrera, (Mi Sueño, Stags Leap, Vine Cliff, & Paul Hobbs)

*With the tiny production, this wine is nearly impossible to find….

* NOTE: At nearly 1/2 off retail, this extraordinary wine will sell out with lightning fast speed.  I strongly recommend replying as soon as possible to secure a 15-pack or two.  This wine will pay dividends in the cellar for years to come.  It outperformed $75 Cabs at our last tasting….

2008 Spotted Owl CuveeMt. Veeder, Napa Valley
Retails at:   $45.00/btl
Your Price: $26.99/btl + Ground Shipping Included on case purchases

Winery Notes:
Seductive, sophisticated & complex – If this wine could dance it would Tango!  This luscious, full bodied wine combines the intensity of mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with the richness of cool climate Syrah fruit grown on Mount Veeder. Deep dense purple color with alluring aromas of dark berry fruit, fleshy plum, black cherry fruit hosted with slight mocha overtones follow through to the palate in this complex and layered wine.  The sensuous entry melts into a rich velvety core of dark fruit with a balanced and structured mid-palate displaying blackberry, ripe wild berry currants, cedar  and a hint of vanilla..

2008 Spotted Owl Vineyards
Mountain Cuvee, Mt. Veeder

It’s discoveries like this that make the job both exciting and rewarding.  This rare, 2008 Cuvee from the renowned Mt. Veeder AVA in Napa Valley was expertly crafted by one of our favorite winemakers, Rolando Herrera.  Rolando spent 10 years at Stags’ Leap Wine Cellars, working under legendary winemaker Warren Winiarski .  He later took a position as the assistant winemaker at Ch. Potelle, and also as the winemaker at Vine Cliff Winery before becoming director of winemaking at Paul Hobbs Consulting.

Our tasting panel was struck by the beauty of this wine.  It outperformed Napa Cabs at 2-3 times the price at our tasting…  With the limited availability of this incredibly rare Cabernet Blend, orders will be taken on a first come first serve basis.

If your account is already established, simply reply to this post to order, or call me at my office number below to set up an account.
All the best in wine & life,

Wine Country Connection



2009 Buoncristiani O.P.C. Proprietary Red ~ A Stunner & Unanimous Critic’s Choice


Christopher’s Wine Country Connection

2009 Buoncristiani
O.P.C. Proprietary Red,
Napa Valley

* “Just gorgeous. Floods the mouth with decadent black currant, cherry, chocolate, anise….flavors that stun for their addictive deliciousness….. rich, ripe tannins…. near perfect. The wine is a blend of Bordeaux varieties and Syrah, from esteemed vineyards including Hyde, Stagecoach and Caldwell.”
~ 95 points (Editors’ Choice)
Wine Enthusiast

* Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate alerts readers that the O.P.C. is, “…another terrific wine…violets and plums caress the palate… opens up in the glass. Silky tannins contribute to an impression of finesse and total harmony.”

* A lip-smacking combination of 40% Cabernet, 30% Syrah, 16% Merlot, and 14% Malbec from a star studded line up of super premium vineyards around Napa Valley….

2009 Buoncristiani O.P.C.
Proprietary Red
Retails at:  $50/btl
Your Price: $39/btl

WCC Notes: “Deep violet/purple in color; explosive aromatics of chocolate covered blueberries, blackberries, plum and a hint of mint chocolate burst from the glass. A rich, velvety mouthfeel coats the palate, and the fine tannin structure, and impressive dark fruits caress the palate and lead to a long luxurious finish that will leave you and your palate in awe….”

~ Buoncristiani O.P.C. ~

Launched in 1999 by four brothers who were born and raised in Napa Valley, the 2009 Buoncristiani O.P.C. resulted from a culmination of their experience, trials and tribulations, and oh yeah, stupendous vineyard sourcing…. Sourced from some of Napa Valley’s most prestigious vineyard sites, including Stagecoach, Caldwell & Hyde Vineyards, this impressive blend will have even the most sophisticated Meritage drinker grinning from ear to hear, planning a way to squeeze more of this gorgeous wine into their cellar…. With its impressive 95 point review and “Editors Choice” from the Wine Enthusiast, the 2009 will sell out quickly! I strongly recommend securing a 15 bottle case of this magnificent bottling while supplies last…

Please call my office number below to set-up an account and place your order, or reply to this post.

All the best in wine & life,
Wine Country Connection