Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Magic of Monte Rosso - Exploring a Storied Sonoma Vineyard

As I rode through the Monte Rosso vineyard in the back of an open-air Jeep, clouds of copper-red dust rose up around me. The soil was so fine it coated everyone in the vehicle, and it became impossible not to breathe it in and taste it. After sipping some Monte Rosso wines earlier in the day, the flavor of lingering red dust felt familiar.

The sky was clear and bright as I took in the views of rolling hills and gnarled old vines. From an outlook near the top of the vineyard, which sits on the southwest side of the Mayacamas Range but falls under the Sonoma Valley appellation, I could see the San Francisco skyline in the distance. I was in a special place. 

“The specialness of the place and the specialness of the wine coincide,” winemaker Michael Eddy told me. Eddy joined the Gallo Family group in 2005 and now oversees and mentors winemakers across the North Coast. I picked his brain about the Monte Rosso vineyard and its wines over a delicious meal in the Louis M. Martini cellar. Today, Monte Rosso is the jewel in large crown of the Gallo Family, the entity that owns Martini and sponsored this trip.

First planted in 1880, the vineyard survived through prohibition while founder Emmanuel Goldstein sent grapes to home winemakers in San Francisco. Louis Martini purchased the property in 1938 and named it Monte Rosso. The moniker makes sense considering the Martini family’s Italian heritage, the vineyards elevation of 700-1,200 feet, and the bright red loam soil. 

The Monte Rosso Vineyard comprises 575 acres, of which 230 are planted to about a dozen varieties. The vineyard is most famous for its Cabernet and Zinfandel, but it’s also home to other Bordeaux varieties and some oddities like Folle Blanche (the grape of Cognac). The most heralded plots are the gnarly old vines: 65-year-old Cabernet, 110-year-old Zinfandel and Semillon. In addition to bottling their own line of wines from this vineyard, Louis Martini has sold fruit to producers like Carlisle, Ravenswood, Rosenblum, and Sbragia Family, among others. 

Morgan Twain-Peterson, who crafts Zinfandel from Monte Rosso under his Bedrock label,
says of Monte Rosso Vineyard: “the terroir here is so strong that I have often mistaken a Monte Rosso Cabernet for Zinfandel — the wines smell and taste like Monte Rosso, far less like the given varietal.” 

If I had to come up with a theme for the wines from this storied vineyard, something consistent across vintage and variety, I’d say they have bountiful earthiness, higher than average acidity, and they maintain a sense of elegance despite the density of fruit. Also, they’re all damn good. 

My notes on the Monte Rosso wines are tasted are below the fold.

 2013 Louis M. Martini Malbec Monte Rosso - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $60
Vibrant purple color. Deep aromas of blackberries and dark plums along with loam, charcoal, iron and violet petals. Impressive structure on the palate, firm texture but chewy with medium acid. Plums and blackberry compote mixed with cedar, vanilla and rich earth flavors. Long and silky, saucy and velvety, a beautiful Malbec that could definitely use a few years in the cellar to blossom. 100% Malbec, this is a tasting room only selection with about 250 cases made. (89 points)

2012 Louis M. Martini Zinfandel Gnarly Vine Monte Rosso Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $40
Juicy purple color in the glass. Smells of jammy red berries and plush black cherries, some violets, roses, dusty earth and pepper thrown in as well. Lovely mouthfeel on this wine, it’s smooth and plush yet full of chewiness, and some medium acid keeps the wine moving freshly forward. Bold cherries, plums and raspberries along with complex notes of caramel, pepper and tobacco. Immediately pleasurable but complex and worth of time in the cellar. 100% Zin from some gorgeous, gnarly old vines, aged 16 months in mostly French oak. (91 points)

2012 Louis M. Martini Mountain Red Monte Rosso - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $65
Smells of juicy red cherries and some darker plum elements, along with deep notes of soil, clay, caramel and spiced coffee. Firm but forward with fleshy tannins and a mouthfilling presence, yet some brightness from the acid that helps it stay balanced. The juicy black cherries, raspberries and blackberries are delicious and harmonious, and I get notes of cola, spice, tobacco and pepper that are woven in wonderfully. Long, silky finish. Blend of 37% Zin, 32% Syrah and 31% Petite Sirah. Aged 20 months in ¾ new French oak. (90 points)

2011 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $85
Smells of tart red currants, vibrant plums and a whole lot of roses and violets. Shows the tart and fresh aspects of the vintage with crunchier red fruit, balanced out by an impressively firm tannic backbone and a sense of underlying strength. The plums, blackberry and dark currant fruit is juicy and tart, accented by complex elements of bell pepper, tobacco, eucalyptus, coffee and vanilla. Long, silky, refreshing finish with notes of floral perfume. An impressive effort in a difficult vintage. (90 points)

2010 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
SRP: $85
Tangy red fruits on the nose, along with violets, tobacco and slight pepper. Fresh acid rocks while the wine maintains a dusty tannic structure with persistent grip. Fleshy raspberries and black cherries are dusted with notes of anise, cedar, tobacco and some savory spices. I love the tanginess of this wine, which lingers long on the finish. Showing very well now but worth holding to see those savory and earthy characteristics evolve. 100% Cabernet aged 27 months in 80% new French oak. (91 points)

2005 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Rosso Vineyard - California, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley
More savory elements on the nose, lots of sage, earth and tobacco but still plenty of fresh cherry and red currant fruit. Still lots of structure, the tannins have a fine dusty edge, the cherry fruit is silky and refined and laced with notes of violets, cedar, tobacco, sage and clay soil. A lovely sense of dusty earth pervades the wine. Refined now but plenty of guts to go further – I’d like to re-taste it in five years. (91 points)

Here's a quick video edit that consists of scenes from around Monte Rosso Vineyard.

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