Getting to Know Richard Jennings
The man behind RJonWine
Snooth: Desert Island wine? You have to drink it for the rest of your life so let us know why this is your choice.
RJ: I’m tempted again to go for Champagne—maybe Krug Grand Cuvee on tap? On a desert island, though, I think you have to worry about storage and getting a proper chill if fine Champagne is going to be your house beverage. Assuming, then, that we’re really talking desert island conditions, how could I go with anything other than vintage Madeira? It lasts forever, is very forgiving of storage conditions, and would help warm one up on those chilly desert island nights.
I’ve rated a few vintage Madeiras at 100 points, but there exist only, maybe, two or three bottles still of those in the world. So being practical yet again, I’m going for something I know the D’Oliveiras family—the greatest vintage Madeira producers remaining in business on the island—still have a decent sized cask of, enough to get me through my remaining life expectancy on the island. (For more on the great D'Oliveiras' Madeiras, see here
Since you want to keep great vintage Madeira in cask for as long as possible, so it continues to slowly evaporate and concentrate in the amazing way these fabulous wines do, no need for them to bottle it up for me. We can just arrange to have the D’Oliveirases airlift this cask directly to my new island home:
1875 D'Oliveiras Madeira Malvazia Reserva
Very dark brown color with yellow green meniscus; nutty, dry molasses, baked orange, crepe suzette, almond and walnut oil nose; unctuous, buttery textured, rich ginger cake, deep toffee, tart orange honey palate with gorgeous orange acidity; very long finish 98+ pts.
Snooth: Would you characterize your palate as new world, old world, or something in between? Why?
RJ: I’m a lover of old world wines, but very much appreciate what’s going on in the new world too. I think these distinctions are increasingly outmoded. I embrace old, new and in between, as long as the wines are made with serious intent, and especially if they display character and a sense of place.
Snooth: What do you think of wine writing today? What do you like about it and what would you like to change?
RJ: I think it’s the best time ever for wine writing, because there are more people, with a variety of perspectives doing it, and more places to find it, than ever before. Because there’s a lot of it, of course, there’s a lot of uninformative, and even erroneous, stuff out there too. One needs to choose and sample carefully.
I like wine writing that is informed by science, e.g., the kinds of things Jamie Goode writes, that can help me to better understand how great wine gets that way. I also like well researched pieces that give me a better perspective on the history of a particular producer or region. Hmmm, I write that sort of thing. ;-)
Snooth: What wine do you look forward to trying each year?
RJ: This question by its wording rules out the vintage Champagnes I love that are not made in every year. Ditto the great sweet wines and fortified wines, like vintage Ports, that are not made in each year.
There are lots of great Burgundies, Bordeaux and Italian wines I look forward to trying each year. If I have to settle on one wine, though, it has to be a wine that is both a local favorite, from my home wine region of Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as one of California’s most admired, collectible and relatively affordable Bordeaux blends: Ridge Monte Bello.
The first vintage of this classic California meritage was 1962, which was also the first vintage for Ridge, the partnership of Stanford University engineering school faculty members led by David Bennion that purchased the long abandoned vineyards at Monte Bello in 1960. That first Ridge Monte Bello was based on vineyards first planted on a mountain overlooking Silicon Valley back in 1886, with a major replanting of eight acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1949. Paul Draper became the winemaker in 1969, and it was his 1971 vintage Monte Bello that came in fifth in the famous Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976.
Because I live fairly close and am a Monte Bello collector, I get to attend the twice yearly tastings Ridge offers collectors to sample the newest vintage—first as an initial assemblage from the Bordeaux varieties grown at Monte Bello, where one gets to taste each of the components too (e.g., there is little Petit Verdot grown there, and I often wish it could be bottled on its own, it is so delicious; ditto the Cabernet Franc). The second tasting is of the final assemblage, which usually includes an opportunity to check in on a couple of older vintages of this grand California wine.
Monte Bellos typically require 10 years or more in bottle before they really enter their ideal, long drinking window. One of the curious things about these excellent Bordeaux blends is the predominance of American oak–100% in most of the early vintages, with small percentages of French oak in later vintages. The sweet, often dill-flavored, nature of American oak is typically evident in these wines, but with age it is certainly integrated, and becomes part of the overall signature of Monte Bello. Paul Draper has been quoted as saying that if all French oak was used, with the relatively high acid, Bordeaux-style grapes that make up the blend, the wine would simply be an imitation of Bordeaux and not the inimitable “wine of place” that it has become. I have to agree with Paul, one of California’s most beloved and admired winemakers.
I wrote about a vertical tasting of Ridge Monte Bellos, representing vintages from 1977 to 2010, here