Opening this 2005 Monte Bello *** with the affluent aromas of only Monte Bello mountain surfacing, the only thought I had was life seemed a little back to normal, at least somewhat, and if only for a moment. A deep plum color, with a certain vibrancy, like polished wax. Very mellow in the nose, with notes of brine smelled a long distance from the sea. On the palate, surprisingly light, with some fresh dark fruits left, and certainly quite pure in style, but not concentrated like the 1991 or 2002, and not esoteric like the 1996. One person declared it "boring." I would disagree. Tasted along side the 2005 Nickel and Nickel Regusci Vineyard Block 4 Cabernet Sauvignon *** (a very tasty wine at this young age, with some jammy notes and very mellow tannin, making it immediately approachable) the Monte Bello was less concentrated and forthcoming. But that is a part of the character and charm of Monte Bello, which distinguishes it from so many other wines from California, even those -- if not especially those -- from Napa Valley. Let this 2005 Monte Bello develop in the decanter for a good three hours before trying it -- secondary notes will emerge. Another good trick is to pop and pour a half glass the night before you intend to drink it, putting the cork back in the bottle and letting it rest overnight.
Also tasted (blind): 2003 Ridge Vineyards California Mountain Merlot *** and 2005 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley *** Both very similar in style to the 2005 Monte Bello. The Ridge Merlot was surprisingly pure, with developed dark fruit notes, soft but still present tannins, and notes of dried flowers, perhaps even violets, on the nose. The Duckhorn was more concentrated, a touch more tangible in the mouth, with notes of currants and dark cherries. Neither wine displayed overt oak, heat or acidity -- These are nicely balanced.
I retasted the little remaining of the Ridge wines and the Duckhorn after 3 days in bottle; all of which had aged nicely in that time, gaining substance without relinquishing any of their charm.