I was recently invited to a dinner featuring wines from Sonoma County, California's, Hidden Ridge Vineyards, a winery specializing exclusively in cabernet sauvignon. There I discovered three wines I believe are best-kept secrets -- at least until now.

I was recently invited to a dinner featuring wines from Sonoma County, California's, Hidden Ridge Vineyards, a winery specializing exclusively in cabernet sauvignon.


There I discovered three wines I believe are best-kept secrets -- at least until now.


Hidden Ridge focuses on mountain-grown cabernet and that, as wine aficionado's know, makes a world of difference.


Mountain-grown grapes are hard work, a true labor of love and commitment. Grapes grown on steep hillsides are earning a respected reputation for creating rich, intense, concentrated wines that are a treat to behold and even more fun to drink, which is, of course, the real objective.


Grapevines like to struggle and produce the best wines typically in soils where little else will grow. Mountain hillsides are one of the most ideal spots when soil, sunlight and other factors are right.


Hillside vineyards feature unique soils and microclimates and offer excellent drainage. Thirsty vines feel their existence is threatened and put extra effort into reproducing, creating the high-quality grapes needed to make great wines.


Hidden Ridge Vineyard cabernets contain the words "55 percent slope" on the label, indicating the steepness of the vineyard where they're grown. For skiers, that's equivalent to the incline of a black diamond ski run. If skiers find that intimidating, pity the poor vintner who has to care for and harvest grapes in that terrain. Their hard work is well worth the effort though, as I can attest.


Hidden Ridge's vineyards range from 900 to 1,700 feet of elevation in a remote area on the western slopes of Spring Mountain. Getting there means traveling a four-mile-long road only by foot or in a heavy-duty four-wheel-drive vehicle; helicopter is another option. You won't be including this winery on tour lists, but do put their wines on your try list.


I often find California cabernets and other wines over-priced and over-rated, making it difficult to find terrific values. Then, along comes a winery like Hidden Ridge to prove me wrong.


At the Hidden Ridge dinner, I sat down to glasses containing their 2006, 2005 and 2004 cabernet sauvignons. I tasted the 2006 first and it was delightful. Considering its youth, I was surprised how round and supple it was after decanting for an hour. The fruit was rich and delicious and the balance was truly phenomenal. 2006 Hidden Ridge is immensely ripe and dense with tremendous structure and wonderful blackberry, dark cherry and black plum flavors. Best of all, it provided a spectacular match for the tantalizingly delicious ribs.


When a wine and food match perfectly, there is nothing better. However, experience has taught me that fortuitous situation is far rarer than it should be, so I'm always ecstatic when it happens. This was an auspicious start to a great wine encounter.


The other two vintages were different and yummy, reflecting the winemakers' philosophy to let nature produce what that year's grapes yield. And that is the true thrill and joy of winemaking: creating variety of taste from year to year, while maintaining great quality.


2005 Hidden Ridge was lush and rich with nice blue and red fruit flavors. For lovers of complex wines that evolve with every sip, this is a winner. As is the 2004. It, too, is complex with its sweet tannins and raspberry and blueberry flavors. Expecting to learn these wines were $100 a bottle each, I was floored by their $40 price.


All three wines were enjoyable with the steak main course, as they were with the delectable dessert cake. These are versatile food wines. Morton's Steakhouse restaurants offer it and suggest it with steak or yellowfin tuna. Hidden Ridge wines are currently available in over 27 states.


Perhaps any fun evening is best summed up by one's overall impression of the event. This night was stellar due to the restaurant's ambiance, the pleasant company and the tasty food. But, it was truly the great wine that was the catalyst in creating a magical evening I will long treasure. That is what wine at its best can do, and I hope my readers experience that often. Enjoy.


Mark P. Vincent is a Framingham, Mass., resident who has a passion for wine. Contact him at winewisdom@yahoo.com.