Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cellarmistress Tastes Live From The Livermore Valley!

Over the past six months, I've had the rare opportunity to sample many wines from a winery I consider a great California staple. Wente Vineyards. When most people think of California wines, they think of Napa or Sonoma or the Central Coast. Wente Vineyards calls the Livermore Valley their home. I asked around and a lot of people were dumbfounded when I mentioned the area so I am here to shed some light on this mystery...

The Livermore Valley is located 30 miles east of San Francisco, inland but off the bay. This area is ideal for grape growing because it gets the morning fog and cool air from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in warm days and cool nights. This climate coupled with the gravelly soils of the area were exactly what C.H. Wente had in mind when he started the winery 125 years ago. Five generations of family winemakers have been consistently making award-winning wines ever since.

I have had the opportunity to taste from all the different tiers of wines the Wente family has to offer. From the most simple to the most complex, these wines offer something for everyone. After participating in two of their TasteLive events on Twitter in recent months in addition to receiving sample kits from the winery, I found it very difficult to narrow down my favorites as they were all exceptionally good wines. The TasteLive events helped me learn more about the current and fifth generation winemaker, Karl Wente. He is a master at blending his wines. This makes for complex and interesting wines. There is always a surprise element--perhaps a varietal you didn't expect in the blend. He kept me guessing and on my toes with his blends! I believe he truly enjoys crafting his wines this way!

The first Wente Vineyards wine I ever had was in 2004 at a little seafood restaurant in Newport Beach, California. It was a Chardonnay and I drank it out of a plastic cup! It was good even out of plastic! That said a lot. I knew it was special. Wente Vineyards makes many Chardonnays. I was fortunate enough to sample two of them and at under $20 for either one, they are exceptional.

The first of the two Chardonnays is the 2008 Morning Fog Chardonnay. Karl sources most of the grapes for this one in the Livermore area but also adds grapes sourced from the Arroyo Seco area near Monterey. (The family owns vineyards there as well.) This one is very clean with just a simple touch of oak and nice stone fruit flavors, and cinnamon spice with a kiss of vanilla. What did Karl blend with this one? Gewürztraminer? For real. I always complain when winemakers do that because when done frivolously, it takes away from the true flavor of the Chardonnay grape. Karl does it in such a subtle way, you wouldn't even know it! Now that's the true mark of a master! $12.95 a bottle! (Yes, really!)

The 2008 Riva Ranch Arroyo Seco Chardonnay. I just can't get enough! Honestly, if you love butterscotch, caramel, vanilla and tropical flavors in your Chardonnay, this one is definitely for you (and me, obviously!). This one comes from the "Heritage Block" tier of their wines with most of the grapes sourced from their Monterey-area vineyard. Barrel aged and medium bodied with huge flavors. So--what did Karl blend with this one? Well, he added a very tiny fraction of Gewürztraminer but also about 4% Pinot Blanc. What does that do? It adds brightness to this wine! It is just lovely. $19.95 (yes, very nice and very affordable!)

Who loves Cabernet Sauvignon? The Wente family proves that great Cabs do not necessarily have to come from Napa Valley. Here are a couple that really surprised me!

Because sometimes you just want to be able to open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and pour yourself a glass without having to decant, Karl has made the 2007 Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. Blended with tiny amounts of Petite Sirah, Merlot, Barbera and Petit Verdot, it is simple yet offers some great flavors such as dark berries and vanilla. Completely approachable with soft tannins. And at an affordable price of $14.95, it should be sitting in everyone's wine rack for everyday drinking!

The 2007 Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon is a Cabernet-lover's dream come true. Especially if you like a bold, spicy, fruit-forward Cabernet. This one is redolent with juicy, jammy blackberry and dark cherry flavors, lots of spice and vanilla oak. Blended with Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot. A complete steal for $24.95! Stands up to the best prime steak and will rival some of those Napa Cabernets out there!

And finally we come to something very rare. They call me Syrah-challenged. This one broke me!

I was given the opportunity to sample a wine club only exclusive. I'm unsure of the price point on this one but I would venture to guess it is somewhere in the vicinity of $45.00 a bottle. The 2007 Nth Degree Syrah. This is very much done in a Rhone style. Meaty, full-bodied and funky! Lots of dark berries, chocolate and savory spice. Funky in a good way though. Not one to be sampled alone, it must be accompanied by a good meal. If you are ever able to sample this wine, you will find it very complex and enjoyable. Blended along with Petit Sirah, Mourvedre and Cabernet Franc, it is a bold, "in your face" wine that could definitely be cellared for awhile!

Does all of this sound great to you? It does to me, which is why I want to visit them some day! The property is beautiful and they make so many different and interesting wines. Please visit them sometime if you get the chance. They are located in Livermore at 5050 Arroyo Rd. They are open daily and to the public, available for private events and there is even a restaurant on the premises.
Wines can be purchased at the winery, on their website at or some of the wines are distributed nationwide.

I would like to thank the folks at Wente Vineyards for allowing me to experience their wines and I'll hopefully be seeing them sometime soon!


  1. Great post. Their wine sounds very good!I'll have to try some.

  2. This just reaffirms my belief that I need to get out of Sonoma County and head east for a visit to Wente!

    Wonderful review of Wente Grace, thanks.