Published on April 13th, 2014 | by Greg0
Wente Wines: Great California Chardonnay At $15!
Most businesses are lucky if they’ve been around a dozen or more years, or a few decades. Today’s winery dates back to 1883, and takes classic Americana farm values- family owned- and adds some more modern viticultural ones as well- sustainably certified and estate grown. Most folks know about Napa and Sonoma, the twin areas of American winemaking that continue to garner acclaim. But there is much more to California than simply two two, and the area around Monterey produces some of our favorite Chardonnays from anywhere in the world.
The microclimates of the Livermore Valley have also been kind to Wente Vineyards, offering hills and stony riverbeds and sandstone cliffs perfect for some red varietals. We’ve been tasting their 2011 Southern Hill Cabernet Sauvignon from that area, and the 2010 Reliz Creek Pinot Noir from near Monterey and both offer solid value and are ready to drink now. The Pinot Noir, for example, is part of their Heritage Block and is from the Arroyo Seco region, aged 20 months in a mixture of neutral and fresh oak barrels from France and Eastern Europe. Hand-picked and sorted, this is a full-bodied, well-balanced wine- not too sweet, with some minerals to weigh in with the traditional blackberry and cherry fruits. On the nose, there’s an earthy vanilla, and just a hint of smoke in the finish. It’s an easy to pair red, versatile and a crowd pleaser, and a great example of what we love so much about American Pinot Noirs, even as it’s the most expensive of the quad we’re checking out today, at $28. The Cabernet was a bit less of a standout, a bit more subtle than many knock-you-down Cabs, with a lighter leather touch and rich plum. At $18, though, it’s a wine that you don’t need to worry about opening and can savor with even burgers instead of holding onto it for that rare grilled steak.
One the white side, we strongly and wholeheartedly recommend the Wente 2012 Morning Fog, a chardonnay that paired well with every appetizer we tried it alongside, from cheeses to shellfish, chicken to pasta. It impressed our tasters with food, but also held up fine on it’s own. Just a little tart, there’s some green apple and some pineapple, with a slightly spicy nose and a finish that leaves you wanting another sip. At only $15 a bottle, you couldn’t ask for more from a wine this inexpensive. We actually liked it better than the nearly twice-as-pricey 2012 Riva Ranch Chardonnay ($28), though that one offers the richer, butter flavors that some audiences associate (and crave) from their Chardonnays. It was certainly a solid wine, if a bit harder to pair, but it was the Morning Fog that we kept turning back to.
Whether you’re looking for a great wine for Easter next weekend or a solid choice for an upcoming Spring fling, Wente has an option for you. In a recent tasting, every critic agreed the wines felt underpriced and offered a great value, especially for California wines with a real history. Inexpensive enough to be friendly to your pocketbook, they’re also good enough to impress the snobbier uncle.