Sunday, November 16, 2008

Report from ... Wente Tasting - November 12, 2008 (11:00 AM) – Part 1 of 3

It's been a long day so bear with me … Today I went to three tastings, all downtown, and I walked to them all. For those of you who know Toronto, I was at the Sutton Place Hotel, then went south to the Esplanade, and finally a walk west to Niagara Street (off King, west of Bathurst). My legs are tired, my eyes are heavy and my palate is close to shot … but before I retire for the evening let me run down of the day's activities.

Started my day at the Sutton Place Hotel, where I met Carolyn Wente of Wente Vineyards, who are celebrating 125 years of winemaking excellence in the Livermore Valley (North of San Francisco). Carolyn proved to be an excellent host and the three writers present on this, the early leg of her meet and greet, helped guide her into some very interesting stories: like how her great grandfather (or is that great great?), founder C.H. Wente, found his way to the San Francisco Bay area; how the Wente brothers and Beaulieu circumvented wine regulations during the prohibition era on nothing more than a handshake; and about an upcoming Mexican-Californian venture they seem to be involved it. She spoke highly of winemaker Karl Wente, the fifth generation family member to be involved and how he brings the maverick approach and young sensibility to winemaking … and how his willingness to try new things lead to the establishment of the Nth Degree small lot wines (no more than 300 cases of each varietal made).

Wente started as a 47 acre winery in 1883, today they have 2,000 acres in the Livermore Valley and another thousand in Monterey. I have been a fan of their Morning Fog Chardonnay for that last couple of years now and it is a wine that continues to be in my top three of California Chardonnays – especially for the price ($16.25) … I recently reviewed the 2007 Chardonnay on my “What I’m Drinking Tonight” blog ... Speaking of Chardonnay, it is interesting to note that Wente was the first to plant the Chardonnay grape in California, labelled the first varietal Chardonnay, and that 80 percent of the Chardonnay growing in California today is from the Wente clone; (as late as 1960 Wente had 1/3 of all Chardonnay in California). When confronted with the topic of California’s over use of oak in Chardonnay Carolyn paused long enough to formulate a very good answer. "In 1970 therer a hundred wineries in California, today there are over 1,700 wineries. At one point, because of the proliferation of new wineries there was so much new oak in California from all these wineries ordering up their barrels and yet so few winemakers that knew how to control this oak." She went on to tell us that the neophytes to wine we're thrilled at being able to pick out a distinctive attribute in a glass of wine, namely oak, that many just kept up the practice of using new wood all the time. "Today the pendulum is swinging back to lesser oak." Carolyn concluded - Amen.

Other Wines Tried:

2006 Zinfandel – Beyer Ranch ($17.95 – LCBO general list) – 15% Petit Verdot and 5% Sangiovese also find their way into this bottle of Zin. Plumy, cherry and chocolaty … no perceptual taste or smell of alcohol, though it does have 14%. There's also cinnamon, nutmeg and spiced raspberry on the nose. Flavors follow the plumy cherry and chocolate route with a spiciness quality that's quite appealing.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - Southern Hills ($17.25 - LCBO general list) - with six other grapes this wine could be called ménage a sept. Grapes include Petit Verdot (9%), Merlot (5%), Tempranillo (3%), Sangiovese and Barbera (2% each), Syrah (1%) and a partridge in a pear tree. Lots of red and black fruit, nice herb quality along with a raspberry-strawberry component ... smooth, easy and delicious - seemingly sweet mid-palate which drops off to dry on the finish.

2005 Merlot – Crane Ridge ($29.95 - private order) – chocolate and blueberry dominates the nose, what follows in the mouth are herbs and juicy blackberries. Tannins are fine, they do not overpower or try to take over from the blue/black-berry finish along with some herbs that stick around for awhile.

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