Wente is a 128-year-old family owned (now in its 5th generation) winery with vineyards in both Livermore (2000 acres) and further south in Monterey (1000 acres) … the estate houses a restaurant, a “grill and golf course” (the course was designed by Greg Norman) and caves that date back to the late 1800’s. They produce about 350,000 cases of wine per year, which, believe it or not, puts them in the California ranking somewhere between 25 to 27 (depending on the year) in production volume – and according to our guide Larry, is precisely where they plan to stay.
We were started off with a Louis Mel 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($11.99), a melon and grassy nose led to lemon and grass on the palate with a hint of grapefruit … I would say this was a very good starter for the day (*** ½). We then wondered through to the caves where we were treated to four more wines, but not before we walked by the concert venue where they were setting up for Diana Ross as the last performance of their 25th anniversary year, we had missed Kenny Loggins, who had appeared the night before.
|Caves from the late 1800's - minus the chairs of course|
With the whites under our collective belts they pulled out a small production Nth Degree wine. These are considered the best of the best of the wines made at Wente and the 2009 Nth Pinot Noir ($55.00) was no exception to the rule. A nose of black cherry, sweet cranberry and vanilla was the preamble to a juicy black cherry palate with subtle cranberry, nice spice and good acidity. 15 months in all new oak with 15% being American – which is probably where that vanilla came from. Only 400 cases of this wine were produced (****+).
|Star of the Wente tasting|
Then it was back to the tasting room before lunch to see what other goodies were possible to try:
- Small Lot 2010 Viognier ($21.99) with lovely tropical notes along with some floral and hints of spice. (*** ½+)
- Small Lot 2009 Grenache ($34.99) big raspberry aromas that followed onto the palate, smooth and silky with strawberry tartness on the finish. (*** ½)
- Small Lot 2008 Petite Sirah ($3499) showed some plum and raspberry on the nose, but the palate showed so much more: spice at the front before moving into dark raspberry and chocolate, then finishes with white pepper. (****+)
- Sonata 2009 ($44.99) a blend of 55% Cabernet and 45% Syrah. White pepper, spiced cherry, plum and raspberry notes kick off in the nose, then gives way to a supple palate with juicy plum, cherry and a white pepper finish. (****+)
|Wente: Lunch overlooking the golf course|
From there it was time to leave the tasting room and hit the grill for lunch … the grill looks over the golf course and on such a fine sunny day the view of the course and the surrounding hills was spectacular. Lunch consisted of a Reuben sandwich on multi-grain bread, decent, but the view was what really made it delicious.
We left Wente behind and took the hour-plus bus ride to Sonoma, passing many well-known vineyards along the way including Concannon, Cline and Valley of the Moon. Being a huge Zinfandel fan I salivated at the marker pointing the direction to Ravenswood, but I am sure I would have been out-voted to go, but we were expected at Kunde, and we were late.
Our arrival at Kunde (established in 1904) was greeted with three lack-luster wines: a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay and a Gewurztraminer; the hot Sonoma Valley is not conducive to making delicate whites like the Sauv Blanc and the Gewurzt, while the 2009 Chardonnay was typical Cali-Chard with the standard butter and vanilla, the interesting part was the pineapple-vanilla palate (*** ½)
I was wondering if we were going to get to try any of the good stuff as we waited around for the vans to take us up to a mountain-top tasting. On the way up we learned a bit about the property: at 1850 acres it is the largest piece of continuous property in the Sonoma Valley, they grow some 20 different varieties of grapes in 5 different micro-climates. They, like Wente, have caves, about 32,00 square feet of them and within those caves there are more than a kilometer of paths. Their oldest vines are 130 years old and the grapes are put into their Century Vines Zinfandel. The movie “Bottle Shock” was filmed entirely on their property (at least all the scenes that involved vineyard settings) … we snaked up the mountainside and came to rest at an elevation of about 1400 feet up for a tasting of 4 wines. The last two were Cabernet Sauvignon – and they were good, but the Zinfandels we started with stole the show, in my opinion they should have led with the Cab and finished with the Zin for the biggest umph … and one in particular, the Century Vine, is a show stopper.
|Star of the Kunde tasting|
|130 year old Zin vine|
|Kunde: Stunning view from Mountain Top tasting|
On Friday it’s off to Carmel to see what the wineries of Monterey have to offer: See Part 1 here