Thursday, September 15, 2011

Report from ... California Winery Tour: Wente & Kunde - September 14, 2011

The day started on the bus with a trip to Wente Vineyards in Livermore (south east of San Francisco) … they told us it was a “Napa Wine Tour”, but as it turns out we only traveled through Napa on our way to our second winery in Sonoma, more on that in a moment.

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
Our first wine underground was the Riva Ranch 2009 Chardonnay ($19.99), very typically Californian in style with its buttery, caramel, almond and vanilla nose leading to a creamy palate full of caramel apple with a vanilla finish … of course butter ran its way through the palate too (****).

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
We were then treated to a double shot of Cabernet, the Charles Wetmore 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99) with its blackberry, black cherry, cassis, plum, vanilla and cinnamon nose followed by a lot of black fruit, cinnamon and vanilla through the mouth and ending with some black raspberry and smoked cherry on the finish.  Wood treatment was 40% second fill and 60% new oak (****+).  But the star of the cave-show was the 2007 Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99) … the small lot is a handmade wine, from picking to the double sorting, and it can be made from single rows of grapes from specific blocks of a single vineyard, it equals only about 10% of Wente’s production and of the few Small Lot wines they make the case production is only between 100 to a maximum of 400 cases per.  This Cab really shone with a nose of chocolate, black cherry, plum and spiced vanilla … as it opened in the glass it kept giving off more and more aromas.  The palate was full of rich dark fruit like black raspberry and cinnamon spiced plum, but also with hints of cocoa and some mineral notes, the acidity also made it seem like a great wine to pair some food with … steak or time would have been what this wine needed to make it complete … steak right now, or time to sit in the cellar (**** ½).

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
The 2007 Estate Zinfandel ($18.00) was full of plum and vanilla on the nose with spicy plum and raspberry on the palate … pretty standard fare for a Zinfandel (*** ½) … the 2007 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel ($30.00) blew me and all the other tasters in my party away.  It was like a night and day comparison of Zins.  The aromas were like a punch in the nose waking you up and making you shake your head to clear your nasal passages and try again, but then it hit again: cherry cola, dark plum, and vanilla: rich, dark and inviting.  The palate was even more so with its rich cherry, vanilla, chocolate, robust plum, and raspberry puree; as it sat in the glass it just got better and better, smoother and smoother, and even more inviting … after the Cabs I had another glass, and it is the wine in my glass throughout the pictures were took, might as well stick with the best to look your best.  An absolutely superb wine (**** ½) to go with the stunning view of the landscape.  We came down out of the mountain stopping to take a picture of the star vines and their gnarly trunks … someone said the big guy looked like Willem Dafoe, I did not see the resemblance, but to each his own.
Kunde: Stunning view from Mountain Top tasting
After that it was hard to think a wine could top it … and in truth there wasn’t, but there were two wines that did stick in my mind and I bought one of them.  The 2007 Syrah ($18.00) was just as juicy as all get out, not your typical Syrah, but one you could sit, sip and enjoy (*** ½).  Then there is the one I bought, it was quite the unique blend of red grapes: the 2008 Red Dirt Red ($28.00) … when described to me the red dirt wine seemed almost like a haphazard field blend made up of 30% each of Syrah, Barbera and Zinfandel thrust together with 10% Sangiovese.  If you think about it that’s one part French, two parts Italian and one part American – a true American Melting Pot.  But the flavours were just so right with a sweetness yet subtle spice on the nose and just the right amount of juicy and spicy on the palate to make it irresistible (****+).  You just have to take a bottle like that home … and I did.

On Friday it’s off to Carmel to see what the wineries of Monterey have to offer:  See Part 1 here

1 comment:

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