Wente Family Estates: Livermore Valley Standout

I’ve found myself tasting a number of wines from Wente lately, so the announcement from Wine Enthusiast Magazine that the 2011 American Winery of the Year award has gone to Wente Family Estates comes as no surprise. Wente, after all, has been a leader in so many aspects of California’s wine history that it’s hard to imagine it without the influence of this family-owned business.
According to the article in Wine Enthusiast, by Virginie Boone, the Livermore Valley-based Wente “was the first winery in the state to introduce Chardonnay. Today, it is estimated that more than 80% of California Chardonnay is from Wente clones.” It is also “America’s oldest continuously operated family-owned winery,” Boone continues, and recently earned the difficult-to-attain accolade of Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing.
But none of this matters much if the wine itself doesn’t deliver. Luckily, Wente’s wines are as delicious as ever, and at a range of price points. They recently, for example, partnered with The Food Network on the entwine line of wines--Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. They’re priced at $12.99, and deliver on their promise of being both enjoyable on their own as well as with food. The Chardonnay 2009 shows the sweeter side of classic California fruit, with peach, melon, and ripe red apple, as well as noticeable caramel and vanilla-oak notes. It’s a straightforward, well-crafted wine that I think will appeal to a wide range of consumers, as will the Merlot 2009, which seems to offer a bit more detail with its aromas of vanilla, cherries, and subtle whiff of tea that lead to flavors of plum and chocolate. In the dead of winter I like to make spare ribs in my oven, and I think this would work well with them.
Wente’s “Morning Fog” Chardonnay 2009 showed a notably buttery nose, with popcorn, toasted coconut, and even an unexpected and passing note of peanut butter: Intriguing. On the palate, however, there is enough acid to support this richness, though there’s still a rich, tropical, sweet-fruit character to it: Fresh and dried pineapple, very ripe pear, and kumquat. For fans of the California style of Chardonnay, this one will definitely be a crowd-pleaser.
Finally, on the higher end is the Wente Chardonnay “The Nth Degree” 2009. It boasts a very appealing nose, marked by lemon, lemon curd and oil, a hint of tarragon, and lightly-worn smoky aromas. The palate, too, is pleasantly lithe and filigreed, with excellent concentration to the flavors of apricot, creme brulee crust, homemade caramel and butterscotch, and toasted rice on the finish--this last one a fascinating, unexpected note. This is an altogether balanced, gently mouth-watering, and nicely made example of what California Chardonnay can do without breaking the bank.