One of my favorite snarky newspaper columnists once opined about the inanity of elaborate birthday and anniversary celebrations honoring numbers not just large but small, not just round, but square and/or positively shapeless. Like overused antibiotics, he wrote, these numbers begin to lose their potency after a while.
So what would Snarky Columnist have to say about Wente Vineyards making a big ol' deal about its 125th anniversary — not to mention the 10th anniversary of its golf course and the 30th anniversary of Foreigner, the last act of this year's Concerts at Wente season? I'd like to think his reaction would be like my family's reaction to my eccentric grandmother, who in her later years would perch an empty highball glass atop her white hair to signal her readiness for another drink: Once you hit a certain age, you can do whatever the hell you want.
What Wente wants to do, it seems, is to continue building its highly successful empire, which now includes the aforementioned concert series and golf course, as well as an expansive, haute-cuisine restaurant and booming wedding-venue business. Oh yes, and the wine — seven varieties estate-grown in Livermore Valley and four more sourced from Monterey County's Arroyo Seco region. I recently had the chance to sample Wente's two Chardonnays, one from each region: its estate-grown Merlot and one of two estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignons — and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The 2006 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay ($9.99) from Livermore Valley was surprisingly sweet for a Chard, but I loved its fresh aroma of honeysuckle. The 2006 Riva Ranch Chardonnay ($13.95) from Arroyo Seco had even more oomph in the aroma than its Livermore counterpart, and a crisp but mellow taste. As for other whites, Wente also makes an estate Sauvignon Blanc and the Monterey-grown Riverbank Riesling ($9.50), which I reviewed favorably in an earlier column ("Master Grape," 5/28/08).
At a higher price point but worth the splurge was the 2005 Wente Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99). For all you obsessive Lost fans, that's Wetmore, not Widmore. Wetmore was a lawyer and writer turned vineyard owner, and a tireless champion of California's wine industry back in the late 1800s. Today Wente's sprawling operations partially occupy what was once Wetmore's Cresta Blanca winery, and the Cab named in his honor is appropriately reverential, with an aroma filled with sophisticated dark fruit. Less pleasing was the 2004 Wente Crane Ridge Merlot ($15.99), which is actually made with a good bit of Cab (21 percent). Sure, the wham-bam jam in the aroma got my attention, but the taste was surprisingly chalky and flat.
You can sample these and other Wente wines yourself. Visit WenteVineyards.com for more information.
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