Wine: Small Lot Counoise
Appellation: Livermore Valley AVA
Varietal Composition: 100 % Counoise
Aging: French Oak Barrels
Alcohol: 15.9 %
Winemaker: Karl Wente
Imported By: n/a
Bottle Value: $35-$40 USD
Production: 250 cases
Where: Livermore Valley When: June 19, 2009 With Whom: Jerry-Wente Tasting Room Host
Perspective: My favorite wine from Wente’s Small Lot Collection, mineral driven old world identity with bright red cherry and currants. Great for lovers of Rhone style wines.
Appearance: Bright clarity with medium ruby core and pale rim. No deposits or sediment detected.
Nose: Clean with medium plus intensity, youthful with aromas of red berries, vanilla, wood spice and dry stones.
Palate: Dry, medium alcohol, body & acidity, medium/light tannins. Pronounced flavors of red cherry, red currants, green olives, and dusty stones. Earthy with hints of new oak, medium plus finish.
Conclusion: Youthful, well structured, fresh, quality wine to be drank now. Will develop nicely over the next 2-3 years.
Once upon a time before glamour, ego and overpricing ruled the world of wine, pioneers from all parts of the world made their way to California to seek their treasure and forge a new destiny for themselves. The gold rush of 1848 brought hundreds of thousands of people to Northern California–many of them settled here and continued their family’s trade in the wine business. The regions of Napa Valley, Sonoma, Santa Clara, and the topic of this article, Livermore Valley were quickly inhabited and the ground was plowed for the vine. Though many failed in the midst of the 1880 phylloxera outbreak, which destroyed almost all of the vineyards on the west coast, the surviving few were then faced with the destructive force of prohibition which lasted from 1928 till 1933. One determined vineron, a German immigrant by the name of Carl H. Wente, overcame the hardships and established Wente Winery
Today Wente holds the title of the oldest continuously owned and operated winery in the United States. After five generations of hard work, the Wente family owns 3,000 acres in Livermore Valley and San Francisco Bay as well as 800 more acres in the Arroyo Sec AVA in Monterey County. Wente is the largest winery in Livermore Valley with a production rate of over 300, 000 cases of wine per year. In addition to its own statures, Wente owns two other wineries in Livermore: Murrieta’s Well and Ivan Tomas. The winery produces a wide array of wines in several reasonable price categories. I was amazed at how many different varieties the winery produced: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, Syrah, Counoise, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more. Through my research I learned that for the last twenty years Wente has cultivated a thriving export market for its wines in over 35 countries overseas. According to reports, this accounts for 1/3 of the wineries total sales, which is a lot of wine! Now, usually I tend to lean towards small production boutique wines because it’s more fun for me to discover them before anyone else does, you know the holy grail thing, but this time I strayed from my usual routine, and I am glad I did.
The reason for this article came about last week when I purchased a few bottles of inexpensive wine that I normally would never buy. I wanted to evaluate the wines that I referred to as “the forgotten” (wines that I once perceived as being good but no longer drank.) I decided to focus on California wines and chose: 2007 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay, 2006 Concannon Petite Sirah (which I will tell you about in the next article.), 2006 Beringer “Knights Valley” Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2007 Carmel Road Pinot Noir. Out of the four wines, the two wines from Livermore Valley, Wente and Concannon, impressed me the most. I decided that since I was only 45 minutes away, and needed some palate practice, I should drive to Livermore and experience it first hand.
This was my first trip to Livermore Valley. The region is full of steep rolling hills with dry rocky and gravel soil. I arrived at Wente Winery and parked in a dusty white graveled parking lot with elements of construction everywhere. The entire facility is being remodeled and equipped with beautiful landscaped gardens and pathways that will enhance the existing amphitheater and restaurant. Inside the tasting room I had the pleasure of meeting Jerry, a 40 year veteran of the winery who led me through my tasting. His overwhelming pride for Livermore Valley was inspiring. It rubbed off on me a bit and I found myself really happy to be here. Of all the wines I tried, I was particularly impressed by the “Small Lot Wines” which are very limited and only available at the winery and to members of the wine club. The wines are a small pet project for fifth generation winemaker Karl D. Wente, and he’s doing a good job with them. The selection included Pinot Noir, Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon-Livermore, Cabernet Sauvignon-Napa, and my favorite find on this trip, the Counoise. I had never tasted the Counoise varietal on its own so this was a lesson for me. The wine was clear and bright with a light ruby color, aromas of red berries and stones, the palate had medium acidity, medium/light tannins, medium body and was laced with flavors of red currant, cherry, olives, and dusty stones. I am no expert on true to form Counoise, but I know what’s good and this wine was nice! I also have to say that when tasting both cabernets side by side, I preferred the Livermore Valley over the Napa Valley. I found the fruit in Livermore cabernet to be more lean and structured and the Napa fruit was slightly more vegetal and sweet. Both wines were nice, I am merely discussing the difference in the fruit structure of the wines, which I found interesting. Of course a trip to the Wente tasting room would not be complete without tasting a great Chardonnay. The 2007 Nth Degree Chardonnay was clear, bright and golden with creamy aromas of vanilla and marshmallow, medium plus acidity, medium bodied and well structured with notes of spicy oak, apricots, pineapple and banana.
All together some great wines from a source that I normally might have overlooked. It goes to show you that you should never stop trying different wines, even if they are ones you think you know. Every once in a while you may be surprised at what you’ve missed. In the next two articles I will tell you about two other places you must see when visiting Livermore Valley. Enjoy tasting!! (DY)
Wine: Cuvee Moriah
Appellation: Sonoma County
Varietal Composition: 75 % Grenache 11 % Mourvedre 10 % Syrah 3 % Counoise 1 % Roussanne
Aging: 40% New French Oak
Alcohol: 15.9 %
Winemaker: Pax Mahle
Imported By: n/a
Bottle Value: $55-$75 USD
Production: 500 cases
Where: Asheville, NC When: May 3, 2009 With Whom: Les, Kathy, Vijay & Dad
Perspective: A lovely fruit driven, new world rendition on an classic old world wine. I was expecting more tannins and structure with it being only 5 years old but nonetheless a great experience.
Appearance: Bright clarity with a deep ruby core and medium rim. No deposits or sediment detected.
Nose: Clean with medium plus intensity, youthful with aromas of leather, stones, black cherry and ripe blueberries. Hints of stone and violets linger.
Palate: Dry, with medium acidity and tannins. High in alcohol. Medium plus body with pronounced flavors of sweet plums, raspberries, and red currants. Underlying silky oak spice with liquorices, tar and creamy viscosity. Long lengthy sweet and slightly tart finish.
Conclusion: Complex, well structured, high quality wine that will develop nicely over the next five years and more.
Producer/Winery: Chateau Rayas
Wine: Chateau Rayas Chateauneuf -du-Pape Reserve
Region: Southern Rhone Valley
Varietal Composition: 100% Grenache
Alcohol: 14 %
Winemaker: Emmanuel Reynaud
Imported By: Martine’s Wines Inc.
Bottle Value: $160-$180
Where: Asheville, NC When: May 3, 2009 With Whom: Les, Kathy, Vijay and Dad
Perspective: Truly one of the finest Chateauneuf-du-Papes I have ever tasted. I would recommend that everyone experience this wine at least once.
Appearance: The clarity was bright with deep ruby tones. No deposits or sediment detected.
Nose: Clean with medium plus intensity, youthful with aromas of raspberries, red cherries, violets, and spicy red liquorices.
Palate: Dry, medium plus acidity (fresh), with medium tannins, medium alcohol content and body. Pronounced flavors of wild strawberries, raspberries, and red cherry with subtle notes of stone and earth. Complex spices-spearmint, lavender and violets. Well structured and balanced with a long lengthy finish.
Conclusion: Well structured, high quality wine with 10 or more years aging potential.
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