By Karl Wente, 5th generation grower/winemaker
Here’s the thing: tasting is always believing. Yes, our 2007 Wente Vineyards Reliz Creek Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir ($22) recently won a Double Gold Medal at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition; and our 2008 Wente Vineyards Nth Degree Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir garnered a Gold Medal in the same judging, within the category for Pinot Noirs priced $50 and up. More important is what you find in the glass, and I don’t want you to take my word for it…
I just want you to taste along with me, and savor the gorgeous quality of the red wines we have recently been blessed with, from Pinot Noir fruit grown in our Arroyo Seco AVA estate: thanks to the incredible prescience of mind shown by my grandfather, the first Karl Wente (1928-1977), who first began planting there in 1961 (please see my previous post, The first Karl Wente’s magnificent legacy). From our current stable of Pinot Noirs:
2008 Wente Vineyards, Reliz Creek Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir ($22)
Our Reliz cuvée, named for the creek that runs through our Arroyo Seco plantings, is part of our Heritage Block series: in this case, several blocks dating back to 1963, planted to old Pommard and Martini clones, which we blend with more recent clonal material planted in high density spacing. The color is a bright clear ruby, and even brighter is the Reliz Creek’s pungent strawberry perfume, which just billows from the glass, with spicy (like peppermint), smoky notes adding complexity. There’s also little nuances of kitchen herbs (like rosemary, thyme and spicy tomato leaf); and when you swirl the glass further, you unearth suggestions of other fruits like black cherry and cranberry, with the faintest, mushroomy, forest floor notes mingling with sexy suggestions of tack room leather.
On the palate, the Reliz Creek fulfills the promises in the nose with round, velvety sensations; the bright red fruit qualities pushed up by soft tannins, and lengthened by mingling of mildly toasted oak and those earthy, foresty, leathery nuances. We’ve been thrilled with the quality of both the 2007 and 2008 Reliz Creek Pinot Noirs (and our upcoming ’09 may be even sexier!), and feel that this series has been consistently delivering far richer quality and complexity than what almost anyone would expect in wines at this price point. But let’s not overthink this — just enjoy!
2008 Wente Vineyards, Small Lot Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir ($45)
The Pinot Noir going into this bottling generally come from lots fermented in small, individual 1-ton bins, which are cold soaked prior to fermentation to attain deeper flavor extraction, and punched down daily by hand – lots of personal attention and craftsmanship involved. Out of those lots, I look for pinots that show distinct characteristics of our Arroyo Seco terroir, which I identify as bright reddish fruit perfumes underscored by earthy, forest floor notes, veering towards suggestions of women’s high topped leather boots. Qualities that are not hallucinogenic, but actually there – a commonality in all our finest lots!
In the 2008, the red fruit aromas are at times like black cherry, and also of raspberry and red currant. French oak combines with the varietal spice to add vanillin, smoky, nutmeg and clove-like notes. After a low key, velvety entry, the earthy, mushroom/fungus, leather-like notes combine with the rich, high toned red fruit qualities on the palate to give round, zesty contrasting sensations; finishing with lingering touches of smoke and anise. As gently textured as it may be, this is a pinot that seems to expand until it practically explodes with flavor; ending with that sense of “decadence” pinot lovers are always looking for.
2008 Wente Vineyards, Nth Degree Arroyo Seco Pinot Noir ($55)
Nth Degree basically comes together during the months that I go “barrel surfing” through the lots, identifying and following up on the ones with the highest elevating fruit, the most bodacious, mouth filling qualities, the biggest personalities and complexities (although I never worry about producing an overly “big,” i.e. oversized, Pinot Noir – our Arroyo Seco plantings just don’t grow that way). Generally speaking, the lots – fermented in small, 1-ton containers – come from blocks we already know have been consistently yielding the most intense fruit; to which we apply “ultra-farming” practices, like precision green and cluster thinning, and at least 15 passes by hand throughout the growing season.
In the end, you really don’t need a lot of words to describe this. Super-plush, I suppose. Ultra-elegant. Penetrating fruit. Pure velvet; and of course, downright sexy leather. The spiced strawberry/cherry aromas are so pronounced, they punch clear through the rich, toasty/smoky French oak regimes we put these pinots through. The flavors are so rich, all you perceive is creamy, soft, lush textures, despite intense extractions of tannin and oak. In the end, the Nth Degree comes across as medium-full in body, crisp around the edges, and characteristically gentle; while the flavors just go higher and higher in the mouth, like a punch of the proverbial iron fist sheathed in a velvet glove.
All three Wente Vineyards Pinot Noirs: tributes to the natural quality inherent in this magnificent growing region, and a tribute to the genius of the man after whom I was named.