By Karl Wente, 5th generation grower/winemaker
There’s nothing like the confirmation and respect of your peers: at the beginning of this past January, the discriminating judges at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition gave our 2007 Wente Vineyards Nth Degree Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon a Best of Class award – singling out this wine among all the other medal winners in its respective category (“Cabernet Sauvignons priced at $60 and over”). There were, in fact, 57 other medal winners in this category; including those made by respected producers such as Heitz, Grgich Hills, Cakebread, Merryvale, Pine Ridge, Peju Province, Chimney Rock, Hall, Rocca, and others of that class.
To give you an idea of where we are with our Cabernet Sauvignon program, I invite you to taste and compare all four of our current Livermore Valley/San Francisco Bay releases with me. My tasting notes:
I extremely proud of our 2008 Wente Vineyards Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) because it is priced in the same comfort zone as the taste of the wine itself: plump with blackcurrant varietal fruit aromas (that is, like dried, briary blackberries) with suggestions of black cherry and cinnamon toast. What makes it “Livermore” is the round, pliant feel to its plump fruit qualities — very straightforward, like an uninhibited adolescent — yet the wine finishes perfectly dry, medium body, with firm tannin underpinnings and a little touch of tobacco (ah, the indolence of adolescence!).
The 2007 Wente Vineyards Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) ladles up a richer blackberryish aroma, tinged with sprigs of mint, some pipe tobacco and undertones of peppers in the nose; and its feel is initially round, fluid, very easy going in the entry, becoming more voluminous in the middle as it fills the mouth, although tannins never really get the upper hand. Again, quintessentially “Livermore” in its forward, unabashed amalgamation of fruit and earth toned qualities.
You could describe the 2008 Wente Vineyards Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) as the more serious, grown-up brother, but you know how those brothers get — a little rambunctious, too. Especially considering the youth of this wine: beginning with a vivid, purple stained ruby color, followed by a deeply focused, harmonious nose of cassis (like concentrated liqueur of raspberry/blackberry), clove and vanilla, along with slightly mocha-ish, percolating coffee. That rambunctiousness, however, is currently manifested in a dense, tightly muscled youthful feel.
There is some young tannin awkwardness in the Small Lot right now, although you can already enjoy the concentrated flavors seeping through, along with the smoky sensations of coffee, some unsweetened dark chocolate, and even some black licorice creeping in towards the finish. The evident complexities in the Small Lot really show what Livermore Valley grown Cabernet Sauvignon is capable of giving; and, yes, we do feel that it’s underrated right now, but that’s okay because we’re good enough, smart enough, and doggone it enough people are liking these wines right now.
In the end, we do consider the 2007 Wente Vineyards Nth Degree Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) to be the epitome of what Livermore Valley really can do each year. As in the Small Lot, the blackberry/cassis concentration is there, but in even great intensity (hence, the nth degree); so much so, the wine seems almost salacious in its eagerness to please. The spices (cocoa, tobacco, licorice, mint, and even some chipotle peppers) are also on the brazen side; and texturally, sensations come across as sumptuous, even opulent, like layers of black velvet, strongly supported by solid tannin and flourishes of smoky French oak.
Thanks for letting me share the exciting things our Livermore Vallery terroirs are continuing to show us all!