Wente Vineyards. The very name is synonymous with the highest caliber of wine-making and the upper echelon of pedigree in the New World. What, then, does one say about their work, their craftsmanship, that has not been said a hundred times or a hundred-hundred times before?
Well. Sometimes we need to repeat ourselves in order for the message to sink in. And so I relieve myself of the burden of trying to find something novel, something unique, to say about this illustrious family which has literally carved itself a permanent fixture in the North American wine culture. And I will continue by repeating what sommeliers more learned then myself have been saying for decades and more:
A trite statement? Methinks not my friends. Sometimes the simplest phrase carries the strongest message. Let me re-iterate:
This is absolutely amazing wine.
The only questions that you should be asking are A) why? and B) how do I get my hands on some? And not necessarily in that order. Let me respond to the easy question first:
B) How do I get my hands on some?? Well when one is talking about a winery that’s been producing for as long a Wente has, the lines of distribution are like a well-tuned orchestra. Lucky you, it seems that Wente is in pretty much every state of the union. Lucky still if you happen to live outside of the USA (as over half of my readers do) as Wente exports to over 70 countries world-wide, negating the need to order directly from the winery. Now as for vintage wines, those are scarce. It seems that “people-in-the-know” are always making room in their wine cellar/storage locker for yet another case or three and laying them down for a spell.
Why’s that? Because as much fun as they are when fresh, these wines have strength, concentration and vigor to last for years… which brings me back to the first question.
A) Why? Why are these wines consistently rated as some of The Best not only in the Livermore Valley, or California, but in all of the USA. *Note that Wine Enthusiast, eminently qualified to say so, voted Wente as the American Winery of the Year- 2011* www.wineenthusiast.com
You all know that I’m a firm believer that what starts at the top works it’s way to the bottom: great leaders, great troops. And so when I read the history of Wente Vineyards I knew instinctively that I had found both a company and a family that believe the same. Carl Wente came to California in 1883 and immediately found 40 acres of land in the Livermore Valley to call his own. In a time when the calling-card of California was the great Gold Rush, Carl sought fortune in grapes.
I’ve spoken many time of the utter need for we as wine-consumers to consider longevity of production when trying to assess the potential quality and value of wines we haven’t tried before. Look at a label, pull out your Iphone and Google: “how long have these folks been in business?” Whilst not always certain to be a mark of value, more times then not when a family or company has been working at a thing for 50, 60, 200 years – well, they get pretty good at it.
You all know that I’ve declared my admiration and respect for the brave adventurers who forged the California “wine-community” in the 1960′s and 70′s: such iconic names as Schug, Winiarski, Mondavi and Tchelistcheff. I look for great value in California and continually return to those houses who now have 40,50 years or more of working with their land and coming to that Grande Burgundian sense of terroir. So then consider this: when Warren Winiarski created Stags Leap in 1970 the Wente family had already been learning the lay of their land for 90 years.
Five generations of Wentes have poured their sweat, their hearts, their passion into the soil. Results? The Wente family were co-founders of the California Wine Institute. They created the first varietal-labelled wines in the country. Ever. These were the pioneers who set the framework for men like Andre Tchelistcheff to come in 1938 and raise the entire industry to a new level. Were it not for families like the Wentes, perhaps Andre would have stayed in Europe and The Judgement of Paris would have gone very differently.
Many of us know that Chateau Montelena was voted the best Chardonnay at that famous blind-tasting in Paris, and Stags Leap voted best red. Fewer remember that California actually won (for whites) first place, third place and fourth place. Stunning the world, California had won 3 of the top four spots for Chardonnay.
The clone that almost everyone in California (and now all of the Americas) was (and is) using: Wente clone.
And so as I’m a “Cab-man” when I found this treasure of a wine I couldn’t pass on it. Just as I know that, powerful as they are, these words are frail compared to the wine itself… the proof is in the glass!
2004 “The Nth Degree” Cabernet Sauvignon
Livermore Valley AVA, Alameda County, California
Blend: 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Petite Syrah
$75+ (back-vintages are scarce)
*MINIMAL DECANTING REQUIRED*
An impressive wine; immediately upon opening the bottle aromas pour forth: fine tobacco, dark chocolate, pencil lead, darkening blackberries and raspberries, a warm savory herbaceousness. Truly World-Class bouquet by any standards, and the nose is followed by an equally well structured palate with crisp/vibrant young acid, fine/well-integrated tannin and flavors that will develop for a good 30 seconds and longer. Rich flavors indeed but the palate is perhaps more subtle then the nose, which should not be taken as criticism. Brilliant quality, this would easily sell for $100 more if it came from Margaux orPauillac. A long life left in it still, this wine has years of development and an easy decade further cellaring. Enjoy 2014-2024+>
“The Nth Degree” stands out as a testament to dedication and, really, as a testament to its founder. For fifth-generation family winemaker Karl D. Wente, great-great grandson of Carl Wente, has created a new label for the winery that declares: excellence is a pursuit that never dies, never grows old. I respect that Wente vineyards was created by a brave man with strong vision for the future and a need to create a legacy for his family. I respect even more the generations that followed and carried that vision to the next level, but I love that all of this comes with a price-tag that even a writer can afford~!
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