Charlie Opines About Wine

In my search for interesting wines to serve to guests at our Cape Cod Bed and Breakfast, I attend many planned and impromptu wine tastings. I am happy to share my experiences with you. It's a tough job but someone has to do it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Wente Wines and the Winemaker

For those who have followed my blogs, you know how much I love wine and enjoy the story behind the wine. Sometimes the story is better than the wine.

A few years back, I shared my thoughts on the wine and some of the story behind the Wente Vineyards from Livermore Valley California. It’s a great story that dates back to the mid 1800’s when a young German immigrant, Carl H. Wente, made his way to California and went to work for the established vintner Charles Krug in Napa Valley. This first generation Wente learned his trade, from the back braking work ‘farming’ the vineyards to the art of making wine. In 1883, he bought his first 48 acres in the Livermore Valley, southeast of San Francisco Bay, and started to cultivate grapes.
Wente Vineyards
In the early 1900s, the second generation of Wentes were instrumental in bring first growth vines and clipping form France and helped found the California Wine Institute. The Wente family was the first to label a California wine bottle as a Chardonnay wine varietal. Their early work with the California Agriculture Commission to develop grape vine root stock adaptable to California’s climate has resulted in 75%-80% of all California Chardonnay to be based on the Wente Clone of Chardonnay. The years of contribution has earned Wente Vineyards the distinction as California’s First Family of Chardonnay.
Wente Vineyards has been producing exceptional wines for over 130 years and is the oldest, family owned, continuously operated winery in California. For five generations the family has cared for its land and was always concerned about the future. Today that care was validated by receiving Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) designation.

Sustainable certification is a recent California movement to highlight the commitment of a Winery to protect the land, something the Wentes have done as a matter of responsible stewardship of the land and as good business practices for the last 132 years. As early successful vintners, their legacy is intertwined with the history of the California wine industry.

Today, Wente Vineyards includes over 2,000 acres in Livermore and almost 1,000 in Arroyo Seco near Monterey, CA. The Livermore property has become a wine enthusiast magnet and tourist destination, with its historic Wente Estate and Murrieta’s Well wineries, Vineyard Tasting Rooms, world class The Restaurant, featuring its own organically grown ingredients, a Greg Norman designed championship golf course, The Course, and the renowned summer concert series, The Concerts. See their website for more details, www.wentevineyards.com.
I have had the pleasure of representing Wente Vineyards the last two years on Cape Cod as their local Wine Tasting Consultant. I have enjoyed presenting the wines to potential customers at our retail partners on the Cape. As part of my training, I have watched videos of the fifth generation winemaker, Karl Went, as he described each of the wines I have promoted. Recently in Seekonk, MA, I had the unique opportunity to meet with Karl Wente and taste 10 of his wines. The tasting was sponsored by Yankee Spirits of SouthAttleboro and Swansea, MA. Karl loving described each wine, relating how he created each, recalling the details of the how grapes matured through the growing season, and then how he treated them in the fermenting and aging process. He proudly recited the virtues of each of his creations.

Karl’s presentation was engaging and entertaining, supported by only two visual aides, the first a picture of his immediate family, the fourth and fifth generation of the Wente Family, and the second a geographical map of the source vineyards for each of the wines. During the fascinating two hour tasting, it was easy to see the influence of his undergraduate concentration in Chemical Engineering and graduate degree in Viticulture. On one hand, he easily detailed the relevant technicalities of the “Brisk” level at harvest and his scientific decisions on fermentation temperatures and choice of Oak type for aging each varietal. On the other hand, he tried to explain the ‘YUM’ factor that was his final guide in his blending decisions. This was a wonderful lesson in the complicated science of wine making and a reminder that it is still very much an art handed down from generation to generation.  As you can see from the attached picture, at 6’7’’, Karl Wente is a man I can, and have to look up to.
Charlie & Karl Wente

We tasted in order:

Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc, 2013

Moring Fog Chardonnay, 2013

Riva Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay, 2013

Murrieta’s Well, The Whip 2013

Riverbank Riesling, 2013

Riva Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012

Sandstone Merlot, 2012

Murrieta’s Well, The Spur, 2012

Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012

Nth Degree by Karl Wente Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012

Details about all the wines are available at the WenteVineyards web site. The wines are available at Yankee spirits and many other retailers in Massachusetts.

Feel to free call me if you have any questions about the Wente wines or where you can find them in your area. If you stay with us at our Cape Cod Inn, you will have a chance to taste some of the Wente wines that I serve to my guest

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 Summer Wine Tastings Underway in Sandwich

Smiling man with glasses
Charlie Preus
Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

Sure signs of summer on Cape Cod, other than the perfect weather:  increased traffic on the bridges, paying to park at the public beaches, and new guests every day at our Inn seeking that unique experience of a summer escape to our beautiful island. Or, as one of my friends said, another day of living "the dream".

For us wine lovers, another true sign that summer has arrived is when the weekly Wednesday wine tastings move from inside the restaurant to the patio at the Belfry Bistro. At the second of the patio tastings, we had wines presented by Mr. Joseph Carr. No summer series of wine tastings would be complete without Joe's visit. Mr. Carr is a well known and successful Napa Valley winemaker, founding his Joseph Carr Wines in 2005 and later the wildly popular Josh Cellars label, dedicated to his father. Even though he is known worldwide for his Napa wines, he is also a favorite son of Cape Cod as a part time resident of Dennis. We locals and regulars at the tastings eagerly anticipate his informative and entertaining presentations.

At past tastings we have enjoyed all of the afore mentioned wines. This tasting was my first introduction to Carr’s latest venture, Dylan’s Ghost Winey, a collaboration with the renowned Napa winemaker Aaron Pott. We had the tasting of the inaugural release of their joint efforts. The wines are being made in very limited quantities in the Oakville facility from select vineyards in Oakville, Stags Leap District, and the Oak Knoll District.

Rose wine with white lable
2013 Angel
The ever engaging Mr. Carr regaled the participants with the story of his personal wine journey that has culminated in these special new wines. He explained how a random vineyard walk with Aaron included a conversion that moved from soil and grapes to the brooding literature of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. He reminded us that the iconic folk/rock legend Bob Dylan had changed his name from Robert Zimmerman to also honor this same poet. Mr. Carr connected these dots to the logical origins of his new Dylan’s Ghost Winery. All the enjoyable stories and antidotes aside, the proof is always in the quality of the product, the wine, and we were not disappointed.

Red wine with white lable
Dylan's Ghost
Hell Hollow
We tasted three Dylan’s Ghost wines and the old classic Joseph Carr Chardonnay, which we have discussed before in this blog and will not cover again here. We started with the light and refreshing 2013 “Angel”, a 100% Cabernet Franc Rose from Napa Valley. Cab Franc is one of the major classic Bordeaux blending grapes that you are only recently seeing bottled as a single, stand alone varietal, and I have never seen a Napa Cab Franc Rose. The wine was crisp and fruity and perfectly paired with Oysters Rockefeller. The wine was a real treat and, with only 200 cases released, may be very hard to find.

Next we had two great reds, which I think will be the signature wines from this new winery. We had the 2010 Dylan’s Ghost "Hell Hollow" paired with Chicken Tagine. This cuvee is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc. Again, limited production with only 400 cases produced.

Red wine with white lable
The Beast
For me, the last wine was the best. It was the 2010 Dylan’s Ghost Stags Leap Ranch
"The Beast". This single vineyard field blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Syrah was by far the biggest and best of the night and paired very nicely with Tuna Sashimi.  With only 500 cases made, it was a great treat.

Although of very limited production, Dave and Kris at Cellar 55 were able to secure some for this tasting and with their contacts maybe able to fill some future orders. It’s worth asking them next time you stop by their shop.

The Wednesday tastings are always fun, but to have Joseph Carr share these great wines made it very special. The next time you visit Cape Cod, stay with us at our Sandwich Bed and Breakfast and make it on a Wednesday to experience a great wine tasting and maybe even meet the likes of Mr. Carr.
Happy Wine-ing

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Re-visiting Whitehall Lane Wines

Charlie’s Weekly Wine-ings

What a difference a few decades can make. Jan and I first visited Napa Valley in the 1970's and last visited it on our famous 2006, 13,000 mile ‘road trip’. On both our first and last visit to Napa Valley, we stopped at the Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena, CA. In the 1970’s, the ‘tasting room’ was little more than a table in the corner of the barn that housed all the wine making equipment. The last time we visited, they were in the process of completing a new building, so we tasted in a make shift temporary tasting room/gift shop.  At every tasting, regardless of the setting, I was attracted to the wines and really favored their Merlots, even though they are noted for their award winning Cabs.  

photo of ripening green wine grapes on the vine
The reason I mention this brief trip down memory lane about Whitehall Lane, is that I just had the opportunity to attend a Whitehall Lane tasting at the weekly Belfry Bistro tasting. It was a great chance to revisit their wines and catch up on new developments at the winery. The tasting was led by Scott Fitzsimmons, the Regional Manager for Whitehall Lane Winery and Vineyards, who was assisted by Polly Hemstock, the Sales Consultant with Classic Wine Imports, who is the Massachusetts distributor of the Whitehall portfolio of wines.

In the three decades since my first visit, the winery had changed hands a few times. In 1993 the current owners, the Leonardini family, took control. They replanted the original Estate Vineyard, built a state-of-the-art winer, and acquired six other primer vineyards throughout Napa Valley. Whitehall Lane’s vineyards are recognized as the source of world class Cabernet and Merlot and any excess fruit is highly sought after by other well know Napa winemakers. Not surprisingly, the best of all the grapes goes into Whitehall Lane’s own special wines. 

During the tasting I attended, Scott wove the winery history and vineyard details into the introduction of the four wines we tasted. Scott stressed that their goal is to make wines that are very approachable and ready to serve immediately; explaining why they are very popular on many fine restaurants’ wine lists. We pre-tasted all the red wines at the beginning of the evening as we opened all the bottles to be served that night. As promised by Scott, they were all inviting, but as each was served, after breathing for anywhere from a half hour to an hour, the wines improved markedly. For the three wonderful reds we enjoyed, I would recommend decanting or at least aerating with something like a Vinturi to maximize your pleasure.

We started the tasting with a light and lively 2011 Sauvignon Blanc paired perfectly with a House Cured Salmon Gravlox. I am not a big fan of the classic New Zealand, over the top grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc, but often find typical California Sauvignon Blanc bland, to almost tasteless. I liked this very much and plan to stock some at the inn to finish out the summer months serving it to our guests.

bottle of red wine from whitehall lane vineyards
TreLeone
Next we jumped into the reds and the 2010 Tre Leone Napa Red with Basque Extraordinaire Cheese and Fig Puree. This is the first release of this new wine, designed as a tribute to the three generations of the Leonardini family engaged in running the winery. It is a proprietary blend of mainly estate grown Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah. The actual percentage of each grape is not listed on the label or the website, but Scott did share with us that it is definitely Merlot based. Maybe that is why it was my favorite of the night, going back to my longtime affinity for the Whitehall Lane Merlots.
Next we had the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon matched with the Pan Seared Duck Breast. The final wine and pairing so outshined this wine, that I all but forgot this third round of wine and food. So what was the last wine you ask?

The high note and close of the evening was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve and the Chocolate Espresso Mousse. This is a prime example of a classic Napa Valley Cabernet with just a touch of Malbec. Scott lovingly explained its pedigree and stressed most Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserves of this quality, including wines from famous neighboring wineries, is selling for half again as much as this wine. Interesting, this premium wine no longer uses a cork; they have gone to the Vino-Seal™ glass closure, just one more change for the better that can happen in a few decades. 

I guess I have changed as much as Whitehall Lane has over the years, but I think wine still keeps me fresh.

Come and stay at our Sandwich Inn and let me share some wine and wine stories with you.  I may not have the Reserve and mousse available, but I bet we can find a very good Merlot and some chocolates.     
Happy Wine-ing
Charlie Preus, the Innkeeper’s Assistant and Wine Steward at the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center, Sandwich, Cape Cod Massachusetts