Thursday, June 27, 2019

Consistency Counts: Wente Chardonnay

I have been reviewing - and drinking - Wente's chardonnays for well over a decade now.  For a good stretch there, their Morning Fog bottling was our house white, and for years this family-run brand has been a reliable nameplate for what much of the country has come to know as California chardonnay.  Though my aging palate has me leaning towards whites that speak in more hushed tones these days, I cannot help but be impressed by the ridiculous consistency of Wente's wines.

Few consumers know that 80% of all chardonnay planted in California is the 'Wente Clone'.  Ernest Wente began growing chardonnay from grapevine cuttings imported from France back in the 1880's.  Five generations later, Karl Wente continues the family tradition in making quintessential California chardonnay. Whether the Cali chard style is your bag or not, you know exactly what you’re getting when you reach for one of their bottles.  Also of note are the oak-free Eric's and the mind-bending Nth Degree bottlings, which are both expensive and worth it.

Prices below are SRP, so don't be surprised if you find these in your local market for (possibly a lot) less.

2017 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Livermore Valley 'Morning Fog' $17
A clean nose leading into big, toasty, vanilla-coated butter blanket around gregarious tropical fruit. Nothing more, nothing less, just dependable. This one has been our house Chardonnay on and off for years and will appeal to consumers with a hankering for Texas-sized chards.

2017 Wente Vineyards Chardonnay Livermore Valley 'Riva Ranch' $22
Same DNA as the Morning Fog bottling, but with a surprisingly restrained core (in a good way, lest it would have become a caricature of exaggeration) surrounded by more of everything. Fuller, rounder, butterier, bigger, more elegant...just more all around.

2018 Wente Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay Livermore Valley 'Eric's' $30
Somewhere between platinum blonde and straw colored, this wine is very clean and energetic on the nose. But the first sip will have your attention, asking if this really is from California. Clean as a whistle, focused, and with a decidedly European acidity, this is a striking departure from what we have all become conditioned to expect from California chardonnay. Tart green apple runs into brilliant citrus before purity lingers beyond the finish. Wow. What a surprise.

2017 Nth Degree Chardonnay Livermore Valley $70
Borderline magical. Concentrated yellow luminescence in the glass offers a glimpse into what awaits. The palate is expansive with a kaleidoscope of high notes, including fine-grained oak over chardonnay fruit that is at once voluptuous and quiet. An exercise in juxtapositions that will appeal to connoisseurs’ love of complexity while being just a damn pleasure to drink. Bravo!

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