The name of Wente perhaps has been around so long that it does not conjure cries of joy in American wine consumers, but we have to remember that the family was pioneering in many ways. Now run by the fourth and fifth generations, Wente Vineyards traces its beginning to 1883, when German immigrant C.H. Wente purchased 47 acres in Livermore Valley, in Alameda County east of San Francisco Bay, and planted grapes in the gravelly soil. Wente Bros., as the winery was called, released the first varietally-labeled sauvignon blanc wine (1933) and chardonnay (1936) in California and the first late-harvest riesling affected by Botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot,” in 1969. The family was also among the first to explore planting vines in Monterey County, where it now has substantial holdings. Altogether, Wente owns about 3,000 acres of estate vineyards. A history going back 132 years practically guarantees variations in production and quality and perhaps some confusion in direction — the 1970s and ’80s were not easy decades — but the Wente family absorbed those depredations over the years and now seems to be operating at the top of their scale. Winemaker is fifth-generation Karl Wente, pictured here. The estate also is a leader in sustainable vineyard, winery and company practices. The Wente Clone, originating with Ernest Wente in 1912, provides the basis for many of the best chardonnays made in California.

Let’s look, then, at currently released chardonnays from this ever-evolving winery. These wines were samples for review.

The family’s entry-level model is the Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay 2013, Livermore Valley — now part of the San Francisco Bay AVA, established in 1999 and amended in 2006. The wine is carefully made. Fifty percent of the grapes are barrel-fermented in a mixture of French, American and Eastern European oak, after fermentation aging for seven months. The other 50 percent is fermented in stainless steel tanks; half of that amount rests on the lees for seven months and half is racked off clean. What’s the result? The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of pineapple and grapefruit with a touch of mango open to notes of cloves and toasted hazelnuts and a hint of quince jam. These elements segue seamlessly onto the palate, where the wine displays brisk acidity, fresh and ripe citrus and stone-fruit flavors and a modest amount of limestone minerality, all set into a well-balanced and appealing texture; a bit of spicy oak emerges on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Is it great? No, but it is very appealing and satisfying,and you could sell the hell out of this chardonnay in wine-by-the-glass programs in bars and restaurants. And look at the price. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.
How small is the production for the winery’s “Small Lot” label? For the Wente Small Lot “Unoaked” Eric’s Chardonnay 2014, Livermore Valley, the production was 1,100 cases; that’s fairly small. The wine is made completely in stainless steel tanks. This is a fresh, clean and bright chardonnay, sporting a pale straw color and attractive aromas of ripe and spicy pineapple and grapefruit buoyed by notes of green apple, spiced pear, jasmine and honeysuckle. Every element is in its place here: lively acidity and limestone minerality, a pleasing texture and structure, balanced between crispness and suppleness, and all feeling a little too correct and by-the-numbers, especially for the price. 13.4 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $28.

On the other hand, I found in the white wine fridge this wine’s version from 2012, and it’s a winner. Again, this wine saw no oak and no malolactic fermentation. A year or two burnished the effect, leaving this rendition richer, spicier and nuttier, but gently pronounced, and with wonderful purity and intensity on the palate, with a glow of citrus and stone-fruit flavors and an almost talc-like texture riven by arrow-straight acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. If you find a retail source for the Wente Eric’s Chardonnay 2012, snap it up and drink through 2016. 13.7 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.

The Wente Single Vineyard Riva Ranch Chardonnay 2013, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County, offers a pale but sort of star-bright gold hue and subdued but enticing aromas of ripe and spicy pineapple-grapefruit permeated by notes of mango, almond skin, jasmine and lilac. This wine was 90 percent barrel-fermented in new and second-year French and American oak and aged eight months; 10 percent was treated in stainless steel. This is certainly a reticent oak regimen, but from mid-palate back you feel the whisper and then the clamor of that wood resonate through the lush cushiony texture and into the spice-drenched, slightly creamy finish. I would say that this chardonnay needs another year to find its balance and core principles. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.

I needed a lively, flavorful yet spare red wine to drink with a pasta dish made rich with guanciale and lots of Pecorino cheese. I found what I was looking for in the Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco 2012, Langhe, Piedmont. Made by Luca Corrado, the estate’s fifth-generation owner, the wine serves as a kind of cadet version of Vietti’s Barolo Castiglione. The vines, averaging 35 years old, are treated in the same manner, though Perbacco represents a selection of younger vines and wines more suited to a shorter aging period. Perbacco, consisting of 100 percent nebbiolo grapes, ages four months in small oak barriques, 20 months in casks — that is to say, large barrels — and two months in stainless steel before bottling. The color is deep ruby shading to violet/brick red at the rim; aromas of dried currants and cherries are woven with notes of lavender and tobacco, briers and brambles, dried orange rind and black tea. While the black and red fruit flavors are generous, the wine’s structure is lean and racy, a bit rooty and branchy, and the wine benefits from clean acidity that feels chiseled for keeps. Nothing plush or voluptuous about the tannins either; the impression here is of a finely sifted and honed entity that can be depended on to contribute framing and foundation for the wine, no questions asked. The finish offers hints of tar, bitter chocolate and graphite. Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco 2012 is neither an oak-‘n’-tannin blockbuster nor a fruit bomb; rather, its spare, carefully calibrated elegance lends a sense of the grape’s rightful scale and character. It cut through the richness of the pasta dish like a plow through loam, like a prow through sea-spray, like a crow through an autumn breeze. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $25.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

In making the Charles Heintz “Searby” Chardonnay 2013, Sonoma Coast, the Wine of the Day, I don’t mean that you should rush right out and buy a case or even a bottle, because the production was very limited. I know, that’s not fair. On the other hand, I don’t mind using this venue or series of posts to inform My Readers of the wines that are out there in the world and available with a telephone call or a visit to a website. The family has owned Heintz Ranch, atop the second ridge back from the Pacific Ocean, since 1912. Charles Heintz is in charge now, growing chardonnay, pinot noir and syrah grapes that he sells to a handful of highly regarded producers, reserving some for his own wines, usually fewer than 1,000 cases annually. Consulting winemaker since 2012 has been Hugh Chappelle, winemaker at Quivira and former winemaker at Flowers Vineyard and Winery. The Charles Heintz “Searby” Chardonnay 2013 was made from grapes grown on 42-year-old dry-farmed vines; it’s the first stainless steel-fermented chardonnay produced at Heintz, and it reveals the delightful, fresh and engaging qualities that such a wine can possess, while offering, in this instance, plenty of depth and dimension. After fermentation, the wine undergoes 11 months of aging in French oak, 35 percent new barrels. The color is pale-straw-gold with a glint of leaf-green at the center; the entry is incredibly clean and attractive, with notes of spiced pear, green apple and lime peel; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of pineapple and grapefruit, a hint of almond blossom and a slight edge of limestone. Propelled by purposeful acidity and scintillating flint and limestone minerality, the wine nonetheless flows gently and brightly on the palate, its citrus and stone-fruit flavors (deepened by hints of ginger and quince) enhanced by a lively yet supple texture lent subtlety and sleekness by the deft wood influence; this is a chardonnay that illustrates what I frequently say about the relationship between wood and wine: “Oak should be like the Holy Spirit, everywhere present but nowhere visible.” 14.2 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 50 cases. Excellent. About $44.

A sample for review.

We had been drinking lots of white wines and rose wines, and finally LL said, “I need something red!” So with medium-rare cheeseburgers from Belmont Cafe — cheddar for LL, Swiss for me — I opened the Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Alexander Valley, and found a cabernet made exactly the way that I want a cabernet to be made. Stonestreet was launched when Jess Jackson, founder and owner of Kendall-Jackson, acquired the Zellerbach winery and vineyards in Chalk Hill in 1989. This became the prestige label for K-J and was a part of what was called the Artisan and Estates division of Jackson’s growing empire. Between May 1996 and May 1999, for my newspaper column, I reviewed the Stonestreet Chardonnay 1994 and ’95, the Pinot Noir 1994, the Pinnacle Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 1995, the Merlot 1994, ’95 and ’96, the Cabernet Sauvignon 1995 and ’96, the flagship Legacy 1994, the Sauvignon Blanc 1997 and, oddly, a Gewurztraminer 1997. Many changes have come upon Stonestreet since that period. The winery and estate now occupy 5,100 acres in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, ranging from 400 to 2,400 feet up the western flank of the Mayacamas Range. Nine hundred acres are planted in grapes divided into 235 individual vineyard blocks. Winemaker is Lisa Valtenbergs; vineyard manager is Gabriel Valencia. The focus is on chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon.

The Stonestreet Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is 100 percent varietal; it aged 16 months in French oak, 38 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby-purple shading to a magenta-violet rim. The immediate impression is of tremendous vitality and vigor, as aromas of cedar and thyme, graphite and lavender, hints of black olive, green peppercorns and bell pepper seethe in the glass, opening to notes of ripe but spare black currants, cherries and blueberries; there are undertones of black tea, iodine, tapenade and flint. I love how on the palate this cabernet reveals stones and bones through its potent and seductive ferrous and sanguinary nature, its wash of roots and branches and underbrush, its granitic aplomb. Give this wine 30 or 40 minutes and it calls up an extraordinary core of violets, black licorice, pomegranate, potpourri and sandalwood, all anchored in sleek, lithe dusty tannins and bright propulsive acidity. Those tannins, and the wine’s granite-backed mineral character, dominate the finish, which grows a bit austere but never astringent or undernourished. 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22 with such suitable fare as grilled steaks, pork chops, barbecue ribs — or hamburgers. Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

Way back on July 11, as Wine of the Day, No. 29, the Foursight Wines Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, was the topic of concern. Today, I want to look at a unique product issuing from the same winery — where Joe Webb is winemaker — the Foursight Charles Vineyard Unoaked Pinot Noir 2013, Anderson Valley, a red wine made entirely in stainless steel tanks; not a smidgeon of oak affects the impression of the grape’s purity and intensity. The color, a deep ruby-purple shading to magenta at the rim, will remind My Readers of Beaujolais-Villages or even a cru like Fleurie of Julienas, and indeed this wine offers some of the complicated fresh/earthy/funky/fruity character of the best examples of those genres. The ripeness and generosity of the ripe red and black currants and red and black cherries are unassailable, though that fruity aspect is permeated by notes of leather and loam, oolong tea and some dark rooty elixir; a few moments in the glass bring in tantalizing hints of raspberry (a little raspy), rose hips, dried fruit and potpourri. Scintillating acidity makes for a lively drink, while a background of graphite minerality and dusty yet silky tannins, from a portion of whole clusters, provides foundation and framing for structure. A lovely wine with a serious edge, not profound but with lots of appealing personality. 14.1 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17. Production was 125 cases. Excellent. About $25 and Worth a Search.

A sample for review.

Sangioveto was once a term for the grape commonly known as sangiovese, the red wine stalwart of Tuscany. The Badia a Coltibuono estate in Tuscany honors the heritage with a wine named for that ancient denomination, so today we look at the Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscano 2009, Toscano I.G.T., a 100 percent varietal wine that exhales an autumnal breath combining all that’s attractive and seductive about the meadow, the woodland and the vineyard. Depending on the year, the wines age from 12 to 18 months in French barriques, 25 percent new; the grapes are hand-harvested and ferment on native yeasts. Badia a Coltibuono Sangioveto di Toscano 2009 offers a dark ruby hue shading to brick-red at the rim; notes of leather, cloves, loam and some rooty, smoked black tea permeate an element of macerated red and black cherries, currants and plums; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of lavender, violets and bitter chocolate. The effect on the palate is a bit woody and briery; it takes 30 or 40 minutes for the wine to find balance and integration, after which it succeeds in delivering lovely purity and intensity of the grape’s essentially ripe but minerally character, with touches of figs and balsam, orange zest, graphite and burning leaves, all upheld by racy acidity that doesn’t quit and chiseled but softening tannins. Rabbit, quail, pheasant? Veal roast, leg o’ lamb, pastrami sandwich? Bring ’em on, I say. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Production was 750 cases. Excellent. About $60.

Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

The primary sparkling wines that issue from Schramsberg Vineyards are vintage-dated, I’ve just been tasting the releases from 2012. The venerable winery, founded in 1965, also offers a non-vintage sparkler called Mirabelle, a product that has steadily improved — and increased in price — over the years. The current version of the Scramsberg Mirabelle Brut is a blend of 83 percent 2011 and 17 percent reserve wines held back from previous years. The designation is California, because grapes are drawn from these counties: Sonoma, Monterey, Mendocino, Santa Barbara and Marin. It’s a combination of 52 percent chardonnay and 48 percent pinot noir. The color is medium straw-yellow, enlivened by a potent upward stream of finely honed bubbles; aromas of green apples and lime peel open to notes of quince and ginger, with hints of lightly buttered cinnamon toast and limestone; the overall effect is savory and saline, like heather, marsh grass and seashells. Squinching acidity contributes crispness and animation to this sparkling wine, which delivers flavors of roasted lemon, toasted hazelnuts and a touch of toffee; it’s quite dry and seems not to attempt the ethereal and elegant realms that Schramsberg’s vintage sparklers do; instead, this is about substance, moment and momentum on the palate, with a lively and dense character. Alcohol content is 12.6 percent. Drink with a variety of flavorful appetizers, especially revolving around grilled shrimp, smoked salmon and crab. Excellent. About $27.

A sample for review.

Let’s begin August with a bargain-priced rosé wine from Spain’s Rioja region. You would guess that a red or pink wine from that area renowned for its tempranillo grapes would be made from tempranillo, which is it primarily but with 20 percent garnacha grapes in the blend. The Viña Aguía Rosado 2014 offers a vivid medium copper-salmon hue and enticing aromas of fresh strawberries and raspberries macerated with cloves, thyme and orange peel. This is a quite dry, robust and savory rosé — nothing delicate or fragile here — with a pronounced element of limestone minerality under its juicy spicy red fruit flavors, chiming acidity for crispness and animation and a quality that edges close to tannic. Still, the wine is definitely made for immediate drinking for its freshness and sense of elevation, especially through the finish, which brings in subtle notes of pomegranate and candied orange zest. The alcohol content is 13.5 percent. We happily drank this bottle with a pasta and a summery cold sauce of ripe tomatoes with capers, green olives, mozzarella and lots of basil. Very Good+. About $12, marking Great Value.

Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

A blend of grapes from four vineyards and a plethora of classic clones, the Benovia Pinot Noir 2013, Russian River Valley, offers a medium ruby color that shades into ethereal transparency at the rim; first come smoke and loam, then an earthy briery-brambly quality, followed by touches of black cherry, cranberry and a hint of pomegranate seemingly macerated with cloves and sandalwood, mulberry and rhubarb; yes, that’s quite a sumptuous panoply of effects. The wine is dense and super satiny on the palate, a pretty wine with pockets of darkness and something sleek, polished and intricate that reminded me of the line from Keats’ sonnet “To Sleep”: “turn the key deftly in the oiled wards.” Not that this pinot noir feels too carefully made — winemaker is Mike Sullivan — because it concludes on a highly individual and feral note of wild berries, new leather, fresh linen and finely-milled tannins, all propelled by bright acidity. Alcohol content is 14.1 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 with roasted chicken, seared duck breast, lamb or veal chops. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

Rully is one of the villages of the Côte Chalonnaise entitled to its own appellation. Named for the town of Chalon-sur-Saône, the region is part of greater Burgundy, lying between the southern tail of Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune and Mâconnais. As with its more important cousin to the north, the grapes in the Chalonnaise are chardonnay and pinot noir, except for the commune of Bouzeron, dedicated solely to the aligoté grape. Surprisingly, for its relatively minor status, 23 climats or vineyards in Rully are entitled to Premier Cru designation. The commune contains about 357 hectares of vines — 882 acres — of which 2/3 are devoted to chardonnay. Our Wine of the Day, No. 39, is the Rully Les Cloux Premier Cru 2012, from the distinguished firm of Olivier Leflaive. This estate owns vines in a magnificent roster of Côte de Beaune powerhouses, including Grand Cru and Premier Cru settings in Meursault, Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, as well as interests in Chablis and the Chalonnaise. As we would expect from Olivier Leflaive, the wine is treated carefully, aging six to seven months in oak barrels, never more than 15 percent new and then resting in stainless steel tanks for nine months, resulting in a wine of great freshness and direct appeal. The color is very pale gold; aromas of lime peel, orange blossom and slightly candied grapefruit are twined with a distinct loamy-briery character that segues seamlessly to the palate, where the wine exhibits a lovely, almost talc-like texture and bright acidity that lends liveliness and tautness. A few minutes in the glass bring in a tide of scintillating limestone minerality as well as a freshening swell of slightly exotic spice and floral elements. The importer’s website indicates that this 2012 is the vintage currently in the U.S. market, and while the wines of the region are not intended for laying down, this should certainly retain its attractive nature through 2016 and into 2017. Alcohol content is 13 percent. A chardonnay of terrific presence and integrity. Excellent. About $26, a local purchase that’s a bit below the national average price.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.

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