Wine Review Council Focuses on Three California Wineries
by Linda Stewart
Led by Creative Director and CEO of the Wine Review Council, Linda Kissam, our group of wine writers recently convened in the Temecula Valley Wine Country to taste and discuss an assortment of wines. These included four Chardonnays, a Rosé, a Petite Sirah, and a Barbera. As participants, we were each assigned a wine to research and tasked with bringing an appropriate pairing for that wine.
Three of the Chardonnays were from Wente Vineyards. The winery was established in the late 1800s by C.H. Wente, who learned about winemaking in Napa Valley from Charles Krug. The Wente family now owns two vineyards, one in Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay, and another one in Arroyo Seco, Monterey. The first wine on our agenda was 2014 Eric’s Chardonnay ($28), estate grown from small blocks, influenced by the east-west valley orientation of the Livermore Valley. Fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks, this wine imparted a subtle bouquet of lemon and apple, with a clear, light body. The pairing of almond puff pastry with creamy pears and Havarti cheese complimented the wine.
Our next Wente Chardonnay was 2013 Morning Fog ($15), so-named because of Livermore Valley’s morning fog and cool mist derived from nearby San Francisco Bay. This half-oak/half-stainless steel-produced fruit forward wine had a creamy mouth-feel and paired well with an earthy, vegetarian pizza from Temecula’s Goat and Vine restaurant. This wine was a favorite of the wine council and considered an exceptional value for the price.
Our third Chardonnay from Wente was 2013 Riva Ranch Single Vineyard ($22), estate grown from their Arroyo Seco vineyards in Monterrey County. The cooler climate, along with the limestone and loam soil produce grapes with intense flavor. I found this wine to show California typicity, with tropical fruit both on the nose and the palate, along with some oak and noticeable acidity. I had a dual wine assignment with one pairing for this Chardonnay and the following Shannon Ridge Chardonnay. My contribution was an apple-onion confit crostini consisting of sweet and savory ingredients (balsamic, maple syrup, and blue cheese) that balanced and contrasted with this wine and the following wine.
The Shannon Ridge 2013 Chardonnay ($12) is produced in California's Lake County and the grapes are grown at high elevation in volcanic soil. This dry wine had a slight oak and vanilla flavor. I felt the apple and maple syrup in the apple-onion confit added a fruity, sweet component to balance the dryness of the wine.
2014 Villicana Liquid Hope Rosé ($20) is from Villicana Winery in Paso Robles. This crisp, low-sugared rosé had a beautiful blushing pink color, an ambrosial nose, and rich flavors of ripe watermelon and dark cherry. An added plus is that for each bottle sold, a $1.00 donation is made to cancer research in honor of the owner’s mother. We had two marvelous but diverse food pairings for this wine – a savory olive tapenade and delicate cookies, Les Mini Biscuits Roses by Fossier. Liquid Hope Rosé was the unanimous choice for best pairing wine of the evening.
The 2012 Shannon Ridge Petite Sirah ($23) with its deep purple color, fruity bouquet, and rich berry and pepper flavors, was selected along with the Morning Fog Chardonnay for the council’s top honors. I also thought this was a noteworthy wine for its price range. The lively seasoned carne asada and guacamole pairing complemented the richness and spirit of this Petite Sirah.
We finished the evening with a 2011 Shannon Ridge Terre Vermielle Barbera ($30). I sensed a ripe strawberry aroma and flavor, with a touch of oak. It was paired well with a spinach salad of fresh strawberries, red onion, and candied pecans, dressed in a white wine vinaigrette.
Photos by Linda Stewart and Todd Montgomery.