The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2015

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july 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  109 Bob Bath, MS captivates his audience with a dynamic presentation on the history and styles of Chardonnay. A focused Edgar Zavala, Sommelier at Palio d'Asti in San Francisco, and wine buyer Les Tso of Le Cheval in Oakland, try their hand at blending. Chris Chandler, Executive Director of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association, explained the climatic and geographic factors that make the AVA unique. Murrieta's Well is home to Fifth-Generation Winemaker Karl Wente, who, along with Wente Family Estate's Chief Marketing Officer Amy Hoopes, set the stage with a brief history of the estate, the Wente family and a tasting of the winery's current releases. While relatively little is known about its namesake, the history of Murrieta's Well is a fundamental part of winegrowing in the Livermore Valley, which began in 1882 when Charles Wetmore, then Secretary of the California Viticultural Commission, established the Cresta Blanca Winery. "The gravelly, silty-loam soils here reminded him of the Bordeaux region in France," explained Wente, who demonstrated later that day in the vine- yard. The following year, Carl H. Wente purchased 47 acres in Livermore and built his winery. Under mandate from the Commission, Wetmore went to France for cut- tings, and a family friend of Louis Mel's wife at Château d'Yquem supplied Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon; red varieties came from Château Margaux and Chardonnay from Meursault. "By 1889, Wetmore's Livermore Valley late-harvest wine, which was modeled after the Sauternes of its origin, won the Grand Prix medal at the International Paris Exposition," noted Wente. Round Two: Answer: The region that produced the first California wine to win a major competition in France. Question: What is the Livermore Valley? In an 1893 report titled "The Vineyards in Alameda County," written by Sonoma winegrower Charles Bundschu, Louis Mel had 32 acres of the riparia varieties Folle Blanche and Colombard planted to the original site. Wetmore gave him vinifera cuttings and Mel went on to build a gravity-flow winery into the hillside, the first of its kind in the region. Second-generation winegrower Ernest Wente eventually bought the estate from Mel in 1930, but it would take another 60 years to see history come full circle, when Ernest's grandson, fourth-generation Philip Wente, co-founded the brand Murrieta's Well in 1990. History lessons go down easier when there's tasting involved, and the first wine of the day was 2014 The Whip from Murrieta's Well. The Whip is a blend of seven white varieties, all sourced from the estate vineyard, about half of which is barrel-fermented in neutral oak and sur lie aged. "This is an easy drinking, international blend," said Bardessono's Anani Lawson. "It's aromatic and crisp with honeysuckle, orange blossom, pear, melon and fig." A quick show of hands revealed that several sommeliers have added a white blend category to their lists. With only 300 cases produced, 2012 Small Lot Zarzuela is an Iberian blend that ages for up to 14 months. "This medium-weight red blend has a tasty mid-palate of black fruit, tobacco and sweet spice, and the acid is seamless, like a bass guitar," said Slanted Door's Mark Cartland, an obser- vation seconded by Edgar Zavala of Palio d'Asti. Zarzuela immediately inspired food pairing shout outs from our sommeliers; wine buyer Marie Mertz from Todo un Poco recommended pork ribs, and Le Cheval somm Les Tso liked the idea of barbecued chicken. Charlotte Randolph, Beverage Director of San Francisco's Californios SF, examines the Cluster of Chardonnay, which are descendants of the Wente clone.

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