Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, Livermore Valley
Cost: $19-21
I t’s strange how you can get comfortable with a wine and not think about it too much, even though you have been drinking it for years.
Wente cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay have been like that for me. The wines are like old friends who I have enjoyed for many years. I cannot think of a time when a Wente wine disappointed me.
So today I’ll share an old friend with you.
The cab is wonderful, presenting typical characteristics of a California cabernet sauvignon. If you want to find out if you will like a cab, this is a good one to try.
It is a beautiful deep garnet in the glass with aromas of dried cranberry, bay leaf and black pepper. The first sip reveals tastes of plum, black cherry, blackberry and cedar. The finish is smooth, with rounded tannins balanced by good acidity.
A simpler way to say that might be to say it feels good in your mouth, smooth, mellow, with no bites or odd tastes. This is a nice wine to sip while sitting around the fireplace or the fire pit. But it also pairs well with food.
The grapes are 80 precent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent petit verdot, 5 percent petite sirah, 5 percent malbec and 2 percent tempranillo. All the grapes are from estate vineyards in the Livermore Valley on the valley floor and southern hills.
With Livermore Valley’s unique east-west orientation, well-drained rocky soils, and unique mesoclimates, the Southern Hills vineyards are ideal for growing cabernet sauvignon of distinct character, depth and intensity.
Each varietal was fermented separately in upright stainless steel tanks and gently pumped over twice daily. The aeration helps increase aroma and texture extraction.
The wine then was aged for 16 months in French, Eastern European and neutral oak barrels. Some of the wine was aged in stainless steel tanks to help bring out the vibrant fruit flavor you find in this wine.
The Wente family now farms about 400 acres of cabernet sauvignon vineyards using two clones originating from California wine pioneer Charles Wetmore’s Bordeaux cuttings in the 19th Century.
Now is a good time to think about the wines you have been drinking. There may be some you used to drink and forgot about. It’s always good to look back and try some of your favorites that you used to drink.
Some you might not like any more. But then there are some, like the Wente cab and chardonnay, that really spark great memories and new experiences. These are remarkable wines at this price point.
Winery: One of the things I did not realize is that Wente Vineyards is the country’s oldest continuously operated family-owned winery, founded in 1883.
C.H. Wente bought 47 acres in the Livermore Valley and decided he would grow grapes and make wine. The family is now into its fifth generation of growers and winemakers.
They do more than just pump out a lot of wine; they win awards, get cited for their sustainability practices and continue to grow. They now own estate vineyards in the Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay and Arroyo Seco, Monterey appellations. The wines are available throughout the United States and exported to more than 70 countries.
In 1912, C.H.’s son Ernest Wente persuaded his father to import chardonnay cuttings from the vine nursery at the University of Montpellier France to the Livermore Valley. He then hand-picked the best of the best vines. Today, more than 80 percent of all California chardonnay stems from the Wente Clone.
In viticulture a “clone” refers to vines descended from a single plant by taking a cutting or bud. In theory, each vine grown on a clone is genetically identical to the original vine. 
In 1933 Wente produced and released the nation’s first varietally labeled chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and semillon. The same year Herman Wente helped found California’s Wine Institute.
Wente Family Estates was among the first wineries to received the Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery designation, and one of the only wineries to certify every aspect of its business.
Greg Norman designed an 18-hole championship golf course which opened around the vineyards in 1998. The winery also has three tasting rooms and a restaurant and often hosts top-level concerts by performers such as Ray Charles and James Taylor.
In 2011, Wente Family Estates was named American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast and a top 30 wine company by Wine Business Monthly.
Today, 5th Generation winegrower Karl D. Wente continues using the Wente Clone to create chardonnay in four different styles: Morning Fog Chardonnay, Single Vineyard Riva Ranch Chardonnay, Small Lot Eric’s Chardonnay and Nth Degree Chardonnay.
Wente has several varietals in a wide range of prices, including petite sirah, merlot, zinfandel, port, pinot noir rosé, barbera rosé, sauvignon blanc, riesling, orange muscat, sparkling wine, a GSM blend and several other blends. They also produce ultra-premium wines under the Nth Degree label.
Granddaughter Erin and son Michael enjoyed the hot dog/hamburger dinner.
Goes with: I have had this wine several times, most recently with grilled hamburgers. It was a wonderful pairing. The wine is rich and warm, but not so heavy that it overpowers simple burgers.
This has been a busy time so I just plopped a couple of frozen Angus burgers on the grill and we had a home made meal, paired with frozen onion rings cooked in the oven. Our granddaughter Erin was visiting after ballet class and she had a hot dog and a couple of small sliders, but no wine. In another 10 years or so she can start helping us taste the wine.
I also recently tasted the Wente cab and chardonnay at a little wine tasting for Communities in Schools, an important non-profit that works with the Richmond Country School System to keep students in school and on track to graduate. They do all kinds of things from mentoring to tutoring to helping families during times of need.
Burgers and onions rings paired well with the Wente cab.
Both wines were great in such a setting, either sipping by themselves or with the shrimp and finger food at the reception. The Wente cab and chardonnay are the kinds of wines you sip and enjoy without having to worry about how to describe them. You just say they are fun wines to drink and that covers it.
By the way, Communities in Schools has its major fund raiser on March 15 at the Doubletree Hotel. It is the Celebrity Servers Dinner that will feature local notables dressed as super heroes trying to earn tips for CIS, silent auction items and raffle items. It was a huge hit last year.
The winery says the cab also would pair will with all kinds of beef, pork and cheese.

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