Wente Vineyards and a new discovery, Lone Dove Winery
On our quest for great buttery chardonnay we traveled out to Livermore Valley on a Saturday to see what the region offered. First off, Livermore is a nice area filled with cool restaurants and a fun "small town" vibe. It is much more laid back than Napa Valley and lends itself well to a casual day of wine tasting. One thing to note, most tasting rooms in Napa open up around 9:30am or 10:00am but the earliest opening we saw of the wineries we wanted to go to was 11:00am -most open at noon. The first winery we went to and one we'd been to before was Wente Vineyards. Wente is probably the most well known winery of the Livermore Valley wineries and they had a very nice tasting. The staff was very friendly and they even let us taste some extra wines!
We only got to taste two of the chardonnays during our visit although I think they were the most relevant ones for Chardonnay Box. We started with the Morning Fog Chardonnay which is a very nice crowd pleaser chardonnay. It was not overly buttery or crisp, just a very good drinkable wine for anytime drinking or for a party where you have a diverse group of wine drinkers. I got a mixture of flavors that seemed like they mixed a sauvignon blanc with their chardonnay. It had a nice acidity with a hint of lemon zest. The second chardonnay and definitely one our fans will like is the Riva Ranch Chardonnay. This is one I get at the grocery store often as it is a good price and has great flavor (note: this wine had not chilled for very long when we tasted it so the flavors were even stronger). The Riva Ranch is filled with rich oak and butter. I got a bit of toasted marshmallow immediately after the oak and butter. The flavor that followed was an amazing creamier version of the dessert bananas foster. Notes of vanilla, cream with some banana mixed in and a delicious brown sugar to round it out. Don't worry, although I got a dessert flavor out of the chardonnay, the wine is far from sweet. Just a really great chardonnay all around.
In addition to the chardonnay, we got to taste some great red wine as well. The son of the winemaker, Karl Wente, created a sub brand within Wente called Nth° where he takes the absolute best grapes and make Wente's most premium wines. We did not get to taste the Nth° Chardonnay (although I have had it before and it is amazing) but we did get to try the Nth° Merlot. It was so fantastic I had to buy a bottle. These wines are very difficult to get unless you go to the winery or they do have an Nth° degree wine club where you get each wine as it is released. It's a pricy club but if you can afford it I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
We went to a couple other wineries but none that surprised me as much as Lone Dove. Lone Dove did not show up on Google Maps (2.25.17) but we found a Yelp page and were able to locate the tasting area. It sits in what looks like a temporary wine tasting area with 3 other wineries. They probably had upwards of 20 wines and so many of them were just delicious. They have quite a few white wines and a whole line of rosés which you don't see as often these days when tasting. I was blown away with how much I liked each of the different wines. They did a great job on their reds as well.
I got to meet the winemaker George while I was there and really enjoyed my conversation with him. He takes what he calls a "spice rack" approach to making wine where he has numerous say, chardonnays, that he can mix together to make the optimal wine that his customers will love. For example, he might have some stainless steel fermented chardonnay, some American oak barreled chardonnay and some chardonnay in French oak barrels that have been toasted to bring out more flavor. He will then mix and match until he gets the perfect wine. And he can experiment as he gets feedback from his customers. Additionally, George was a ton of fun to chat with and made the Lone Dove "tasting room" experience very memorable.
Most people who come to Northern California wine country may not have enough time to get out of Napa/Sonoma but if you can or if you live in the area and want a fun and laid back alternative, make the trip to Livermore Valley for a day or two. It's really fun, the people are so nice and, bonus, the tasting fees tend to be lower! ~ Have fun!