Looking for quality Chardonnay? Look to California’s Wente Vineyards

Chardonnay and California's Livermore AVA go hand in hand. Here's a look at three picks from Wente Vineyards. Plus, a wee bit of Stark Insider reminiscing.

Wente Chardonnay Wine Review

If you like Chardonnay, you owe it to yourself to try a bottle from Wente at least once in your wine-loving lifetime. Fortunately, because I live here in Silicon Valley, about thirty minutes south of Livermore (via the scenic, twisty, hilly highway 680), Wente is easily found on store shelves.

Wente sent Stark Insider a trio of their latest Chardonnay releases:

  • 2014 Eric’s Chardonnay ($25)
  • 2013 Morning Fog Chardonnay ($15)
  • 2013 Riva Ranch Chardonnay ($22)

By Napa Chard standards at least, very reasonably priced.

I see Morning Fog all the time at superstores and boutiques too. Costco, as is almost always the case, beats all comers when it comes to price. And don’t let the naysayers get snobbish on you and tell you to avoid grocery store wine. There are many, many great choices out there — I can only speak to the SF Bay Area of course, so perhaps we’re spoiled here, but that turned-up nose and dangling pinky when it comes to sourcing wines is one of my pet peeves. Find the wines you like. Get them at the best possible price. And enjoy some sips with friends and family already.

So, why Wente?

For one thing Wente is a historic winery. But, I feel it has to try twice as hard to tell the world. That’s because Livermore — where Ernest Wente, in 1812, first started planting Chardonnay root stocks brought over from France — doesn’t have the glitz and recognition that its neighbors on the West Coast (namely Napa and Sonoma) enjoy. That’s partially why, goes my untested theory, wines from Livermore are routinely far less expensive than others found across Northern California. Yet, quality remains high.

Another thing to know is that Karl Wente is as hipster a generational winemaker as you’re likely to find. It kind of helps that he uses music and his guitar as a metaphor for wine-making (see video below).

It was 2009 (six years ago, how time flies!) when we scheduled a Stark Insider video shoot with Karl Wente. We showed up at his “ultimate California wine country bachelor pad” (our words) to discover he was still getting out of bed, and/or recovering from the previous night’s escapades (our theory). He hollered from an upper window, “be right out guys!” It was so so perfect. Later he serenaded Loni on the porch of his home, before demonstrating battonage on a massive facility located down the road. It could be the first buddy flick ever filmed for Stark Insider. Could be.

Loni Stark with Karl Wente - Interview
Karl Wente. Probably explaining to Loni Stark why photos and videos back in 2009 looked so crappy.

Onto the wines then eh…

I enjoy all three of these Chardonnays. The Morning Fog is pretty full bodied. To me, at times, bordering on maybe too oakey. Probably the best to pair with spicy food, or some big fish dish.

My favorite, and the most interesting of the three is the “unoaked” small lot wine: Eric’s Chardonnay.

It all depends on your personal preference, of course. Hey, drink what you like (best wine advice ever?). If you like your espressos straight up, your fuel high octane, and your horror movies free of cliches, then obviously you like unoaked, austere, acidic style wines. This one is fermented in stainless steel tanks, meaning less oak flavors show themselves. Think acidic lemon zinger.

Wente Chardonnay – Morning Fog

13.5% alc, $15

Recommended

Wente Chardonnay – Riva Ranch

13.5% alc, $22

Recommended

Wente Chardonnay – Eric’s Chardonnay (small lot)

Wente Vineyards - Eric's Chardonnay 2014 Wine Review Livermore

13.4% alc, $25

Highly Recommended

And just in case you’ve never been to Livermore Valley, or perhaps have a yearning for classic Stark Insider video (who doesn’t), you can watch Loni’s visit with the cool dude of wine himself, Karl Wente…

WATCH: Inside Karl Wente’s Ultimate Wine Country Bachelor Pad (Stark Insider Classic Video)

And, don’t forget, there’s always the Livermore Hustle (thanks to John Concannon, Darcie Kent and Steve Ziganti… more on this Stark Insider wine journey to come)…

WATCH: A Rainy Day in Livermore can only mean one thing: Dancing! (A Stark Insider non-sequitur)

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