Great Format, Great Wines: Wente, Murietta’s Well and Tamas Estates

karl wentePart of this story is about The Wonders of Modern Technology.

The other part is about good wine.

I’ll start with the technology part. A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in something called a Twitter Tasting. The invite came from Wente Vineyards, and although I didn’t have a clue what a “Twitter Tasting” was, I was keen to find out, because I’ve tasted and liked many Wente wines..

So our Twitter tasting happened last night, and now I can tell you what it is — it’s a blast! Turns out Twitter has this feature called TasteLive that’s like a video conference call. On my laptop the TasteLive page shows a live streaming video of the folks hosting the tasting, in this case Karl Wente and a young woman from their PR firm. He sipped his way through five wines, commenting on each. And we in the “audience” could comment or ask questions through the Twitter feed. A commentator off-camera read our questions/comments to Karl as they came through, and he replied or commented back. This is a fun and efficient format, and a great use of Twitter. Thanks to the folks at Wente for initiating it.

So let’s get to the wine. We tasted through five wines, and that’s more than I want to review in one post. I’ll look at two today and the others in a day or so.

The first two wines don’t bear the Wente name, because the family also owns Murietta’s Well (also in Livermore, California) and Tamas Estates in the Central Coast. Each winery has its own personality, wine style and price point, so let’s start with the entry level wine.

Tamas Estates is a label that’s designed to come across as “hip and adventurouus,” and I’m guessing it’s aimed at a younger audience. The wines are supposed to be ‘approachable,” i.e. fruit-forward and easy on the finish. The first wine we tried in the Tamas line is very new to the market, and I think is pushing the envelope for California “fun” wines. Tamas Sangiovese Rosato 2010 is a pink wine, and those of us in the wine biz know that 95% of Americans think pink means semi-sweet White Zinfandel.tamas rosato

This is most certainly not a White Zin. It’s made from Sangiovese with a dash of Pinot Noir, and it has real character and class. The color, first, is a deep rose, which indicates slightly longer skin contact than your average American blush. In the glass it’s very pretty, and invited me to come hither. The nose was relatively light at first, suggesting watermelon and maybe a hint of cherry. And thankfully, there was absolutely no sweet edge.

My first sip was lots of fun. The watermelon jumped up and said hello, followed by delicate cherry and strawberry flavors. There was good intensity to the fruit — you didn’t have to hunt for flavors like you do with too many roses. But the best part? There’s a great burst of bright acid around mid-palate that carries all the way through the finish. It keeps this Rosato clean and snappy, and sets it totally apart from all but a few American pink wines. It was a great choice to use Sangiovese to lead this blend, because its natural cherry fruit and high acid seem ideally suited for a good rose.

Another thing I like about this wine is the packaging — it’s vaguely exotic, suggesting faraway places and European origins. It helps differentiate it from the herd of American pink stuff.

And did I mention this Tamas sells for around $10? That’s a deal and a half. I’d certainly recommend it in my retail store as a fun picnic/barbeque/patio summer wine.

Next up is a wine that’s on a different planet from Tamas. The winery, Murietta’s Well, has a great backstory, and dates almost to the beginning of California wine. It seems there was a guy named Joaquin Murietta, who was, depending on which biography you read, a Mexican patriot who helped settle the West or a renegade horse thief. While running his horses down to Mexico sometime around 1850, he stumbled on an artesian well in the beautiful Livermore Valley, just east of the San Francisco Bay. The area became known to the locals as Murietta’s Well, and around 1880 a European immigrant named Loius Mel fell in love with it. He bought 92 acres and planted vineyards with rootstock from Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux. Not a bad lineage for a winery…

The Wente family, who have been making wine next door for even longer than Louis Mel, got involved around 1930, and ended up taking total control in 1990 when they set out to resurrect the historic Murietta’s Well winery. Their mission now is to create “unforgettable estate blends from California’s Livermore Valley.”

The first blend in our Twitter tasting was Murietta’s Well “The Spur” 2008, which plays a twist on the traditional Bordeaux-style blend. There are four Bordeaux varietals — Cabernet Sauvignon (54%), Petite Verdot (23%), Cabernet Franc (9%) and Malbec (4%), but they’re joined by a classic California grape — 10% Petite Sirah. And that 10% really sets the tone.spur

The color is deep and intense, and right off the cork the nose showed that fleshy, iodine-y thing I get from Petite Sirah. Not that that’s a bad thing! That component calmed down with some swirling, and then the dark fruit started to develop. I got deep Cab aromas like blackberry and blackcurrant, and then the oak started ro suggest itself.

The palate had loads of richness, with blackberry and black currant darkened by some gamy notes. An initial burst of acidity resolved to a soft, sensuous mouthfeel. The oak came into play as the wine sat and developed: caramel and vanilla rounded out the back of the palate, with a hint of exotic spice. Tannins were… not very tannic, so I guess they were well integrated.

This is a pretty hedonistic bottle of wine. It’s a “more is more” wine — not that there’s anything wrong with that! I’d like to drink this again with some rich comfort food (Lamb Stew anyone?). But I can certainly recommend it as a unique and well-made blend.

Thanks again, Wente, and Cheers!

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