Brian Demay’s Wine Wednesday: Wente Sandstone Merlot

Most wine lovers remember the line from the movie Sideways where Miles becomes upset with his friend Jack, who suggests they and the women in their group all have a glass of Merlot.

Jack : “If they want to drink Merlot, we’re drinking Merlot.”
Miles Raymond : “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any (expletive) Merlot!”

As strange as this sounds, that one line from this movie put a serious damper on Merlot sales in California! Which is a shame, because California is one of the most amazing places on earth to grow Merlot grapes, and the crushingly good wine which results. One winery that knows this is Wente.

Wente Vineyards is the country’s oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery, founded in 1883. They were at it so early, in fact, that they were one of the first to ever plant Chardonnay. As a matter of fact, people from other wineries would come to the Wente Vineyards and get cuttings to transplant their own – to the point where nearly all California Chardonnay today can be traced genetically to the first Wente vineyards! Isn’t that amazing?

So the Wente family knows a few things about wine-making, with experience dating back to the late 19th century. They survived Prohibition, they stuck with it through the boom of wineries springing up in California in the 1980s and 1990s, and they’re still there making quality wine 130+ years later.

Wente is also a bio-dynamic winery, which means they find organic ways to grow the best grapes: no pesticides, no chemicals, which makes a huge difference not only to the ecology of the area, but also the taste of the wines.

Vines that don’t have a pile of chemical fertilizer on top of the soil dig deeper into the soil of a specific area, with deep roots that reflect something the French call terroir. If you drink enough wine, you are able to tell a wine from a specific area simply by the taste and smell, and if it’s a really good wine, it can also evoke strong memories of a place, too! It’s all part of terroir. 

The 2015 Sandstone Merlot is so named because of the sandstone found in the estate vineyard from which the grapes are harvested in one of Wente’s Livermore Valley vineyards. We were lucky enough to sample this wine at a recent wine party at Sorrento’s and it was a crowd favorite.

For the price, this is an excellent Merlot, with fresh cherry, raspberry, red plum, and dark chocolate flavors. It’s very smooth, with some interesting cedar and pepper notes on the finish. It’s mostly Merlot (85%) but is blended with Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds a little structure and interest. Best of all, you can buy this for around $16 everywhere, and often for less than that.

On my five-cork scale based on taste and value, the 2015 Wente Sandstone Merlot gets 3.75 corks. If you haven’t had a good Merlot lately, try this one.

If you’d like to try interesting wines like this, please join me at our next private wine party at Sorrento’s Norwood Italian! I host a wine dinner there every month, and we feature several interesting wines, each paired with a delicious course. There are always cool prizes to win, too, so listen Wednesday at 4:15 to win your spot on the guest list, or click here for a chance to win!

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