Tasting Affordable California White, Red and Rosé Wines


A table full of good wines to sample along with creative food pairings isn’t a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Luckily, I was part of the Occasional Wine Council blessed with this task.


Four Chardonnays were on our list of wines to sample. I do like a good Chardonnay—sometimes one that is oaky and sometimes one that has been aged in only stainless steel. Three of these Chardonnays were from Wente Vineyards, located in Livermore, California, the country's oldest, continuously operated family-owned winery; and one from Shannon Ridge in Lake County in Northern California.


Our first tasting was the 2014 Wente, “Eric’s Chardonnay” ($28). This small lot wine comes from carefully selected estate grown blocks that are sustainably farmed. As a group we noticed the Asian pear nose with the flavor of lemon, pear and nectarine. This 2014 Chardonnay was given 92 points by Wine Enthusiast in December of 2015. Our food pairing were Pear, Havarti, and Almond Puff Pastry Bites, a nice fit for the pear and citrus flavors of the wine.


The 2013 Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay ($15) received 90 points from Wine Enthusiast in May of 2015. This Chardonnay consisted of 50 percent aged in new and used oak and 50 percent in stainless steel. We found it to have a tropical fruit nose and a taste of tropical fruit and vanilla. We loved this Chardonnay paired with a ranch dressing pizza. As a group, we chose this wine as the best value of everything we sampled and the best Chardonnay.


Next we sampled the 2013 Wente Riva Ranch Single Vineyard Chardonnay ($22). This wine displayed classic Chardonnay aromas of apple and pear as well as stone fruits and vanilla.  This is a California style of Chardonnay that has been aged in French and American oak for 10 months 


The last Chardonnay we sampled was the 2013 Shannon Ridge Chardonnay ($12). Your palate is greeted with vanilla, oak, green apples, and citrus undertones. The blend is 98-percent Chardonnay and 2-percent Sauvignon Blanc. We noticed the creaminess of the wine but also some astringency.


The food pairing for the last two Chardonnays was a beautifully plated appetizer of onion, thyme, and apple simmered in a maple vanilla syrup with a splash of apple vinegar served atop a crostini spread with blue cheese. Delightful, and a perfect pairing for both Chardonnays!


Next was the 2014 Villicana Liquid Hope Rose from Paso Robles ($24), grown on 72 acres on the west side. The pinkish salmon color is delightful to the eye, and the nose full of luscious aromas of black cherries and a slight amount of smoke and minerality. The palate replicates the nose but also has the taste of watermelon and cranberries. Alex and Monica Villicana planted the 13-acre vineyard themselves and have dubbed their wine as “Bordeaux meets Rome.” This wine exudes the taste of a dry French rosé and is comprised of 72 percent Grenache as well as Mouvedre and Syrah. In honor of their mother, Tina, and other friends who have been touched by cancer, $1 of every crafted bottle goes to cancer support.


To fit the mood of the Provence bistros, we sampled a superb tapenade made of kalamata olives, garlic, anchovies and capers—the perfect accompaniment, and for a brief moment I felt I had travel to the South of France.


The red wines were not to be forgotten today, however. We sampled the 2012 Shannon Ridge Petite Sirah ($23) grown in Lake County. The color of this wine was very rich, as a Petite Sirah should be. It abounds with aromas of black fruits, espresso and vanilla. A sip coats your mouth with flavors of cracked pepper, and blueberry. This bold and aromatic wine can hold up to almost any food. Today’s perfect accompaniment was carne asada with a spicy guacamole. We liked the pepperoni and fennel sausage very much with this big wine because the fennel paired so well. We also sampled the wine with a triple chocolate truffle espresso cake. Scrumptious!

The last wine of the day was the 2011 Shannon Ridge Terre Vermielle Barbera (95% Barbera, 5 percent Petite Syrah) ($30). We found this wine to be very earthy—too earthy to pair with the fennel pizza—but delicious with the chocolate truffle cake. The Barbera displayed aromas of cherries, strawberries, and spices. The flavors were of ripe cherry pie as well as berries and mocha. There was a good but not overpowering acidity it. The pairing provided for this Barbera was a colorful strawberry, spinach, red-onion and candy-coated pecan salad. The earthiness and boldness of the Barbera pairs well with this sweet and savory salad.

As a group we always select our favorite wines of the day. This proved to be an exceptionally difficult task because of the wide variety of wines. We voted and split our votes between the Shannon Ridge Petite Sirah and the Villicana Rose.  I suggest you start with a bottle of the rosé and finish with a bottle of the sirah. That would make for a good day!

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