The Livermore Valley has an ever-growing roster of wineries, benefiting from a climate that supports a wide range of grape varietals. Look hard enough, and one can find nearly every style of wine represented. The Rhone style of wine raises the complexity bar a bit, but Richard Dixon, owner/winemaker at Les Chenes Estate Vineyards is up to the challenge!
The Les Chenes tasting room is way, way, way out Tesla Road. OK, maybe a quarter of a mile past Eagle Ridge and Cedar Mountain. About an extra 3 minutes of travel, but upon arrival the feeling of French countryside is palpable. Rolling hills stretching out as far as the eye can see, some contented livestock in the pastures, and rows of grapevines completing the scene.
The Les Chenes tasting room is a bit of everything! There’s a tasting bar for those who prefer a standing tasting, but the focus is on a more relaxed, seated tasting. There are cafe tables and chairs placed around the room, providing just enough privacy for conversation without feeling isolated. For those days with moderate weather, there are outdoor tables, too!
Beside serving amazing Rhone style wine, Les Chenes sets itself apart by serving a cheese pairing with every tasting. The cheeses change frequently, but in our multiple visits, we have never been disappointed. Nor have we ever tasted these cheeses anywhere else. All the these cheeses (and more) are available for purchase. Yet another reason to keep a cooler in the trunk. The cool cheese can keep the cool wine company!
We chose a strategically-placed table and settled in for our tasting. First up was their 2014 Blanc de Maison. Richard explained that “House White” meant that he could serve any white varietal without changing the name. This time he was pouring a Sauvignon Blanc, which offered great minerality and island fruit notes. It was paired with a light Champagne Chardonnay Cheddar cheese that played off the minerality really well.
Next up was a new release, their 2013 Estate Mourvedre. Richard told us that this was inspired by the wines of the Bandol region of France. We told him that we loved the cigar and spice notes. This was paired with a Jalapeno Peppadew cheese. We weren’t familiar with this style of cheese, and several of us found it a bit too spicy for wine tasting. That meant more for me!
The 2014 Estate Syrah was paired with the Horseradish/Bacon Cheddar cheese. The plum and cherry notes in the wine nicely balanced the richness of the bits of actual bacon in the cheese. Their 2012 Heritage Rosso, from Livermore Valley Zinfandel grapes, was paired with a Gouda with smoked bacon cheese that stood up to the rich fruit and balanced pepper of the wine.
Our final taste was their Estate Syrah Dessert Wine. Paired with a delightful Strawberry Chardonnay cheese, this classic Port-style wine showed amazing dimensionality and a very pleasant, lingering finish. What a great way to close a tasting flight!
It was finally time to leave France and return to Livermore, so we made our purchases, said our thanks, and set off into the setting sun. One more winery on the agenda!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?