Every once in a while I receive wines that surprise the heck out of me. They are sometimes at low price points that provide a consistent and approachable tasting experience, some are amazingly vibrant and full representations of the grape varietal, and other times there are small wineries who send samples that truly impress me across the board. This shipment of Benessere wines from Napa, California fits into that last category. The winery sent two of each wine which gave me the opportunity to share with Ben Hilzinger, my main wine slinger at Nectar, as well as with a few friends.
Benesesere (ben-NESS-seh-ray), Italian for prosperity was founded in 1994 by John and Ellen Benish and produces about 5000 cases of Italian varieties and Zinfandel. Benessere farms 36 acres surrounding the winery, predominately Sangiovese and Merlot (27 acres). Winemaker Jack Stuart brings his 36 years of experience to the St. Helena winery where his approach of “not overripe, not over-alcoholic, but graceful flavorful and balanced,” is displayed.
I have to admit I didn’t share this wine. The blend of 49% Zinfandel, 41% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot is made from the run off juice that is drained from the main tanks of what becomes their intensely dark red wines. With only 12-18 hours of skin contact the juice is fermented separately in stainless steel tanks to make this fairly dry “pink” wine. With less than 1% residual sugar the slightly tart wine demonstrates nice balanced flavors of raspberry and spice. At only $16 per bottle this is a winning wine for summer barbeque or hanging out on the boat. 3+/5
2009 Benessere Pinot Grigio
In the glass the nearly colorless wine gives off aromas of lemon zest, and peaches. During the winemaking process the juice spends a few months in neutral oak barrels before bottling. An added depth of complexity is added to the palate of the wine. Boasting flavors of citrus and mild tartness the soft medium acidic finish lends me to believe that the wine will pair well with an array of food. The $22 price tag is a little much for me on this wine. I would encourage a trip to the tasting room to see if it fits in your flavor profile. 3/5
2007 Benessere Sangiovese
The 100% estate Sangiovese comes across slightly darker than its Tuscan counterparts. At 14.4% alcohol by volume the wine is also more alcoholic than the Italian versions. Aromas of wet leather are merged with soft red fruit and spice. The flavor profile is medium bodied and consists of subtle spicy leather, mint, and earthy raspberry. There is a modest amount of acidity and tannin on the back end giving the wine more structure and depth than what I was expecting. In all, a very well made Sangio that gives the characteristics of the grape variety while providing the strength of Napa Valley. At $28 retail, this is a nice wine, 4/5.
2008 Benessere Zinfandel “Black Glass Vineyard”
The 100% estate Zinfandel is 14.7% ABV and spends 18 months in French and American oak barrels. The color is noticeably lighter than many California Zins that I’ve tried. Smells of freshly laid tar are interwoven with the traditional dark strawberry and black pepper. In the mouth there are indications of leather, meat and herbs that nicely accompany the moderately jammy fruit. This is an approachable wine but at the $28 price point reminds me more of something I would find at ½ the price. 3/5
2007 Benessere Zinfandel “Old Vine”
With vines planted in 1923 from Collins Vineyards this Zinfandel lives up to what California Zin is known for. The grapes undergo an 23 day extended maceration to slowly extract the flavor before lumbering for 15 months in French and American oak barrels. With a deep color and flecks of jewel toned purple at the rim, the Zin is moderately robust with aromas of blackberry and earth along with tobacco. The palate reminds Ben of cherry Shesha and me of flowers and strawberry jam. If you like fruit forward Zinfandel then this is a wine you will definitely enjoy. The modest price point of $32 makes this an attainable treat too. 4/5
2006 Benessere Phenomenon
An estate super Tuscan blend of 56% Cabernet, 37% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot and 2% Syrah. The dark bold colored wine went through a gentle handling wine making process with careful attention paid at each step. The flagship wine was bottle aged a full 12 months before being released in 2009. When sharing this wine with a friend, she said, “WOW, this is an amazing wine.” This statement was said before revealing anything about the blend, price or geography. Full complex flavors invade every portion of the palate including oak, olives, sweet vanilla, tobacco and dark red fruits. Every aspect of the wine continues for an eternity on the finish providing an incredibly enjoyable experience. So far, for 2011, this is the best wine I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. 4+/5 ($50)