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)
22 Jan 2010
You’ve got to love a winery who unashamedly names their Cabernet Penetration, Missionary and Hucking Good! Browsing their selection is not for the faint of heart and their back label will either make you blush or stir you up like a pre-teen school boy in a brisk breeze.
While some stuffy wine folk may turn their nose up at the provocative label, it’s the quality in the bottle that should be judged.
Naked Winery, and their sassy sister Orgasmic Wine Company, are dually based in WA (Wishram) and OR (Hood River) and operate tasting rooms in Hood River and Yakima. Grapes are procured from vineyards in the Willamette, Illinois, Apple Gate, and Columbia Valley regions of Oregon and Washington. Their 21 offering range from $18 – $80 (Tease Riesling to Oh Nebbiolo).
If you are in the mood to “Sip Into Something Naked” stop by either of their tasting rooms for a naked tasting, visit their web site at www.nakedwinery.com and follow them on Twitter @nakedwinery. Naked Wine make great gifts but be careful who you give them to, Gay Rose to a co-worker may be cause for sexual harassment and Foreplay Chardonnay on a date may get you slapped.
2005 Naked Merlot – $20
- The Stuff: Columbia Valley 90% Merlot 10% Cab Franc; 12 months in American and French Oak; 1500 cases
- The Swirl: Nice aged brownish plum color. Beautiful streaky legs from the 14.8% alcohol, mostly opaque
- The Sniff: Very aromatic with scents of raspberry, mild leather, and pepper. The arousal of the nose had me anticipating the explosion in the mouth
- The Sip: Mild initial flavor that opens up into a balanced attack of fruit and spice. The back end is firm with a medium tannic structure – “firm back-end” as the label says.
- The Score: At $20 I can score this a 3+ and is a solid purchase that will not disappoint if given as a gift. This is not your typical novelty wine with a sassy name and no substance.
2007 Naked Pinot Gris – $18
- The Stuff: 100% Pinot Gris; aged 100% Stainless Steel for six months; cold fermentation
- The Swirl: Mild yellow gold straw color with a nice crispness and clarity
- The Sniff: Very erotic crispy pear / apple and a subtle butter toast, the bright citric alcohol rounded out the nose
- The Sip: This is a fruit salad in a glass. Beautifully fruit flavors but not overwhelming. The finish is incredibly long lasting as the buttery flavor and acidity wash across the back of the mouth.
- The Score: At $18, I score this wine a 4. This is one of the better Pinot Gris’ that I’ve enjoyed. Not one dimensional, not too acidic, not too steely. Too much of this and I could end up ‘naked.’
*Both wines were provided as industry samples with the intent to review.