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)
25 May 2010
Spokane’s Barrister Winery has released four new wines for 2010. These new releases are a showcase for why Barrister is getting worldwide attention for their consistency of quality, character, structure, and flavor. When co-owner and co-winemaker Greg Lipsker asked if I was interested in previewing the new releases, I had to calm myself before answering with a resounding YES! Greg and Mike are responsible for some of my favorite wines. Their Rough Justice blend was my January wine of the month.
Barrister is located in an historic 100 year old building in Spokane’s downtown core (Railroad Ave, west of Jefferson). The 25,000 square foot facility houses production, a large single stack barrel room, storage, and an expansive tasting room and event facility. Barrister offers a unique space to host your wedding, reception, corporate event, or special family dinner. Barrister is also the best stop on the First Friday Art Walk in Spokane. Check out my previous video tour of the facility and interview with Greg.
The key to Barrister wines is good fruit, patience and attention to specifics. The wines reviewed below are from some of Washington’s most prestigious vineyards, Sagemoor, Weinbau, Dwelly, Kiona and Koinonia. As you’ll note in the video, Greg and Mike take a vintage by vintage approach to their wine making, adjusting blends and barrel routines as appropriate to showcase the fruit. Their attention to detail shows in the finished product.
2009 Barrister Winery Riesling
- The Stuff: 100% Riesling from Koinonia Vineyards, 0% residual sugar, .8% acidity, 14.1%abv, 136 cases produced
- The Swirl: Light and nearly clear in color, thin viscosity, clean and clear
- The Sniff: Floral aromas of white flowers, pears, and perfume. The nose offers a tight bouquet but is still elegant and fresh.
- The Sip: In agreement with Greg, this wine is summertime on the lips. A bone dry presentation that allows the crisp fruit to be front and center. Your mouth is greeting with a kiss of pear and wet stone and says goodbye with a well balanced acidity. The wine is not tart and in spite of being bone dry, doesn’t leave you feeling parched.
- The Score: At only $17, this is one of the most refreshing and well balanced Rieslings that I have discovered. With only 136 cases made, you won’t want to delay to get yours for the upcoming summer season. Drink now or store for 3-5 years. I score this wine a 4 (out of 5).
The 2009 Barrister Winery Riesling is a superb value and an amazing demonstration of Riesling fruit from Koinonia Vineyards. The bone dry finish leaves you longing for more without a tartness that leaves you parched. Pair this wine with summer, grilled vegetables, shrimp salad, light pasta, and fruit. DrinkNectar highly recommends this wine.
2008 Barrister Winery Sangiovese
- The Stuff: 100% Sangiovese from Kiona Estate Vineyards. Aged 15 months in used French oak, 14.5%abv, 149 cases produced
- The Swirl: Deep burgundy color that is 60% opaque and mellows out to bright ruby tones on the edges.
- The Sniff: An amazing presentation of big bright cherries, spice, vanilla, and hints of cinnamon.
- The Sip: Hold on Antonio, this is not your father’s Italian Chianti / Sangio. This medium bodied wine is a showcase of the hot weather from Red Mountain that produces amazingly bold fruit. In this limited tasting there was all bright cherries and hints of toast. A nice firm tannin and lingering tart finish rounded out the beautiful wine. Not representative of the variety, but made in a strong new world fashion.
- The Score: Loving the presentation of fruit and big finish, this $25 wine scores a solid 3+ (out of 5).
2007 Barrister Winery Merlot
- The Stuff: 86% Merlot from Dwelly Vineyards and 9% Cab Franc, 5% Cab Sauv; 14.8%abv, 271 cases produced
- The Swirl: Elegant bright plum colors that are about 70% opaque. Spectacular color structure that suggests quality and high extraction
- The Sniff: A Merlot worthy of putting Miles (from the movie Sideways) in his place. Fantastic aroma of smooth cocoa and berry – imagine cherry cocoa puffs with a hint of pipe tobacco smoke.
- The Sip: The very front palate of this wine is a semi-sweet medium cherry flavor that presents hints of baking cocoa on the mid-palate. A bright hint of blueberry jumps out at the back end as you begin to swallow the wine. A surprisingly strong and well structured finish complete this well crafted Merlot.
- The Score: At $25 this Merlot can compete among the ranks of wines twice the price. I score this a 4+ (out of 5) and put it up there with the top 3 Merlot I’ve had in 2010.
The 2007 Barrister Winery Merlot is a showcase of what Merlot can be. With smooth elegant cherry and cocoa flavors the addition of Cab Franc and Cab Sauv bring to light a bright blueberry spark and a strong finish. This wine could be a casual sipping wine and would stand up well to grilled burgers, BBQ ribs, and a mild red pasta dish. DrinkNectar highly recommends this wine as one of the top Merlots of the year.
2007 Barrister Winery Sagemoor Cabernet Sauvignon
- The Stuff: 75% Cabernet from Sagemoor Vineyards in Walla Walla, 15% Merlot and 10% Syrah also from Sagemoor Vineyards; aged 20+ months in 75% French and 25% American oak; 15.2%abv, 210 cases produced.
- The Swirl: Thick and inky with stormy night characteristics. The wine is about 90-95% opaque and is nearly black at the middle of the glass
- The Sniff: An aroma of blackberry and plum saturates the nose. A slight alcohol heat with spice accompaniment throws off the aroma profile only slightly.
- The Sip: The wine has bottle aged well and despites its youth of 3 years, is a fairly smooth offering for a big Cab (probably softened by the addition of Merlot). Big dark spicy cherries showcase the flavors with undercurrents of red raspberry and dark chocolate. Slight hints of oak, but very subtle. The finish lingers for quite some time, but presents a little burn on the swallow.
- The Score: A beautiful wine that will resonate with big Cab lovers. The high alcohol is the only moderately off-putting part of this wine. Avoid pairing this with spicy dishes which will compound the heat. At $33 I score this wine a 4 (out of 5).
24 May 2010
Believe it or not, sometimes I drink wine when the video camera is not on. For the first time, three of these wines end up in a review without the video camera. While I’m not the awesome text reviewer that my friend Steve Paulo is at NotesFromTheCellar.com, I thought I’d put the camera down and tell you about three wines that were truly special that we pulled from the cellar.
2006 Round Barn Cabernet
This wine was provided by Round Barn winery as a part of a Tweet and Taste event hosted by Michigan wine blogger MichiganByTheBottle.com. Shannon and Courtney Casey are promoting the mitten state one sip at a time. As a side note, they were robbed for not being included in the 2010 Wine Blog Awards for Best Single Focused wine blog. Their quality promotion of the wine regions in Michigan is top notch.
Round Barn produces wine, distilled spirits (vodka, brandy) and beer! It would seem that owner Rick Moersch and his two sons are never at a loss of beverage. Round Barn Winery is located in western Michigan on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, north of the Indiana border.
- The Stuff: % not listed on web site; 22 months in French/Hungarian oak (80/20); 13%abv
- The Swirl: Light bright purple color that is moderately translucent. Color moves out to clear toward the edges.
- The Sniff: Medium cherries with hints of graham cracker and cocoa. A mild whiff of smoky bacon begins to erupt from the glass when taking a deep sniff.
- The Sip: Medium body with thin under-ripe blackberry fruit and twigs. The smoky tobacco flavor continues on the palate. A good firm tannin structure on the back end. The acidity is slightly off balanced from the flavor presentation
- The Score: At $22 retail, I can score this a 3+ (out of 5) and really enjoyed this presentation of Cabernet from the Lake Michigan Shores AVA. I continue to be impressed with the improving quality out of the Michigan area.
Tweet from TTMI by @winegenie Palate = Red fruits on entry, tart cherries that turn to ripe black ones mid-palate. Silky.Powdery tannins.Drinkable & med. long.
Cellar Tracker Scores of 88.5 (with 2 reviews)
2007 Trio Vintners RIOT
Reason #1 for loving Twitter: GREAT PEOPLE. The folks at @triovintners (or @deniseslattery) are great folks. I love chatting with them and hearing about their wine making journey. I received this bottle in a shipment of three that included their Carménère and Tempranillo (reviewed here). Trio Vintners has been part of the incubator wineries in Walla Walla, Washington and is currently showcasing their third vintage of reds (along with some whites and roses). The RIOT is an uncommon blend of grapes that presents amazing character and personality. This is not your typical boring “red table wine” blend.
- The Stuff: 52% Sangiovese, 36% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre; aged 21 months in blend of new Hungarian, second and third year American, and neutral French oak; 14.1%abv; 237 cases produced
- The Swirl: Rich and thick in color. Dark plum jam
- The Sniff: A fun blend of earth, plum, cedar, and spices. Can definitely pick out the Syrah and Mourvedre components of the nose.
- The Sip: I love what the Syrah does with the Sangiovese. This is a big bold wine that has strong oak component. After about an hour the oak subsided. Nice dark berry fruit on the front of the tongue with big strong tannins. Grab a steak, sit back and enjoy! Mild cherry fruits on the mid-palate and the pepper spice was a perfect compliment without being overbearing.
- The Score: At $18 this is a wine that shines well above its price point. Don’t be fooled by the Sangio base, this is a strong wine. It comes across as slightly over-oaked but is deserving of a score of 4 (out of 5) because of the value and complexity.
2003 XSV Cabernet Sauvignon
Buried among the heart of the Woodinville Warehouse district are several gems. Within the rough exterior buildings and minimalistic tasting rooms are wine makers that are honing their skills crafting top notch grapes. With limited production many of these wineries never get national recognition or media attention. In the fall of 2009 my wife and I spent two days sipping our way through Woodinville. While several wineries stood out (Alexandria Nicole Cellars and Mark Ryan), it is the wine purchased at our last stop that now takes top honors from that trip. The XSV 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon has been haunting me ever since we drank the bottle a few weeks back. Sadly their web site is lacking in information but below is the review of an incredibly memorable wine.
- The Stuff: No info on label or web site. Assumed Cab from the LeMieux Family Vineyard 15%abv. After investigating their other wines spend about 20 months in New American Oak.
- The Swirl: Elegant dark purple and tawny port color. Nicely aged tone. The wine shows at about 80% opaque with good color to the edges
- The Sniff: Slight heat on the nose with a beautiful dried plum, cherry and raisin aroma. Subtle spices of pepper and cinnamon make an appearance as well.
- The Sip: If a wine were scored on velvet elegance, this would receive top honors. Amazing flavors of chocolate covered plums and cherries with a beautiful long smooth finish. Tight tannin without being chalky or chewy. This wine will be in its prime in 2 years but is incredibly amazing to drink now.
- The Score: At $38 (if I remember right), I can easily score this wine a 4 out of 5. If I’m ever in Woodinville again, I will certainly make a special trip to XSV again.
Scored a 3 (out of 5) on Wine Peeps in 2009
17 May 2010
Texas! The home of black gold, ten gallon hats, Willie Nelson, the 41st and 43rd presidents, and Bugs Bunny. When I think of Texas and alcoholic beverages, I don’t think of wine…I think of longneck bottles of Long Horn beer and shots of Texas whiskey. The last few months on the twittering machine have increased my awareness of the Texas grape. I’ve been curious if the grapes grow bigger there and if the wine is over the top, like most things Texan. When my friend Ben from Vinotology.com asked if I would be interested in participating in a Texas Twitter tasting I immediately said yes. 1) Ben is a kick ass guy! 2) I’ve never tried Texas wine and 3) Ben is a kick ass guy!
Ben arranged for Mandola Estates Winery to send samples to participating bloggers. When I saw the list, I was pumped for the conversation. I’ve been a fan of Jim from VineGeek.com, Joe from SuburbanWino.com, and Joe and Amy from AnotherWineBlog.com for about six months. Recently I became acquainted with DallasWineChick.com and VintageTexas.com through Ben. With all of these fantastic bloggers I was willing to put aside my anti-Texas bias (mostly because of the Dallas Cowboys) and learn something new.
Mandola Estate Winery is about 20 miles southwest of Austin, Texas and was founded in 2005. From the web site – “Mandola Estate recreates a small corner of Italy, where native Italian grape varieties — Pinot Grigio, Vermentino, Moscato, and Sangiovese — flourish together with the great grapes of France and California. The wines of the Mandola Estate Winery represent some of the best wines to be produced in Texas today: hand-crafted wines vinified in a state-of-the-art winery in the Texas Hill Country.” Their web site contains a pretty cool blog and the winery and wine maker are available on Twitter (always cool in my book) @mandolawinery and @davetxwine
With my trusty Washington Redskins mug nearby, I jumped into the big world of Texas wine! To view the entire transcript of the tasting event, click here.
2008 Mandola Estate Dry Rose
- The Stuff: 90% Cabernet and 10% blend of Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Dolcetto; Brief contact with skins, fermented and aged in stainless steel; 13.3%abv; 892 cases made; cork enclosure
- The Swirl: Beautiful red jewelry tones with shimmering translucence. Opulent color.
- The Sniff: Sour strawberry and earth. Smells like it could be sweet but zero residual sugar
- The Sip: Thin strawberry and cherry jolly rancher. A steely minerality with low back end structure and quick finish wrap up this easy drinking Rose.
- The Score: A summer pool-side sipper that lacks tons flavor or pizzazz, but for only $10, this could be one to stock up on. I score it a 3 out of 5
#TasteTexas Quote: Mandola Rose 08: very deep color for rose. pretty sexy. earthy/funky nose. strawberries and tart cherry on palate – From @VineGeek
2008 Mandola Estate Sangiovese
- The Stuff: 100% Sangiovese from Reddy Vineyards; 9 months in neutral oak; 13%abv; 1323 cases; cork enclosure
- The Swirl: Ruby plum color with nice pearl quality toward the edges. About 70% opaque. A slight cloudiness to the color
- The Sniff: Earthy mulberry with hints of sticks and mild undertones of red fruit
- The Sip: Not a lot happening from the fruit on this wine. Predominately cherries (sour Bing). The earthy mineratily continues through the palate. There is some good structure and on the back end with a decent acidity. The finish has some stoniness to it and is fleeting.
- The Score: At $24, this is not a wine I could recommend at the price. I’ll score it a 3 minus out of 5. There is nothing off in it, but I’m just not feeling the Texas heat on this wine and the price is a little high.
#TasteTexas Quote: Mandola Sangiovese: Overall score B, little pricey but so are a lot of similar Italian Sangioveses Will improve w/ age of vines – From @vintagetexas
2008 Mandola Estate Dolcetto
- The Stuff: 100% Dolcetto from Bingham Family Vineyards; neutral oak for 9 months; 12.2%abv; 890 cases; cork enclosure
- The Swirl: Medium purple plum color that moves out to stained leather edges. About 80% opaque
- The Sniff: A nice whiff of pipe tobacco and dried sour cherries.
- The Sip: A shy tasting sweet tart and dried plum. More depth than the previous Texas wines in the tasting.
- The Score: At $26 I can score this wine a 3 out of 5. There is nothing spectacular about the wine but it does provide a solid effort and would pair well with grilling food and Pizza. Price seems a little high for this type of wine. I would recommend serving slightly chilled.
Cellar Tracker Reviews (2 Scores) 84 pts
NV Mandola Estate Canto Felice
- The Stuff: A proprietary blend of various grapes and vintages. Changes from year to year. 12.5%abv; 3.5% residual sugar; 1506 cases; cork enclosure
- The Swirl: Thin light strawberry color, reminiscent of Pinot Noir; about 60% opaque
- The Sniff: Tight nose with sweet sugary strawberry and sour cherry fruit
- The Sip: As described in the video this is sweet Thanksgiving in a glass. A tart cranberry flavor with cinnamon and nutmeg spices. Sweet but not syrupy.
- The Score: Tempered with the comment that I am NOT a fan of sweet wines, I still don’t find the flavors of this wine to be enjoyable. Some people during the tasting commented that it was their favorite. For those that follow my reviews and align with my tastes I can only score this wine a 3 minus out of 5; $18
#TasteTexas Quote: Canto Felice is a mouth full of plums and apricots and some honey. Not for everyone, but I don’t mind it – From @suburbanwino
All in all, my trip to Texas was a fun and enjoyable learning experience. The wine being produced is drinkable and provides a great launching point for the future. Each offering held its own for varietal specificity and contained good terroir, acidity and balance. The fruit flavors were thin. As the vineyards mature and winemaking continues its progress I expect to see a few rising stars from the Lone Star state. I’ll leave you with these two impressions of Texas.