29 Aug 2012
A few weeks back, Ben Hilzinger (aka The Wine Slinger) was rummaging through the pile of un-tasted samples in the basement and said, “Hey, mind if we break open the Smoking Loon Old Vine Zin.” Fresh off my commitment to blog more, I complied. This week’s wine of the week (#wowwine on Twitter) is 2009 Smoking Loon Old Vine Zinfandel.
2009 Smoking Loon Old Vine Zinfandel
Producer: Don Sebastiani & Sons
My Suggested Pairing: Sweet & Sticky Baby Back Ribs
Having had dozens of value California Zinfandel I thought I knew what to expect when I opened this wine. It was partly what I expected and partly full of surprises. First surprise was the thin color of the wine with the watery edges. The nose of the wine was a little smoky (but no loons) and had a spicy hot burnt rubber aroma as well (the surprise). In the mouth the wine was classic bold jammy prune, stewed berry and spice (expected). This old vine Zin would appeal to a lot of people and would be a nice Tuesday wine or something to have with pizza on family game night. When asked to guess the price, Mr. Wine Slinger said, “I would put it at $18-$20.” WRONG, Benny, this vino is only $10 retail, oft found for less. BOOM, value!
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)
02 Dec 2010
A few months back I had the opportunity to explore some of the wineries of the Columbia Gorge as part of a paid familiarization trip. In a previous post I talked about the experience at Maryhill Winery, located about 100 miles East of Portland OR on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Maryhill Winery has set itself up as a premier value with a view winery. I was impressed with the consistency of the wine and sipping on a patio overlooking the Gorge is an awesome experience. What about the rest of the trip?
Enter the Wine Matrix
Blown away by an Oregon Zinfandel and a Washington Pinot Noir, this trip quickly became a mind bending experience. It is quite possible that I’d entered the Matrix of the wine world where this Columbia Gorge AVA hugs the border of both Washington and Oregon. The unexpected surprises of The Pines 1852 and Syncline Estates added to the beauty of the surroundings.
The Pines 1852
The history of The Pines 1852 dates back to 1978 when founder Lonnie Wright, along with several others, helped plant the first 2000 acres for Columbia Crest. Lonnie learned vineyard management from some Washington legends and eventually supervised the first harvest of 650 acres. In 1982, Lonnie became a part of the renovation of 20 neglected acres in The Dalles, Oregon. An unexpected discovery of eight acres of century old Zinfandel vines led to the eventual start of The Pines 1852. Since then, Lonnie has added an additional 7 acres of Zinfandel, 3 acres of Merlot, and 2 acres of Syrah.
The Pines 1852 started in 2001 and has grown to 3700 cases (featuring 19 different wines). With winemaker Peter Rosback, The Pines 1852 bucks the tradition with their big Zinfandel. The tasting room in Hood River is a fantastic space with a beautiful tasting bar, space for live music and events, and a very expansive art gallery showcasing some beautiful local and regional artists.
What I Liked
We tasted through nine wines (at 10 o’clock in the morning) at The Pines 1852. Full notes are a challenge to do in these settings, but below are the notes from the wines I enjoyed the most.
2007 The Pines 1852 Big Red (Blend) – The top selling red is a bold blend of 28% Cabernet, 27% Merlot, 27% Syrah, and 17% Zinfandel. The wine has a very lively nose of bold cherry fruit and slight earthiness. In the mouth there are more cherries and a quick spice. The finish is moderately thin and at $20 retail this is a good tasting well made wine. 3+/5
2007 The Pines 1852 Tres Syrah – Sourced from three vineyards, Scorched Earth in WA, Powerblock, and Smith-Cerne in OR, the wine brings together both sides of the Columbia River. With a big nose of mild funk, slight mushroom, and red fruit the wine is reminiscent of an old world style. In the mouth I get a good smooth fruit, cracked pepper and great minerality. $20 3+/5
2009 The Pines 1852 Old Vine Zinfandel – 350 cases made of this flagship wine. Exactly what I would expect from a Zinfandel; big, bold, spicy, and fruity. This Oregon Zinfandel gives the California grape a run for its money. At $38, it is a little overpriced but scores well at 4/5.
Syncline Wine Cellars
James and Poppie Mantone met in 1997 while working the harvest at LaVelle Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Four years later they began to explore their passion of Rhone varietal wines on the North side of the Columbia River by starting Syncline Wine Cellars. Located a few miles north and west of Lyle, WA the drive to the winery leads you into the hills and forests of the Gorge. With Mount Hood rising in the distance, the winery is an unassuming barn with a few acres of adjacent vineyards of Syrah. Inside the barn, 5000 acres of traditional winemaking and passion take place.
James Mantone is a visionary and a traditionalist. Listening to him talk, you can hear the desire to produce wine that represents the style of the Rhone Valley. James is producing Syrah, Mourvedre, Rousanne, Viognier, and even a Pinot Noir made from Celilo Vineyards in Washington. More non-traditional grapes like Counoise, Cinsault, and Carignan are used in various percentages for blends.
“Rhone is like a good barbeque. May not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it is dang satisfying.” J. Mantone
What I Liked
We tried eight wines while visiting the very busy Syncline Winery. Outside it was rainy and muddy and inside was the overwhelming aroma of fermenting juice and musty oak. I would love to sit down with each of the wines again someday, but here are the notes from the stand out surprises.
2009 Syncline Roussanne – I’m a huge fan of Roussanne. It is quickly becoming a stand out white wine for me. The Syncline Roussanne showcases the oaked pear fruit and stony minerality that I like. The mouth feel is full and round with a great acidity finish. $22 3+/5
2008 Syncline Pinot Noir – Yes, a Pinot Noir from Washington State; Celilo Vineyards. Bright strawberry and cranberry on the nose with additional aromas of roses. In the mouth there is a combination of smooth on the front palate and tart on the mid palate; great layers of fruit. Are you sure this isn’t from the Willamette Valley? $28 3+/5
2008 Cuvee Elena – Southern Rhone inspired with a Grenache (48%) and Mouvedre (24%) focused blend that also includes Syrah, Counoise, and Cinsault. Not much in my notes except silky and thick. Perfume and raspberry on the nose with great layers of fruit and spice. $35 4+/5
I highly recommend a stop in the Columbia Gorge for wine tasting. Hood River and The Dalles make great places to stay with Hood River offering an eclectic mix of modern and small town. Hood River is also the wind surfing capital of the world and home to Full Sail Brewery for when your palate needs a break from the wine. Joining the trip was Clive Pursehouse from The Oregon Wine Blog. See his recap of the journey too.
Main image copyright Blaine Franger www.blainefranger.com/blog
27 Oct 2010
There was a time last week when I had 25 bottles of wine open in the house. “What is the problem,” you ask? Well, for one I feel obligated to drink every bottle and two, not all of them are good wines. The open wines were from the Chile Blends tasting, One Hope Chardonnay, and four box wines from Don Sebastiani & Sons.
Over the last six months, I’ve had my share of boxed wines, many of them from the group that distributes the Octavin family of wines. This week, I’m cautiously optimistic to take a look at four wines from Don & Sons and their Pepperwood Grove brand. As a mouth breather and wine lover, chances are you’ve had one of the seven D&S brands, Aquinas, The Crusher, B Side, Flock, s|k|n, Smoking Loon and Pepperwood Grove.
After significant research Don & Sons concluded that consumers were hesitant to buy 3L boxes because they didn’t see a brand they liked or knew. D&S is taking a significant step by using one of their mainstream recognizable brands in the 3L box format. The four Pepperwood Grove wines are Don & Sons first boxed wine release. In my opinion the packaging, presentation and labeling are the best of what I’ve experienced in this format.
For newcomers to the “new” box wine format, a bladder inside the box deflates as the wine is consumed keeping oxygen (wine’s enemy) from deteriorating the flavor. The 3L format is equivalent to four (4) bottles of wine. A convenient spigot provides easy access. While I’ve yet to encounter a premium wine I’d enthusiastically serve, there are several mid-quality offerings available. Let’s see how the recognizable GREEN BOX wines perform.
BIG GREEN BOX NECTARVIEW
Since each of these wines is simple, clean and in eco-friendly packaging. I’ll keep my reviews simple, clean and I’ll save some words too.
Pepperwood Grove Pinot Grigio
Tweets from the machine:
The un-oaked Pinot Grigio comes across as an oaked wine to me. The wine was round, slightly flabby and offered subtle hints of pear and lemon water flavors. The acidity was weak and the finish was a quick flash. 13%ABV – certainly no offensive flavors but very simple in presentation. Quite a few people will enjoy this wine. It’s simple to drink and will probably go fast at a party. $20 retail for 3L ($5 per bottle); 3-/5
Pepperwood Grove Chardonnay
Tweets from the machine:
Very yellow and thick in the glass, like a pale banana. Strong aroma of toasted apples and vanilla. The mouth feel is big and flabby. The six months on oak staves comes across. I would envision quite a bit of malolactic fermentation as well. The acidity is mild leaving the flavor lingering in your mouth. For those that prefer crisp Chardonnay, this will not be your wine. If you enjoy Chardonnay for the thick easy drinking apple flavors, you may want to give it a try. $20 retail for 3L; 3-/5
Pepperwood Grove Old Vine Zinfandel
Tweets from the machine:
Light burgundy in color and very translucent, can see to the bottom of the glass. At only 13.5%ABV (refreshing for a California Zinfandel), this is on the very low side of alcohol for Zins. Good aromas of blueberry, subtle strawberry, tobacco spice and more. It’s all mellow, but it’s there. The palate is very nice as well with flavors of plums, strawberries and mild pepper. The acidity is well balanced and the finish is lovely. Definitely the bargain find of the four wines tasted. While not complex, there are good flavors in this wine. 3/5
Pepperwood Grove Cabernet Sauvignon
Tweets from the machine:
The wine is sourced from Valle Central (Chile) fruit and weighs in at 13.5%ABV. I get a lot of sour red fruit and raw meat with hints of clove on the nose. Other participants enjoyed the aroma, but for me it was a little off putting. In the mouth the wine felt disjointed and out of balance. With green peppers, sour cherries and medium tannin, the flavor profile was not one that I enjoyed. From the comments on the machine, it looked like the participants were split. 3-/5
Other Reviews, Insights and Final Thoughts
Don’t try this party trick with 16 bottles
06 Oct 2010
Two months ago I celebrated my centennial video with a visit to Napa, California’s V. Sattui winery (the visit was virtual through a wine review). Today, we make a return virtual visit to preview three more of their wines. V. Sattui is in the midst of celebrating 125 years. Established in San Francisco in 1885 by Vittorio Sattui and then re-established in St. Helena in 1975 by Vittorio’s great grandson Dario, V. Sattui is one of the few remaining established family businesses in the wine world.
Truly a unique Napa destination winery, V. Sattui is 100% self distributed through their tasting room, and through the old fashion phone and interwebs. The majestic grounds and picnic areas add to the enjoyment of visiting. If you want to see some amazing pictures, check out the V. Sattui wedding blog!
For today’s tasting, V. Sattui sent three different cheeses from their Italian Marketplace-Deli. With pasta, Panini, charcuterie, deserts, breads, salads and 205 different cheeses from around the world you may get more than a little distracted from the wine. The cheese didn’t quite make it to wine tasting but I can vouch that it was yummy.
2008 V. Sattui Sauvignon Blanc (Vittorio’s Vineyard)
- The Stuff: 99.8% Sauvignon Blanc and .2% Semillon (not sure why?). This wine was fermented in stainless steel but a portion (18%) of the wine spent time in neutral French oak. 773 cases were made; 14.5% ABV
- The Swirl: The wine is much lighter in color than I would expect for a Sauvignon Blanc.
- The Sniff: An amazing amount of aroma jumps out of the glass. The wine starts as a tropical blast with subtle hints of almonds and lemon zest.
- The Sip: The soft subtle initial attack wraps around your tongue and then gives way to gentle melon flavors, pineapple, and moderately tart lemons. The traditional flavors are very well integrated and offer fantastic layers of enjoyment. The wine keeps evolving in the mouth and with each sip!
- The Score: At $22 this is a bargain. The layers of quality flavor won’t disappoint. Easily a 4/5
- The Stuff: The Alexander Valley fruit is 93.8% Cab Franc, 3.9% Cab Sauv and 1.4% Merlot (sadly I misspoke in the video). Fermented in stainless steel and aged in 50% new French oak. 14.8%ABV, 637 cases
- The Swirl: Colors of grapey purple, dark and medium bodied.
- The Sniff: The initial impression reminds me of taking a plum and rubbing in the dirt for a while. There are also aromas of green pepper.
- The Sip: A soft attack of plums and blackberries that transform into black tea or coffee on the mid-palate. The medium bodied wine offers a slight zip of pepper and a smooth finish.
- The Score: At $30 this is a 3+/5
- The Stuff: 100% Zinfandel from Howell Mountain AVA. Aged 16 months in 50% new oak, 14.5%ABV
- The Swirl: Slightly tanned colors with a medium thin rust color that is about 60% opaque
- The Sniff: Definitely not your big berry Zinfandel. The wine offers a soft aroma of cedar and hints of pepper and earth. If you’re looking for a strawberry jam pie, this isn’t it.
- The Sip: The V. Sattui Zin comes off a little thin on the fruit and then offers licorice and mocha flavors. This isn’t a poorly made wine, just different from what I’ve come to expect from a California Zin. At $40, give it a try before you buy, 3/5
*wine was provided as an industry sample with the intention to review