Last Thursday night we were invited to be panelists on TasteLive for an online Benziger Family Winery tasting. We were sent six of their reserve wines to taste, along with us watching owner and winemaker Mike Benziger. This is a great format as you see the wine maker on a live video and through the TasteLive Twitter feed are able to ask questions and make comments on each wine as you taste them.
Mike is very passionate about organic farming and biodynamic winemaking. He feels it is all about the connection to the land and the grapes and a balance with nature. In addition to the vineyards on Sonoma Mountain, they have gardens, wetlands to recycle and clean the water they use and riparian areas for wildlife and insects. By creating insectories they can encourage the natural predator insects to grow and reduce the insects that attack the vines without using insecticides. The various eco systems also help the natural yeast they use in their wine making flourish.
They recycle and compost almost every product used in farming and wine making. They even have Scottish Highland cattle and sheep to keep the grasses in the vineyards trimmed, along with some natural fertilizer, too. On the Benziger Family web site there is a great video where Mike Benziger tells you about how he farms and all about the eco system at the vineyards.
2008 Joaquin’s Inferno Zinfandel – An Estate wine, with a blend 74% Zinfandel and 25% Petite Syrah. This wine was named after Joaquin Corona, the vineyard manager. Made from 18 year old vines, the only non-Bordeaux vines in the holding and a very small production, only 90 cases bottled. The Zinfandel clone is one of the original California clones. Julius Wegner planted the same varietals 100 years ago, this blend pays homage to that history. The harvest was small in 2008, which made more intense fruit. This is a very recent release, just within the last month. It is expected to increase in quality for 5-6 years as the fruit starts to drop out. This is the first year Petite Syrah has been blended in, you can clearly feel the structure added by the Petite Syrah.
The color was an inky dark ruby with a nose of vanilla, spice, dark fruit and some caramel and vegetal notes. There was a lot of ripe dark fruit in the flavor with some vanilla and a flavor I can’t describe but I associate with Petite Syrah. There were moderate grippy tannins and a medium length finish with flavor and tannins (15.6% alc.).
2006 Oonapais Red – Oonapais is the Indian name of the mountain the grapes grow on. It means Buckeye Mountain. Buckeyes are a plant that like warmer areas and the mountain shelters the area from the ocean breezes and makes it a little warmer. This helps the Cabernet Sauvignon and other grapes that like warmth ripen well. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.
The color was a light to medium garnet and the nose was rather restrained. The flavor was more red fruit than dark fruit with a little leather in it. Not a real big wine considering 2006 was a warm year. The tannins were very smooth and the finish was of medium length (14.5% alc.).
2007 Oonapais Red – A much easier vintage than 2006 with perfect weather. The color was noticeably darker than the 2006 being a dark ruby. The nose was more open with dark fruit and vegetal notes. There was pronounced complex dark fruit, vanilla and vegetal flavors. The tannins were more prominent and the finish was longer than the 06 (14.5% alc.).
2007 Obsidian Point Red – Another Bordeaux style blend. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from a hillside made up of obsidian, a glass like volcanic rock. The rock absorbs heat during the day and releases the heat overnight. This brings the Cabernet to the ripeness they want for picking.
The Obsidian Point’s color was ruby and looked like a young wine. The nose was restrained with blueberry and vanilla. There was ripe dark fruit in the flavor along with a little vegetal flavor, too. Moderate grippy tannins with a long finish of tobacco and tannins (14.5% alc.).
2008 Obsidian Point Red – It was nice to be able to compare the different years on both the Oonapais and the Obsidian Point. It gives you a good sense of how the weather influences the wine. The 2008’s color was a ruby red but actually did not look as young as the 2007. There was minimal nose and the flavor had a little rubber tire along with dark ripe fruit, vanilla and spice. Moderate tannins and a moderate length finish that was primarily the tannins (14.5% alc.).
2007 Tribute – Made with a higher percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon than the Oonapais and Obsidian Point the Tribute was the first Demeter certified Biodynamic wine from Sonoma County. In addition to the 84% Cabernet Sauvignon it has 10% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot.
The Tribute was an inky dark ruby color with a ripe spicy nose. In the flavor there was dark fruit with bursts of cedar. This made for an interesting wine. The tannins were smooth and the finish was long with flavor and tannins (14.6% alc.).
I was concerned about the Tribute because the cork was wet when I removed the capsule. When I “pulledthatcork” there was wine all the way to the top of the cork 360 degrees around. However, the wine was fine, though I am glad it wasn’t one I was going to put in the cellar for awhile.
Note: I vacuumed all of the bottles and re-tasted the next afternoon. All held up pretty good with minimal oxidation.