Do you remember the old 7-UP ads from 1975 for the UnCola? If Napa wineries are best regarded for their cabernets, then Benessere is the Un-Cabernet; specializing in Italian varietals.
I have to say that when these winery samples arrived at my office I wasn’t jumping around with excitement. My past experience with Italian wines has been uneventful, at best. I know many of you love them but until I tasted these wines from Benessere I was not on the bandwagon. While I may not bang a drum for Italian wines as a whole, I will bang a gong for these beauties.
Benessere (Click to hear “beh-NESS-eh-ray” ) was founded in 1994 by John and Ellen Benish. They farm 36 estate vineyard acres about half way between St. Helena and Calistoga and produce around 5,000 cases annually. The word Benessere means “well-being” or “prosperity” in Italian and was chosen as the name to portray the unique qualities of the wines and the Napa Valley lifestyle.
I had a chance right before Thanksgiving to spend some quality phone time with Benessere’s award winning winemaker, Jack Stuart. Jack, for 25 years, served as the winemaker and general manager for Silverado Vineyards. In 1987, he was the first American to receive the Robert Mondavi Trophy for Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London.
But while Jack brings a world of experience to Benessere, 2010 was his first crush with the winery. After five years of semi-retirement and consulting, he seemed truly excited to be working once again in a boutique winery where his role is truly hands-on.
“Benessere,” Jack said “is small, rustic and unpretentious, much like the wineries I worked for at the beginning of my career over thirty years ago. Plus I liked the wines and the people.” Jack also said that working crush this year his hands got “more purple” than he could remember.
We talked a lot about creating balanced wines. It was here that Jack’s winemaking maturity rang through. Jack said he had little interest in changing the attributes that have created Benessere’s following but he is looking to develop wines with a bit more extraction and balance. He stated that his goal is to “make graceful, flavorful wines whose character reflects both the place they’re grown and the variety they’re made from.” Jack also enjoys now being able to take the time to “walk through the entire vineyard and contemplate the wines.” Wine, he said, “can’t be made in a laboratory.”
When visiting Napa Valley, there are so many highly visible and better known wineries, I asked Jack why a visitor should stop by the Benessere tasting room.
“We’re off the beaten path, at the end of a one-lane country road, we don’t make Cabernet or Chardonnay (call us the “Un-Cabernet”), and we offer a warm, informal and informative experience. Better yet, our wines are tasty and affordable!”
Note: Benessere wines are mainly sold to wine club members and from the tasting room. Jack was kind enough to offer B&B readers a 10% discount. Use the code B&B when ordering. Click HERE to order!
Benessere Winery specializes in Italian varietals like Pino Grigio, Sangiovese, Zinfandel (it has an Italian cousin) and Muscat Canelli. Click HERE for full in-depth wine reviews.
In short, the Pinot Grigio was a real surprise. Expecting a thin acidic glass of “housewife crack,” I instead enjoyed a lush rich beautiful white wine. The wine had a lovely mouth feel with great white fruit flavors.
We had two vintages of Sangiovese. Both were very good and especially food friendly. All the Sangiovese fruit is estate grown resulting in a well balanced wine superior to many others.
Benessere produces what they refer to as a Super-Napan because the blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah is similar to a Super-Tuscan. This wine is called Phenomenon and it is Phenomenal! We gave 5 thumbs up!
Two Zinfandels are offered. Both again are quite good. A bit less intense and jammy than their Sonoma cousins, these zins are made to go with rich red sauced rustic Italian food. The 2006 Black Glass Vineyard offering was rated 93 by Wine Enthusiast.
Aglianico is a red grape from Italy by way of Greece that I had never tasted. Apparently fewer than 50 acres are planted in the US. I really loved this wine. Medium bodied and rich and spicy, it too was made to go with rustic Italian fare.
Begin and end your night with Muscat Canelli. Benessere has two offerings. First, Frizzante is slightly sweet with a light effervescence. A Gold Medal winner in San Francisco Wine Competition, 2010, this wine pairs nicely with a salad, light appetizers and Asian food. The second is the decadently sweet traditional “Scintillare,” with flavors of honey, vanilla bean and roasted hazelnuts.
Do yourself a favor. Look up Benessere Winery and try some of the wines yourself. Don’t forget about the 10% off discount code B&B when ordering.
(These wines were provided as samples from Benessere which makes us just as objective as Robert Parker…He doesn’t buy his wines either)