The first time I visited Benovia was several years ago (I am pretty sure it was 2008), shortly after the winery opened (the winery was founded in 2005, with the first vintage 2006) and the tasting experience was rather memorable. I remember (this was long before I started blogging much less keeping notes) our tasting room host was extremely kind and courteous, and I was very impressed with the wines, buying a few to bring back to Philly.
The most memorable part of the experience, however, was the tasting “room” itself. Being that the winery was just starting out and we were likely some of the first visitors to the facility,we tasted the wines in a corner of the barrel room, on a plywood table that seemed to have been rather hastily put together.
I remember saying to my wife as we left the tasting that based on the quality of the wines that they were making, they would soon be able to afford a more “typical” tasting room.
Well, I was wrong.
This past Spring, I was once again out in Sonoma, and I had an afternoon appointment with some other “trade” types at Benovia. These days (i.e., since more than 12 people started following my blog), tastings tend to take a bit of time so I rarely schedule more than two a day. Even then, when I try to plan on at least two hours for each tasting and travel time in between, I invariably end up being late for the second tasting. It is a good thing that most people in various wine regions are rather easy-going types and show no outward signs of being perturbed with my tardiness.
Such was the case when, after a tasting and lunch at White Oak, I showed up at Benovia more than a half an hour late (I had called ahead to let them know I was a bit tardy, but I still always feel terrible if I am even as much as five minutes behind schedule).
As I pulled into the winery, I did not recognize the place at all. Sure, it had been about seven years since my last visit, and I had predicted that the winery would do rather well, but I had no idea it would be this well.
In addition to the original building, there were now several more (with another, much larger building under construction).
Eventually (after another 5-10 minutes), I was able to find the “Visitor’s Center” where the winery conducts tastings (all by appointment only). I was greeted by the lovely Oniqueh (pronounced “uh-NEEK-wah” I think), who could easily brighten the gloomiest of days. She ushered me into the tasting room where I sat and waited for the others to arrive (I initially thought that I was not all that bad—after all there were others that were later than I, but I soon realized that Oniqueh had simply added me to the later tasting).
What followed was a tasting that was perhaps more memorable than the first—as Oniqueh’s charm and vivacity came close to outshining the wines, which, as you can see by the following notes, were nothing short of amazing.
2012 Benovia Russian River Valley Chardonnay: Retail $36. Muted nose but some tropics and white flower. This is really nice and might deserve a Whoa. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2012 Benovia Russian River Valley Chardonnay “La Pommeraie”: Retail $48. More floral than the first. With some butterscotch. Much richer mouth feel with honied pineapple. Really really good, and definitely gets a Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2012 Benovia Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Retail $38. Ripe raspberry and a bit of smoke. Bright and cheery. Really nice finish. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2012 Benovia Tilton Hill Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: Retail $56. Darker color and certainly dark berry fruit. Both blackberry and blueberry in abundance. Richer, jammier, and smokier than the Russian River. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2012 Benovia Martaella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Retail $56. Big and jammy. Really big. This is really not my style of Pinot as I believe it is lacking a bit of acidity to hold it together. This would appeal to the fans of Pinot in its bigger incarnation. Still, Very Good. 87-89 Points.
2012 Benovia Cohn Vineyard Sonoma County: Retail $56. For me, this was more like the style I really enjoy. The fruit (although certainly present) is held in check with bright acidity and some mint. The best so far. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2012 Benovia Russian River Valley Pinot Noir “La Pommeraie”: Retail $56. Perhaps the sexiest nose of all the wines: Great red berry fruit and vanilla. On the palate whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
After we had tasted the last of the Pinots, Oniqueh mentioned Benovia’s Rosé, which is not a saignée, but a pressed, dedicated rosé, and I almost gave myself whiplash looking up from my notes. I am a strong proponent of dedicated rosés as I believe that since the grapes are grown to make a rosé (and not the previously disagreed juice of a saignée), the resulting wine is far better balanced and can age well.
Unfortunately, Oniqueh said the rosé, while purchasable, due to the small case production, was not available for tasting. Perhaps due to the extreme look of dejection that I was able to conjure (or, more likely, her willingness to share one of her favorites), Oniqueh quickly reversed and opened a rosé for us to try.
2014 Benovia Pinot Noir Rosé Russian River Valley: Retail $24. It is rare to see a dedicated rosé of Pinot Noir (since the fruit usually commands top pricing), but this wine was pressed from the fruit from younger vines, which were not quite ready to be made into a red wine. After vinification, the wine was topped with a small amount of Pinot saignée for some additional color. Really nice strawberry and melon. Great balance. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
Last, Oniqueh poured us some of the winery’s Zinfandel:
2012 Benovia Zinfandel Sonoma County: Retail $? I see this as a cross between a warmer Zin and a cool climate version (15.2% ABV). Rich and full, but with great acidity and a hint of tannin. I would not hesitate to either pop this now or lay it down for 5-10 years. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
After the tasting, a few were headed over to another winery for a media “party” and insisted that I tag along (although it really took very little arm twisting). There, among other wines, I tasted what I think was a first for me: a wine with an ABV of 17.2% (which I did not think was possible).
All told? A memorable trip indeed.