I’d like to say I discovered Benessere Vineyards by driving around the Napa Valley and exploring a wildflower-lined lane. But the truth is I learned of them by getting a box of samples delivered to my door in Berkeley.
So, not so much with the romantic backstory, but that, as it turns, out doesn’t matter because these wines are very good.
Let’s start with the 2009 Benessere Pinot Grigio Napa Valley Carneros. Pinot grigio has a reputation of being a bland wine, but this version is juicy and flavorful. There’s some tartness to start with, but it finishes in a burst of sweet and tangy fruit. A good summer wine. Alcohol level is 13.2 percent and suggested retail is $22.
2010 Benessere Rosato Napa Valley. This is more crimson than pink and is quite tart. It’s nearly 50 percent zinfandel but bears little resemblance to the sweet “white zins” that were so popular in the ’70s and ’80s. The wine gets its color from 12-18 hours of contact with the grape skins, and a small amount of juice is drained out of the tanks after that to give deeper color. The wine has some raspberry and has a suggested retail of $16. The alcohol level is 13.6 percent and you have both mine and the producer’s permission to drop an ice cube in this when sipping outdoors on a warm afternoon.
2007 Benessere Napa Valley Sangiovese Estate. Sangiovese is best known as the grape that goes into Italy’s Chianti wine, and you don’t see a lot of it coming from the Napa Valley. But Benessere, founded by John and Ellen Benish in 1994, specializes in Italian varieties. This wine is 100 percent sangiovese and tastes of red fruit with a warm, soft quality in the mouth. A beautiful, balanced wine. 14.2 percent alcohol and good value at a suggested retail of $28.
2006 Benessere Phenomenon Napa Valley. This is the winery flagship wine. It’s a blend of cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, merlot and syrah, unusual in the Napa Valley, although these varietals often go into the Italian Super-Tuscans that have been written about a lot. There’s a lot of flavor in this wine including black cherry and just a little hint of dark chocolate. But at the same time, it’s elegant, nothing hammering your palate. The wine is 14.2 percent alcohol and has a suggested retail of $50. How good was this wine? As you may know, Mr. Vinecdote is a thrifty soul who prefers his wine in the single digits, price-wise. He had a sip of this and liked it and then asked, “How much?” “Fifty,” I said, which normally would cause him to back away in dismay. But this time he said only, “Hmm. Pour me a little more.”
Benessere means well-being or prosperity in Italian. Go here to listen to the proper pronunciation. (Love that guy’s accent!)
And about that country lane. According to the press materials, the winery is “in the middle of estate vineyards and gardens on a quaint lane in the northern Napa Valley.” Being a reporter by training I checked that out on Google street view, and I can confirm it is rustic as all get out.