Friday, October 26, 2007

Joaquin's Inferno; a Trip to Benziger Family Winery

On the 10th of October, I wrote a about Benziger Family Winery and their Sonoma County 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. Benziger is located in Glen Ellen, California on the north end of Sonoma. During high traffic periods, use the less busy, Arnold Road which parallels Highway 12. This will take you through a scenic area and past the small shops in town.

California Quail
A trip to the Benziger Family Winery has much to offer. We suggest that you pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds. There are tables under the canopy of ancient eucalyptus and oak trees. The chatter of Acorn Woodpeckers and California Quail entertained us as we snacked on cheese, crackers and strawberries after our tasting. The grounds are lush and well maintained in a natural setting.

The Tasting Room
In the tasting room, you will find a well stocked gift shop and a generous amount of tasting bars. Greg, one of the servers, offered us a choice of two flights, The current offerings flight and the high end "Biodynamic, Reserve and Single Vineyard Tasting" flight. This high end flight listed eight wines of which five could be chosen. The tasting fee was $15.00, but this was well worth it.

We have enjoyed Barzinger wines at home, so we were eager to try the reserve wines that range from $29 to $80 per bottle. This was indeed going to be a treat. On the list was Benziger's flagship blend, 2004 Tribute. In 2001, Tribute was their first Biodynamic wine. It is an absolutely wonderful, intensely flavorful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and classic Bordeaux varieties.

Greg escorted us to a second tasting room off to the side of the gift shop for the reserve tasting. This removed us from the hustle and bustle of the main tasting room. There were a few smaller tasting bars set up to accommodate parties of one to four comfortably and allowed Greg to focus on us, our interests and our questions.

The difference with this flight of wines is that these are the reserve and single vineyard offerings. These wines are made in small lots, on the order of hundreds of cases. As a result, these wines are sold only in the tasting room and to club members. All of this may sound like wine snobbery, but keep it in perspective. We are interested in learning more so we can share more. And lets face it, the more you know, the more successful you will be when you go to the wine store or when you are handed that skinny black book by the waiter.

Greg asked us what our interests were. We are interested in Sonoma red wines, and the purpose of this trip is to learn more about the region's wines. We like Cabs and Zins, we don't know much about Pinot Noir and would like to try them.

Here is a tip.
When traveling as a couple, it is okay with most tasting rooms to try different wines and to try your spouses wine. (As a courtesy, I will ask the server first so that I do not put the winery in a position where a law might be violated.)

Between the two of us, we tasted the following:
2006 Sauvignon Blanc, Shown Farm
2004 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Obsidian Point
2004 Tribute
2004 Estate Zinfandel, Joaquin's Inferno
2004 Petite Sirah
2005 Port, Sonoma Valley

Greg, our server, was very gracious, made great suggestions on pairings, told us stories about the vineyards and helped put Benzinger's wines in perspective with comparable wines around the world. He also spent extra time with us.

I cannot say enough about what we see going on at Benziger Family Winery. If time permits, we may return to try the other flight. With this, I wish to share my tasting notes for the 2004 Estate Zinfandel, Joaquin's Inferno.

Zinfandel, "Joaquin's Inferno"
Benziger Family Winery

AVA: Sonoma Mountain

Color: Dark ruby
Vintage: 2004
Production: 89 Cases

Total Acidity: 0.69
Alcohol: 15.5%
pH: 3.68

Aromas and Flavors: Jam light smoke black pepper, allspice, cherry, choke cherry, elderberry, boysenberry, pomegranate
Body: Full
Tannins: Suede
Finish: Long and spicy

Summary: This wine is one that you want to take some time with. Aromas evolve from the glass and come off in layers. The finish is long, fruity, tannic, then goes spicy. This makes for a fun glass of wine and will have you going back to your glass to see what comes next.

Greg told us about the vineyard that became know as Joaquin's Inferno. The vineyard is behind the visitors center and has a very steep slope with about a 200 foot elevation gain to the top. Joaquin is reported to hate that Zinfandel vineyard because it is so steep he has fallen several times. Thus, the wine was dubbed Joaquin's Inferno in his honor.