Benziger Again: Cab, Cab and More Cab


Benziger's bowl-shaped vineyard on the mountain

If you drive northwest from the town of  Sonoma, California, up the amazingly beautiful Valley of the Moon, you’ll see Sonoma Mountain looming on your left. And if you get off the highway and head up into the hills behind the town of Glen Ellen, you’ll run into Benziger family territory. On the slopes of the Sonoma Mountain, someone found a pretty unique topographical feature: a giant bowl that sits in its own valley 800 feet above sea level, formed by volcanic explosions from the mountain some two million years ago .

What makes this bowl unique, and uniquely suited to grape growing, is that the surface around all 360 degrees of the bowl is exposed to a variety of sun exposures, elevations, soil profiles and drainage. In this one extended 85-acre vineyard, they have ideal conditions for planting…just about everything. While most of the acreage is devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon, they also grow other Bordeaux varietals, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.

Yesterday I reviewed a Zin and two vintages of  Bordeaux blend from this estate vineyard, and today I’ll talk about two more.

I’ll start with Benziger Obsidian Point Sonoma Mountain 2007, which is a blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot and 10% Petit Verdot. This wine was slow to open, and in fact it didn’t show well until a few days later. The nose was more herbal than fruit, with a sharpness and off note. I thought it might be a spoiled bottle, because the palate, too was light on fruit and didn’t show a lot of depth or complexity.

The 2008 Obsidian showed much better. Now I got dark fruit and depth on the nose, and rich berries on the palate. Vanilla and toast suggested the barrel aging, and I got a little bit of coffee and herbs. I also liked the acid that kept the fruit in balance. The tannins weren’t obtrusive right off the cork, but they were firm enough to keep this tasting as good or better three days later.

Next we did Benziger’s flagship wine, “Tribute 2007.” This is Mike Benziger’s baby, and according to the website his goal is to create “a single wine that purely and authentically represents the land.” And he can do it. Thanks to that 360 degree bowl, he says they can “micro-farm their vineyard for specific flavors. Each of the vineyard’s 29 distinct blocks are farmed and vinified separately. Blackberry, chocolate, black pepper and black olive are just some of the varietal flavors cultivated for Tribute.”

This wine is definitely dominated by Cab Sauv (84%, plus small amounts of Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot). The nose is much more classic Cab, with bright blackberry and vanilla, and the palate immediately shows structure and depth. The flavors were pure and fresh, dark berries, cocoa, more vanilla, and well-integrated tannins.  The finish has good length, and the whole package suggests that it will develop for several more years.

Tribute is the priciest of Benziger’s wines and at $85 (in Ohio) is up there with Sonoma’s best Cabs.

Thanks again to Mike Benziger and the folks who organized this Twitter tasting. It’s a great way to explore a winery and get to know a winemaker. Cheers!

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