Sun 4 Sep 2011
… and both are single-vineyard wines. And neither are huge, super-ripe, high-octane, hot, cloying, sweetish zinfandels, examples of which continue to be produced in California, though they clearly defy any rational sense of balance and drinkability. No, these models are exemplars of the grape’s deeply fruity, spicy and innate tannic character that doesn’t have to resort to exaggeration and baroque, not to mention bizarre manipulation. We drank the first, the Benessere Estate Black Glass Vineyard Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, with pork chops rubbed with cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and seared and then roasted with lime juice, cilantro and garlic; the Jake-Ryan Cellars Bald Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, we had with one of my heartier pizzas one Saturday for Pizza-and-Movie Night.
These were samples for review.
Benessere Vineyards was founded in 1994 by John and Ellen Benish on a 42-acre property north of the town of St. Helena; they restored a former winery, vineyard and residence. The winery specializes in the Italian grape varieties of pinot grigio, sangiovese, muscat di canelli and — quite rare for California — sagrantino and aglianico, as well as zinfandel, which, to be nit-picky, could in a way be called Italian since it is the same as the primitivo grape grown in the Italian calf and boot-heel. (No primitivo wine I ever tasted, however, was anything like a California zinfandel.) From a first release of 135 cases in 1995, Benessere grew to annual production of between 4,500 and 5,000 cases. Winemaker is Jack Stuart. (At the end of May, I reviewed the excellent Benessere Rosato 2010.)
The Benessere Estate Black Glass Vineyard Zinfandel 2008, Napa Valley, spent 18 months in new and used French and American oak barrels. This is truly a lovely, dark-ruby-hued, old-fashioned sort of zinfandel that bursts with notes of plums, red and black currants and cloves with touches of rhubarb and fruitcake and beguiling hints of orange rind and violets, sandalwood and leather that require a few minutes in the glass to unfold. It’s a well-balanced and integrated zinfandel whose smooth, well-wrought tannins and burnished oak qualities contribute to a texture of moderate density that encloses delicious ripe black and red fruit flavors just touched with elements of dried fruit and spices; vibrant acidity keeps the wine lively and attractive, while a reasonable measure of granite-like minerality and slightly sandpapery tannins give the finish a bit of austerity. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Alcohol content is 14.7 percent. 390 cases. Excellent. About $28.
Jason Benge and Traci Seville launched Jake-Ryan cellars in 2004, naming the enterprise after Benge’s sons Austin Jake and Colby Ryan. Winemaker is Jeff Fontanella, about whose own label I will have something to say soon. I’m on a bit of a tear about Mount Veeder, and several producers were kind enough to send me samples, including Mayacamas, about whose wines I wrote recently.
The Jake-Ryan Cellars Bald Mountain Vineyard Zinfandel 2007, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, practically shimmers in the glass with the purity and intensity of the zinfandel grape. At almost four years old, the wine is fresh and clean, immediately appealing. The emphasis lies in profound graphite-granite-like minerality and an extraordinary level of pungent, deeply flavorful spicy elements, akin to sandalwood and dried ancho chilies ground together and adorned with a crisply etched filigree of dusty sage and heather. The fruit component consists of intense and concentrated black and red currants bolstered with undertones of blueberries, mulberries and rhubarb, all slightly spiced and macerated, making for a complex and satisfying experience; great balance and integration and notable acidity lend the wine poise, while finely-milled and fairly dense tannins add momentum and purpose. Definitely Worth a Search for zinfandel lovers. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. 400 cases. Excellent. About $28.