Sip, Sip, Hooray: Part 2

Made from Monterey grapes, the 2020 Tribute Pinot Noir.
Made from Monterey grapes, the 2020 Tribute Pinot Noir.

2020 Tribute Pinot Noir

You know the Benziger name, of course, as the Sonoma winery that has been growing grapes biodynamically and organically for more than 40 years for its roster of award-winning wines.

In 2021, Chris Benziger, the youngest of the family’s seven children, embarked on his own brand, Tribute, meant to honor his iconic family and to build on his own roots.

Recently, I had a chance to sample one of its newest releases, the 2020 Tribute Pinot Noir from Monterey County. A juicy tasting wine, it exudes big notes of cherry, blackberries and strawberries with hints of leather and clove. It’s a medium body wine that is velvety on the palate.

This wine is ideal with summer salmon on the grill or pretty much any kind of pork dish, whether it be a juicy chop, kebabs or meatloaf.

Or stash a bottle until Thanksgiving, when it will match beautifully with roast turkey and cranberry sauce.

A good value at about $15, find the wine at Total Wine & More, Wine Library, and Tower Beer, Wine & Spirits.

Cheers: For another taste of the Benziger family, do check out one of my favorite Sonoma Wine Country restaurants, Glen Ellen Star, which is run by Chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger Weiswasser, who is Chris Benziger’s niece. The homemade bread, pizzas, pastas, and ice creams are superlative. And on Wednesdays, which are Neighborhood Nights, a $45 two-course prix fixe is offered along with complimentary corkage.

2018 Brion Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

Plush and lush. That’s exactly what the 2018 Brion Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon is like.

It’s not inexpensive at $240 a bottle. But if you want to splurge on yourself or someone you want to impress, this grand bottle would do it.

A single-vineyard cab from the revered Oakville District.
A single-vineyard cab from the revered Oakville District.

The Napa Valley’s Brion winery was founded by Brion Wise, a retired electrical engineer who founded the oil company Ecological Engineering Systems (that later became Western Gas Resources). Wine making is in his background, having grown up on a farm in Washington with a father who made his own wine.

Brion wanted to get back to working the land when he moved to California in 1993. In 2001, he started B. Wise Vineyards. A year later, he founded Brion, dedicated to single-vineyard wines, each made by a different veteran winemaker.

The 2018 Brion Oakville Ranch Cab was made by Mark Herold of Mark Herold Wines. Made entirely with Cabernet Sauvignon from the acclaimed Oakville District, this wine smells of boysenberries and wild flowers, and tastes of blackberry jam and dark cherries with graphite and leather.

It’s a big wine but with balance and smoothness. In fact, I was surprised at how well it went with smoked duck, not overpowering it, but complimenting its rich dark meat well.

Find the wine at the winery.

Cheers: The winery, just south of downtown Yountville, is home to a restored “bank barn,” dating to 1861. A barn built into a hill that allows for access from both the ground and upper stories, it is one of only a few now existing in California. Brion now uses it for curated tastings and special events.

2018 Blue Quail Old Vine Zinfandel

Guinness McFadden fell in love with the remote Potter Valley in Mendocino County — even if locals told him that wine grapes would never thrive in such a cool climate.

But McFadden, a Bronze Star-decorated former U.S. Navy lieutenant, proved them wrong, becoming the first person to grow grapes commercially there more than 53 years ago.

Initially, he sold his grapes to wineries, but in 2003, he began making his own wine in collaboration with Mendocino Wine Company under the Blue Quail label.

Only 500 cases were made of this Old Vine Zinfandel.
Only 500 cases were made of this Old Vine Zinfandel.

I had a chance to try a sample of its 2018 Blue Quail Old Vine Zinfandel ($24). Only 500 cases are produced annually from these old-growth vines planted on 7 acres of hillsides in 1971.

It tastes of cherry cola, caramelized strawberries, and raspberry compote with a bit of sour cherry adding a slight tartness. There’s the warmth of black pepper, too. Pair it with ham or pulled pork, as this wine will cut through the richness and saltiness of either.

Find the wine at Westchester Wine Warehouse, and Vivino.

Cheers: Learn more about Guinness McFadden in my story written for the Nob Hill Gazette.

More: Sip, Sip, Hooray, Part 1

And: Sip, Sip, Hooray, Part 3

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