Benessere Vineyards

2001 Napa Valley Sangiovese


California: Napa Valley

Offer Expired:Feb 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm
Avg. Price

What We Say


Recently, we were granted special access to Benessere’s secret library, where we discovered today’s aged Napa Valley Sangiovese, a wine that you can’t buy anywhere else.


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Mission Codename: La Finestra

Operative: Agent Red

Objective: Infiltrate Benessere Vineyarrds’ secret library, secure an exclusive allocation of their library Sangiovese for our Old World wine-loving Operatives around the world

Mission Status: Accomplished!

Current Winery: Benessere Vineyarrds

Wine Subject: 2001 Napa Valley Sangiovese

Winemaker: Jack Stuart

Backgrounder: The most widely planted grape in all of Italy, Sangiovese is used in everything from blended inexpensive table wines like Chianti, to the finest Super Tuscans. Italian immigrants introduced this varietal to the U.S. in the 1800’s. First plantings of this grape in the Sonoma County region were in California. Read Agent Red’s tasting notes on this great wine, followed by his mission report, to learn more about today’s fantastic wine.

Wine Spies Tasting Profile:

Look – Like fresh, unfiltered cherry juice, this wine shows like old world Italian wine, with garnet hues at the core, and brickish hues at the edges of the glass. On swirling, chubby legs start high on the glass. As you get to the bottom of the bottle, some sediment is left on the glass, after enjoying.

Smell – This wine leads with bright, earthen aromas with dusty cherry, sweetwood, dark plum and stewed fig. Underneath, hints of brown spice and dried leaves are present.

Feel – Light and medium-bodied, this wine starts cool and soft, but then goes softly dry and grippy as it passes across the entire palate. Bright acidity and dark minerals persist after swallowing.

Taste – Shy and tight at first, this wine comes to life after extended decanting – or some enthusiastic swirling in the glass. After the wine wakes up, old world cherry, dusty plum, dried earth, and dark dried violets emerge. Under these are hints of black pepper and aged oak.

Finish – Clean and medium-long in length with a tart and earthy characteristic that supports the dark subtle fruit. As the fruit tails off, pepper and old oak persist.

Conclusion – This is a great wine for any fan of aged Sangiovese. As with any aged wine, this wine takes some coaxing to really bring it to life. If you decant for at least an hour, or heartily swirl the wine – to get some oxygen into it – it springs to life. The wine certainly retains an Old World character, but it has some good fruit and great acidity, making it an obvious wine to pair with food. We recommend a hearty pasta dish, like a creamy pasta Carbonara or a meat-rich Bolognese.

Mission Report:


SUBJECT: Jack Stuart

WINE EDUCATION: At my mother’s knee (age 4, in an Italian restaurant); my father’s first interest in Cabernets (when they were $3 a bottle); early underage experience in San Francisco bistros (back when you could get served); extensive travel in France and Italy; Robert Finnegan’s Private Guide to Wine (he was the Parker of the 1970s and an early booster of Domaine Dujac); Hugh Johnson’s World Atlas of Wine; an assorted case of European wines given to my wife and me as a wedding present by the father of a college friend; and two years of graduate school in the Master’s program at UC Davis.

CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: First commercial winemaking position: Durney Vineyards, Carmel Valley, 1978 and 1979; my first Cabernet won a Gold Medal at the Orange County Fair. Longest-held position: Winemaker & General Manager of Silverado Vineyards, Stags Leap District, 1980 to 2004; in 1987 I was the first American to receive the Robert Mondavi Trophy for Winemaker of the Year award from the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London. Most closely held position: Winemaker & Partner of Trivium Wine, a local partnership making 400 cases of St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon. Most recent position: WM & GM, Benessere Vineyards, since January.

WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Let the variety and the place speak (or sing!) in the wine. Not overripe, not over-alcoholic, graceful, flavorful and balanced.

WINEMAKER QUOTE: “If two glasses of that wine will land you in the pokey or in the ditch, then it’s too damn alcoholic.”

FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1978 Durney Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, released 1981. Recently opened a bottle of this wine to celebrate my son-in-law’s birthday (he was born that year), and it was amazing: still purple red, primary fruit aromas, lovely flavors and balance!


AGENT RED: Greetings, Jack. We are thrilled to be showing your wine today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.

JACK: Thank, Red. Great to be with you, today!

RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?

JACK: Martin Ray Saratoga Cabernet Sauvignon, 1960-something, tasted in the late sixties or early seventies; my first experience with new French oak in a California wine. Two wines from 1970: Ch. Mouton, bought for $20, and BV Private Reserve, bought for $8.33; both rich, elegant, pure expression of Cabernet Sauvignon.

RED: Who do you make wine for?

JACK: Myself, and consumers who appreciate what I’m trying to do. Chasing reviews destroys the soul.

AGENT RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today. 

JACK: This is probably one of the most food friendly varieties of all the better known Italian wines. Most commonly, Sangiovese is the major grape in wines known as “Chianti”, which come from specific regions in Italy, and are designed to be consumed with the local food of those regions. As predicted on the original tasting notes in the year that it was bottled, this wine has aged well over the last 10 years and is ready to be enjoyed with food!

RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine? 

JACK: I would pair this 10 year old Sangiovese with a thin crust pizza fresh from a wood fired oven or a home made Bolognese sauce. Any pasta with a red sauce that uses San Marzano tomatoes would be fantastic!

RED: In your opinion, what makes the Napa Valley so special?

JACK: Open a world map or an atlas. Take your finger and put it on Napa Valley, and then run it directly across the atlas into Italy. It ends up in Southern Italy. Basilicata and Naples area. Similar soil types, a Mediterranean climate…it’s no wonder the Italian varietals do so well here in this area of California.

RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?

JACK: Come visit our tasting room at 1010 Big Tree Road in St. Helena, and you can try them. Expect wines that don’t taste like what you had last night. In a world of Cabernet, we’re doing something different. There is nearly infinite variety in the world of wine, which is what makes it more interesting than vodka, so keep trying new wines from people and places you’ve never heard of.

RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days? 

JACK: I Just finished our estate blend called Last Man Standing for the Napa Valley Vintners sponsored 2011 Premiere Napa Valley event next weekend Feb 26th (check out the NVV website for the story)! After racking the 2010 vintage wines off ML lees, the focus this week is preparing for our upcoming bottling the first week of March.

RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

JACK: Yes. The two most important things you need to know about wine is (1) what you like and (2) where to find it. Don’t be buffaloed by critics or intimidated by waiters—drink what YOU think is good. Red wine with fish is okay. The only rule is: Don’t drink and drive.

RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!

Wine Spies Vineyard Check:

The location of the Benessere Vineyards winery can be seen in this satellite photo.

What the Winery Says

About This Wine:

Sangiovese is a wine that pairs well with many types of meals. The soft, medium body, spicy character, seductive perfume and generous fruit from the wine are complementary to most foods ranging from Chilean Sea bass with tomato remouillade, to grilled poultry and more substantial beef and lamb dishes. It was created for pizza and pasta dishes with either mushroom or marinara derived sauces. This wine will age well for 10+ years and develop more complexity and character with age. Drink this wine and remember the motto of the winery: “Sangiovese, if you can pronounce it, you can have another glass.”

Vintage: The 2001 growing season was a roller coaster of sorts. A dry winter and the most severe frost in 20 years put all vineyard managers on alert that 2001 would be a challenge. The hottest May on record, followed by a very warm June and July predicted an early harvest. August cooled off considerably, allowing the grapes to ripen more slowly. The grapes were hand-harvested beginning on September 18th.

Winegrowing: The newest major red varietal in California is Sangiovese. As with all varietals, understanding the grape, and where it is grown are paramount to the success of making good wine. With over 12 different clones planted on our estate in St. Helena, we are confident in our ability to grow great wine grapes in Napa Valley. We are pioneering the effort for the production of Sangiovese as a serious red wine. We have much work in front of us, but that is part of the allure for us to this varietal: mapping the course for the grape and wine. We continue to thin the vineyard to one cluster per shoot to minimize yield and maximize intensity. Harvest occurs when the fruit is ripe with flavor. The winemaking is only administered in small doses and is meant to allow the fruit to be showcased. Our minimal efforts produce a fruit-forward wine with texture and depth.

About The Winery:

“Benessere” is the Italian word for well being and prosperity. This is the feeling we try to embody at Benessere Winery. We are a small family owned, high end producer of Italian varietals, located in the north end of Napa Valley on the valley floor where the soil is well suited for growing excellent wine.

The property was purchased in 1994 by John Benish. At that time it had been abandoned for some years. It has now been restored and everyone who visits comments on our beautiful setting. The buildings are sunny yellow, the flowers are breathtaking and visitors like to linger to enjoy the ambiance while sipping our exquisite wine. Because we are small, we pride ourselves on individual attention to all our visitors. Everyone who comes is treated as company and we hope you will feel this when you visit us.

In 1998 we harvested our first crop. Sangiovese is our signature wine. This beautiful deep-ruby colored, aromatic wine pairs well with all foods. We are continuing in our quest to produce the finest Sangiovese possible through gentle handling of the fruit and of the resulting wine. The Black Glass Zinfandel is exceptional and can be drunk for special occasions or for every day. You will enjoy it immensely. We make a Pinot Grigio, loved for its clean crisp taste, with fruit that has been purchased in Carneros. Every year we sell out of this very quickly.

We have expanded our selection of varietals to include Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah and Muscat di Canelli. We also produce an outstanding blend called Phenomenon.

The wine club is open to new members. Some of our wine can be bought only through the wine club. Although we have a large group we give them all individual attention, and even have several parties a year open only to our members. They are very festive affairs and our members always enjoy these events.

In addition to our beautiful property and beautiful wine, we also have the distinctive possibility of being the only place where the late Luciano Pavarotti, the world famous tenor, made his only movie, “Yes, Giorgio”. The movie company installed a tennis court especially so Luciano could play tennis in that movie.

We would be honored to have you visit our winery.

Technical Analysis:

Blend Composition: 100% Sangiovese

Harvest date: September 18-27, 2001

Brix at Harvest: 25.1-26.7

Vineyard location: St. Helena Estate and Oakville appellations

Finished pH: 3.61

Finished TA: 0.57 g/100ml

Alcohol: 14.3 % by volume

Production: 1253 cases

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