2003 Phenomenon Red Blend
California: Napa Valley: St. Helena
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Mission Codename: The Independent
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Re-infiltrate Benessere Vineyards’ secret library. This time, secure an exclusive allocation of their library 2003 Phenomenon, the winery’s flagship wine, for our deserving Operatives around the world
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Benessere Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2003 Phenomenon, Napa Valley
Winemaker: Jack Stuart
Backgrounder: Benessere Vineyards’ flagship Phenomenon has consistantly garnered awards and high scores for its depth, complexity and character. Today’s wine, a delicious blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Syrah, comes to us from deep within the Benessere vault. The Wine Spies are the only wine merchant to enjoy this special access and took great care to select today’s 2003 Phenomenon for our deserving Operatives.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – A beautiful light garnet red, with evenly concentrated color through its dark heart of darker garnet, and out to the ruby hued edges of the wine. When swirled, this wine exhibits a lofty surface that settles quickly, leaving behind clusters of thin legs that streak down the glass
Smell – Shy at first, but after a good decanting – or several minutes of hearty swirling – the wine comes to life, with a big rush of sweet candied black cherry, blackberry, plum and dusky earthen blueberry. After some more time, raspberry, red plum, soft oak, exotic spice and a hint of eucalyptus appear, rounding out the nose beautifully.
Feel – Soft and light across the front palate. Then, the wine becomes quickly mouth-filling with plush tannins that add grip and texture the edges of the palate. After a moment, a soft dryness spreads slowly across tongue, eventually drying the lips and cheeks.
Taste – On opening, the wine is very shy. Decant or swirl the wine and this wine really comes to life, offering up ripe black cherry and dark strawberry with plum raspberry, subtle spice, flinty black pepper and a hint of toasted oak.
Finish – Long and flavorful, with dark fruit that dominates, at first. Then, dark fruits give way to red fruit and earthy spice and minerals. At the very end, black pepper hangs about long after the fruits dwindle.
Conclusion – This wine, which seems reluctant at first, absolutely springs to life after some time in the decanter. Give the wine at least an hour to realize the fullest expression of the dark fruits and complex earthen flavors. Our tasting panel really enjoyed how this wine progressed, the more it aired out, revealing more authentic fruit the longer we swirled. With beautifully, fruit-forward aromatics, a plush feel and delicious fruit flavors, this is a terrific wine that will surprise you.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
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: Well, we are pleased that we have a bit of a chance to discuss this wine, because like a favorite old muscle car, this one needs to be warmed up a bit before it hits the road. But once it’s rolling, sit back and enjoy! When the cork is first pulled, the wine shows every single one of its 6 year bottle age in a luxurious crimson hue with substantial rim variation. The initial nose is muted fruit compote, disguising the pleasures that await one who is patient enough to decant. After blossoming, the palate shows dark fruits like raspberry, blueberry, dark cherry, and hint of ripe fig on the finish.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
JACK: This is a rich but subtle wine. It would be a formidable pairing with something as complex as Oso Bucco or short rib braise, but it would also sing with a more nuanced dish such as a wild mushroom risotto, blackened halibut tacos, or grilled lamb kabobs
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: We just finished bottling a number of wines, including our 2009 vintage Phenomenon, 2008 Sagrantino, 2009 Black Glass Zinfandel, and 2009 Sorridente (which means smile in Italian). There was an unusual end of June rainfall which will give the vines a boost and delay any need for irrigation. These days I’m preparing for harvest, estimating crops, walking the vineyard, checking for shatter and picking up arrowheads and pieces of obsidian around the aptly named Black Glass Vineyard.
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:
When the cork is first pulled, the wine shows every single one of its 6 year bottle age in a luxurious crimson hue with substantial rim variation. The initial nose is muted fruit compote, disguising the pleasures that await one who is patient enough to decant. After blossoming, the palate shows dark fruits like raspberry, blueberry, dark cherry, and hint of ripe fig on the finish.
This is a rich but subtle wine. It would be a formidable pairing with something as complex as Oso Bucco or short rib braise, but it would also sing with a more nuanced dish such as a wild mushroom risotto, blackened halibut tacos, or grilled lamb kabobs
Vintage: The 2003 vintage was unique. A late budbreak, followed by late spring rains, delayed the flowering and set of the fruit. A moderately cool summer foretold of a late harvest. However, a few late August and early September “blasts” of heat, coupled with extremely unseasonable thunder and lightning storms, brought the crop in on average of the same time as 2002.
Vineyard: We limited the crop on our young vines to one cluster per shoot, and thus obtained a meager 2.27 tons per acre average yield. These low yields ensure the production of intensely flavored fruit.
Winemaking: This 2003 vintage was the fourth release of our Phenomenon proprietary red blend patterned after the Super-Tuscan wines of Italy. We selected 4 varietals from our 42-acre estate for this blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Sangiovese, 18% Merlot an 11% Syrah. The winemaking is low-impact, using all hand operations from picking and sorting, through punch-downs and gravity racking. Only 420 cases were produced, bottled on June 1st, 2005.
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.
Vineyards: Benessere Estate, North St. Helena
Blend Composition: 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Sangiovese, 18% Merlot, 11% Syrah
Finished pH: 3.65
Finished TA: 0.54 g/100ml
Alcohol: 14.3% by volume
Production: 420 cases
Suggested Retail: $60.00 per bottle