I expect it will come as no surprise that one of my favorite Napa Valley wineries is a producer of Italian varietal wines and blends: Benessere Vineyards. It is located just outside of St. Helena in the northern part of Napa Valley. Benessere means “well-being” in Italian. As it applies to the family who owns this winery, and what they stand for, they define benessere as, “the prosperity and well-being of living in the Napa Valley. Our mission at Benessere Vineyards is to produce the finest small lots of Italian-inspired wines in California.”
I first discovered them about five years ago when I was working at a high-end wine shop in San Jose. All I knew was the Benessere Pinot grigio kept flying off the shelves. It’s remarkably crisp, refreshing, and true to variety – a surprise coming from the hotter Napa Valley appellation. (However, it does come from the Carneros part, which is the cooler, southern section, and has a climate mediated by the chilly San Pablo Bay.) Since then I’ve tasted most of their wines, had a few incarnations of their Sangiovese, and even tried the 1997 vintage back in 2007, which had held up remarkably well.
They also make a single varietal Muscat Canelli, Aglianico, Sagrantino, along with a few different Zinfandels, and two interesting blends. The first blend, called Phenomenon, is like a Super-Tuscan. It is composed of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. The second is my favorite. It is called Sorridente and includes Aglianico and differing amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on the vintage. Sorridente means “smiling” in Italian. I recently opened my 2005 and it was spectacular!
Sorridente 2005. Napa Valley. Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. If a synergy can be found between Italian wines’ rustic and herbal qualities and Napa Valley’s luxurious and opulent oak-driven style, Benessere certainly has done it here. In the nose: sweet roasted coffee, vanilla bean, cigar box, cassis, anise, cloves and a touch of forest and funk. The texture is lush, full, and dense but the acidity supports strong flavors of blackberries and cherries. Velvety tannins with a lot of fruit concentrate and herbs and earth on the finish. ★★☆
I’m thinking pretty seriously about getting a couple bottles of 2006…