2013 Chardonnay, Benziger Family Winery

Visited this winery more than 10 years ago and memories of that tour still zig-zag vividly in my mind. Rows upon beautiful rows of grapes drinking in the cool night winds and warm Sonoma sun, a hillside full of goodness just waiting to happen.* It was touring this vineyard on a tractor-pulled wagon, with informative stops along each phase of the winemaking process, that probably first planted the seeds for Notes deep inside my tiny misguided brain. In fact, in the wine rack downstairs there is still an ’04 dessert wine from Benzinger, purchased on said tour, awaiting the right occasion.

2013 Chardonnay, Benzinger Family Wines, Sonoma, California, USA.

2013 Chardonnay, Benzinger Family Wines, Sonoma, California, USA.

And so here we are in the present–any doubt why this bottle jumped out at me when I saw it in my humble neighborhood supermarket? I was searching for a white to go along with a fish dinner that I was spoiling to make, and the 2013 Chardonnay was a no-brainer. It’s nice and clean; this Sonoma white is not overly buttery and carries notes of lemon with it–a nice match for the food planned this evening. When you swirl it about in your glass, you get a whiff that can only be described as “crisp” and with more of a fruit than a flower smell. Like a soft apple peel or lemon zest? (Note: I follow another wine blogger and, while he’s quite prolific and tastes a lot of wines, his descriptions of each is like a shotgun approach–he fires off about 15 or 20 descriptions for each wine, and it makes me doubt what he can actually detect…I am definitely NOT that guy as a writer of winetastings…so the above is as best I can share with you.)

The 2013 Benziger accompanied a crispy catfish dish, and the whole thing turned out better than I had expected. Continuing the vineyard theme, this dish used Thomcord grapes and chopped almonds as a relish for the catfish. Also depicted in this image is a kale-farro salad bearing garlic and fried rosemary, which made for a delicious mixture of textures and tastes. I think this might be my first catfish experience and, though I thought it tasted like almost any whitefish I’ve ever had, I can vouch for the final result.

Crispy catfish with kale-farro salad and warm grape relish, as served with the 2013 Benzinger Chardonnay.

Crispy catfish with kale-farro salad and warm grape relish, as served with the 2013 Benzinger Chardonnay.

The meal was easy to prepare, and the wine was a great complement to the crunches of the entrée and the sautéed fish. Since the 2013 Chardonnay from Benzinger was available in my local grocery, it doesn’t seem like you have to go all the way to Sonoma to get your own–but you should (wink)! Tell ’em we sent you and enjoy the journey…and be sure to take the vineyard tour if they still give it!

*At some point the future, this post may be updated with a visual of Benziger if I can go back into an older hard drive(s) and call up one of the photos from the tour. Be sure to revisit!

The Ones That Got Away – Fall 2016

2013 Judge & Jury Red Blend, Kunde Family Estate, Sonoma County, California, USA; 2011 Lamole Gran Selezione Chianti, Italy; 2014 Petite Petit, Michael David Winery, Lodi, California, USA; 2014 Toasted Head Chardonnay, California, USA.

2013 Judge & Jury Red Blend, Kunde Family Estate, Sonoma County, California, USA; 2011 Lamole Gran Selezione Chianti, Italy; 2014 Petite Petit, Michael David Winery, Lodi, California, USA; 2014 Toasted Head Chardonnay, California, USA.

2014 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards

Earlier this spring, the Rombauer Chardonnay was recommended to me by a speaker who was wrapping up a highly successful webinar for dental students across the U.S. It was her celebratory drink and one she often served to friends new and old, and I can totally understand why. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had, a natural comp to my friends at Buena Vista and their most excellent Chardonnay.

2013 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards, Carneros, California, USA.

2013 Chardonnay, Rombauer Vineyards, Carneros, Napa, California, USA.

Earlier this spring I saw the wine available through an online shipper but declined that first time. When I saw the Rombauer shelved at my favorite wine shop (I was there for the Caymus tasting), I knew I had to pull a bottle and give it a go. My first mistake was buying only one, but it goes back on a short list for next time.

The 2014 vintage is fantastic, the commensurate hint of butter to be sure, but mostly a melon scent that is refreshing even on the nose before you taste it. It pours golden in the glass, much richer in tone than a Grigio, and layers in other citrus smells that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s bright and sweet, but not sticky sweet like the Riesling recently covered here in Notes (only click if you want the contrasting opinion), and you almost feel like you could drink it after a hot summer day or workout.

Additional facts from the Winery:

  • The vineyard started producing Chardonnay in 1982
  • The Carneros region where the grapes are grown is known for its cool climate and clay soils–which yield great fruit flavors and “fresh” acidity
  • Harvested August 28th to October 11th, 2014
  • Stored 9 months in American and French oak barrels (1/3 new)
  • Released in August of 2015
  • Received the gold medal at the 2016 Hilton Head Wine Festival (which sounds amazing even as I type this)

Thanks, Rombauer Vineyards, for the helpful details on your delicious wine.

Queso tostadas with summer vegetables and a spicy cream sauce.

Queso tostadas with summer vegetables and a spicy cream sauce.

The 2014 Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards accompanied a new meal, one I’d never had before and thoroughly enjoyed. Pan toasted tortillas were the delivery tool for summer vegetables that included corn, fairy tale eggplant, and purple bell pepper. That’s queso para freir, which browned up really nicely, and the whole thing is seasoned not only with garlic and shallot but also a spicy crema of milk, lime zest, lime juice, and jalapeño. When I read the recipe I was only lukewarm on its potential, but as the smells started bouncing around the kitchen I was hooked. How did the cheese brown instead of melt? Really cool…

Kitchen magic aside now, a special thanks to you, Ms. Ireland, for setting me on a fun journey with your favorite bottle. It’s going to be one of mine too and I appreciate the gift you shared with your recommendation. Can’t wait to pass it on…