What: Imagery Estate Winery, which has become known for esoteric and hard-to-find varietals, is going populist, but with its own little twist.
This month Imagery released its new California tier of wines featuring cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. But each varietal is blended with another grape that you don’t usually associate with the dominant grape.
In the case of the cab, it is blended with 15 percent petite sirah, which adds spice and pepper notes to this soft, smooth wine. It is a gorgeous deep red in the glass with beautiful aromas of dark fruit. The cab adds flavors of blackberry and black cherry.
It is the kind of rich, smooth wine that makes you want to smack your lips after every sip. The rich mouthfeel and soft tannins make this a wine everyone can enjoy. The tannins are well integrated, but you can still feel them holding the fruit flavors together.
Imagery has made a name for itself by growing and bottling rare and unusual grapes. Now that they are going more mainstream, it’s not surprising they put their own twist on mainstream wine. Besides the cab, the chardonnay has 5 percent chenin blanc, the sauvignon blanc has 20 percent muscat and the pinot noir has 20 percent petit verdot.
I really liked the cab and the chardonnay, particularly when I drank them with a meal.
The winery’s catchphrase has been “Broaden Your Palate,” as it produced small amounts of unusual varietals and blends sold mostly from its tasting room. Each new vintage of a varietal also featured an original work of art. The labels themselves have been stunning, and the wine excellent.
I used to be a member of their wine club, and have always loved pulling out a bottle with beautiful art on the label. Joe Benziger, who runs the winery, and his family say they are all about experimenting, exploring and spotlighting unique wines from unusual places. They want to push the boundaries of winemaking convention. They see this new venture with odd blends of popular varietals as another fun thing to try.
Unlike their earlier work with rare varietals, the California tier is available nationwide. It also sports a new label, giving a nod to the artistic roots of their standard labels. This label features what looks like paint dripping down the middle. This is supposed to represent the creativity and passion in the bottle. It is clean, simple and eye-catching.
Benziger’s middle daughter, Jamie, joins him as winemaker for the California tier. As she grew up she was surrounded by her father’s passion for less known varietals. She says she absorbed some of his spirt of adventure and boundless energy. These new wines that are a result of that energy and passion are outstanding.
The Imagery tasting room is worth a visit to sample the unusual wines and to see the artwork. The Sonoma tasting room houses one of the world’s largest wine label art collections. You might not always be able to pronounce the wine you will be drinking, but odds are good you will like how it tastes.
Winery: The Benziger family moved to Sonoma from New York in 1980 and established their winery on Sonoma Mountain. The winery was successful but Joe wanted to make his own wine with varietals that sometimes get swallowed up in big blends.
He founded Imagery in the mid-1980s to showcase these special vineyard sites in a series of small artisan wines. The winery still produces more than 30 small lot, estate or single vineyard wines each year.
The labels at first featured artwork designed by local artists. Now artists from all over the world appear on the labels.
The small lot wines feature such grapes as malbec, tempranillo, lagrein and teroldego and blends such as a sauvignon blanc/viognier called Wow Oui. The labels and unusual wines are definite conversation pieces when you serve them to friends.
“I started Imagery with a desire to share my interest in rare, often esoteric varietals,” says Joe Benziger. “Working alongside my daughter as we apply our winemaking approach to this new California tier is a dream come true.”
Goes With: We had this cab with a perfect cold-weather meal: beef stew. I have loved beef stew since I was a child. The version I make now is a modified version of my mother’s recipe.
It is rich, warm, thick, and loaded with chunks of beef and vegetables such as potato, carrot, celery and peas. The rich flavors of the stew perfectly complement the smooth, warm flavors of the Imagery cab.
We also tried the chardonnay with homemade chop suey. This dish is tricky to pair with wine because of the soy sauce in it, but I think the chenin blanc helped the chardonnay mellow out enough to match the chop suey.
The cab also would pair well with all kinds of red meat, wild game, rich pastas and stews and a variety of cheeses. The chardonnay would be good with Asian food; rich fish, especially with a cream sauce; pork chops and full-bodied cheese.