Wine Time

Dennis Sodomka is a guest columnist | Contact Dennis

Wine Time: Benziger Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley

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COST: $27-29

WHAT: A good wine can elevate a meal to something special. That’s not too difficult when you have really good food.

A better measure is what a wine does for an ordinary meal. Let’s face it – most of us don’t cook a gourmet meal every night. So I often like to judge a wine by how it does with one of those throw-it-together nights when you don’t have time to fuss over the food.

The Benziger Pinot Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, passed the test with flying colors. One night I was so busy I didn’t even have time to order out, so I popped a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner. I like pizza, but the Benziger Pinot brought it up to a whole new level.

The wine is a beautiful cherry red color in the glass, with aromas of vanilla and spice. The flavors of plum, cherry and dark chocolate were wonderfully rich. This is a complex wine, with a lively, bright mouthfeel and a silky-smooth finish. The tannins are subtle and well integrated.

The grapes come from the Russian River Valley, which produces great Pinot Noir because of its soil and the cool fog that rolls in from the ocean most days. The climate allows the grapes to ripen slowly. Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow, but when growers get it right it can be spectacular, as is the case with this wine.

The wine was aged in Hungarian oak barrels for 11 months and spent another eight months in the bottle before being released. It probably will age well for another two to three years, but it is drinking beautifully now.

I would open the bottle at least 30 minutes before drinking.

WINERY: The Benziger family is a great example of the sustainable farming methods that are sweeping the wine industry. They are dedicated to preserving the land they own and working with growers dedicated to the same principles.

The family believes that by eliminating fertilizers, pest-killing sprays and herbicides they can allow the grapes to express the characteristics of the soil. They promote natural vineyard management and biodiversity, planting special gardens to attract “good” insects that naturally eliminate the pests.

They go to extraordinary lengths to let the character of the land show through in the wines, with their estate vineyards and many of their growing partners’ vineyards certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic. The results have been spectacular.

Benziger has been growing grapes on Sonoma Mountain for 30 years and maintains relationships with growers who share their passion for natural farming. They produce a wide variety of high-quality wines at several price points.

They also have a beautiful tasting room with a tour that shows visitors how they grow grapes in a way to preserve the land for future generations.

GOES WITH: I drank this with a Tombstone pizza, my favorite frozen pizza. The richness of the wine brought out great flavors in the pizza. It made the plain, simple meal feel like something special.

I started eating Tombstone pizzas 40 years ago when the only place you could find them was in bars in Wisconsin. Finding a Tombstone was a big deal. I still love them, especially when paired with a nice wine.

Usually I drink Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Syrah with pizza, but I wanted to try something different and it paid off. This Pinot really shines with fine food, such as duck cooked on the grill, broiled salmon, lamb, beef stew or roasted pork loin.

WINE EVENTS

THURSDAY, FEB. 7

Wine and chocolate stroll, 4-8 p.m., downtown Edgefield, S.C. Shoppers can sip wine and taste chocolates as they move from store to store. Pick up a “passport” at any location on the stroll. Visit all the merchants and then enter the passport into a drawing for a gift basket of gift certificates, wine and chocolates.

Wine and tapas tasting, 5-6:30 p.m., La Maison on Telfair, 404 Telfair St.; four wines and three tapas, $19.99; (706) 722-4805

FRIDAY, FEB. 8

Beer tasting, 5-8 p.m., Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; 10 beers with matching cheese; $5 with rebate on purchase on six bottles of the featured beers; (803) 279-9522

Wine and beer tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

Wine tasting, 6-8 p.m., Evans Towne Market, 4460 Washington Road, Evans; $5, includes several wines, cheese and crackers and live music most Fridays; (706) 303-8591

SATURDAY, FEB. 9

Wine and beer tasting, 2-6 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 13

Wine tasting, 6-7:30 p.m., Bee’s Knees, 211 10th St., $15 for wine and food; reservations, Ninth Street Wine Market, (706) 724-1442

FRIDAY, FEB. 15

Italian wine seminar, 7-9 p.m., Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; reservations, (803) 279-9522

THURSDAY, FEB. 21

Wine tasting, 5-8 p.m., Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; three reds and three whites with matching cheese; $5, with rebate on purchase of one bottle of the featured wines; (803) 279-9522


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