Tag Archives: Benziger

Holiday wine gift guide 2020

holiday wine 2020The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2020, and even a couple of things that aren’t wine

The big trend in wine gifts this year? Non-alcoholic products, if the mail in my inbox is any indication. Or — shudder — a $426 decanter. We can do much better than that; after all, why else does the blog exist? Keep in our wine gift buying guidelines in mind, as well.


Joe Roberts’ “Wine Taster’s Guide” ($14.99, Rockridge Press) is neither pretentious nor expensive — which is why it’s on this list. Joe, who I’ve known almost since I started the blog, is passionate about the failings of post-modern wine writing, and especially that we buy wine we may not like because the process is so intimidating.

• The Benziger de Coelo Quintus Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($68, sample, 14.1%) is a gorgeous, structured — albeit not especially subtle — Sonoma Coast pinot noir. It’s full of dark fruit, maybe even some tea, and the soft tannins that used to be common in California pinot. Not quite sure how I got a sample, but very glad I did. Highly recommended.

• The Wine Curmudgeon has a drawer full of wine-stained tablecloths, mostly from dripping wine bottles. Hence, the marble wine coaster ($19.95), which not only would have saved many of my tablecloths but looks good, too.

Ice wine is one of the great joys of the wine world, but is increasingly difficult to find and increasingly expensive. And it wasn’t easily available or cheap to begin with. So when a winemaker reader tipped me to the Kiona Vineyards Chenin Blanc Ice Wine 2018 ($50/375 ml bottle, sample, 9%), I asked for a sample — something I rarely do. And I was not disappointed. This is ice wine in all its glory — lusciously sweet, but balanced, with pineapple and tropical fruit and refreshing crispness. Highly recommended.

More holiday wine gift guides:
Holiday wine gift guide 2019
• Holiday wine gift guide 2018
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017

Big Wine strikes again

Big Wine
“Who do we want to buy next?”

That E&J Gallo bought J Vineyards, the highly-regarded California sparkling wine producer, last month was shocking, but it did make business sense. Gallo, for all its vastness, doesn’t make high-end bubbly and doesn’t have many successful restaurant wine brands, and J does and is. Plus, J owned 90 acres of prime Sonoma vineyards, making the deal even sweeter for Gallo.

So how to explain this week’s news that The Wine Group, second-biggest to Gallo among U.S. producers and with even less of a critical reputation, bought the fiercely independent and much beloved Benzinger Family Winery? The Wine Group has never shown any desire to make wine not sold in grocery stores, and its two biggest brands are Franzia and Almaden, the five-liter box cash cows.

Call it one more step in the Big Wine-ing of America:

? The increasing consolidation in the U.S. wine business, something I wrote about at the beginning of the year. It is getting harder and harder for wineries that make less than one-half million cases to find distributors and space on store shelves. Benziger makes less than 200,000 cases a year, which wouldn’t even make it the biggest producer in Texas, and J sells only about one-third of that. Said the owner of a leading California independent: “My guess is that a winery really needs to be above 200,000 cases to really get the attention of a distributor. But maybe 500,000 is the new 200,000?” A distributor told me: “There are too many labels fighting for too few spots on the shelf or wine list. It ?s crazy.”

? Family and independence, two hallmarks of the California wine business since the 1980s, aren’t enough anymore. These are just the latest sales involving long-time family wineries, which saw an opportunity to cash out to avoid succession problems, solve family disputes over winery operations, or to take advantage of Big Wine’s deep pockets. Sale prices weren’t disclosed, but one report said the J deal may have been worth as much as $90 million, which would make the Benziger price well into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Even of the sale price was half of that for each, which is probably more accurate, that’s a winning payout.

? It’s all about the land. Benziger, with sales of less than $10 million, is so small compared to the multi-billion dollar Wine Group that there is almost no way it could affect the parent’s financial performance. This makes the deal even more baffling, unless it was for the 200 or so acres of quality Sonoma vineyards that were part of the sale.

Will Big Wine run their new companies successfully? Certainly, if success is defined by profit. Otherwise, expect the new owners to do what new owners always do, despite best intentions and protests to the contrary — cut costs, eliminate unnecessary products (so say good bye to J’s lovely pinot gris), and “rationalize” operations. Gallo and The Wine Group won’t ruin J and Benziger the way Sears destroyed mail-order clothing retailer Lands’ End, but they won’t be the same wineries they were before the sale. That’s something we’ll have to learn to live with, because consolidation is going to be with us for a very long time.

More about Big Wine:
? How to buy wine at the grocery store
? Downton Abbey claret ? wine merchandising for dummies
? Big wine tightened its grip on the U.S. wine market in 2013

Wine review: Benziger Sauvignon Blanc 2011

2011_NC_SB_FPeriodically, the Wine Curmudgeon will wax nostalgic about great $10 wines that are no more ? the old Big House Red, when Randall Grahm owned it, for example, or the legendary Hogue Fume Blanc, which once got me out of a wine bar fight (a story I ?ll have to share one of these days).

Benziger ?s Fume Blanc, which the winery stopped making four or five years ago, was one of those wines. It was a regular in the $10 Hall of Fame in those dark, pre-recession days, when I wrote that ?wineries, producers, and marketers seem to be spending their money on packaging and advertising instead of what ?s in the bottle ? and I worried that great cheap wine was going to go away.

This, as near as I can tell, is the successor to the fume (which is just another name for wine made with sauvignon blanc), though I haven ?t tasted it in a while. The 2011 ($8, purchased, 13.5%) is a previous vintage, which is why it cost so little; suggested retail is closer to $15, though the 2012 may be available for $10 or $11 in some places. This is classic California-style sauvignon blanc with grassy aromas, but also a very refreshing tropical pop in the middle. Very well done, and a steal at this price.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2014 $10 Hall of Fame ? as it should be, if the past is any indication.

Expensive wine 24: Signaterra/Benziger Three Blocks Sonoma Valley 2006

I don’t know that I’ve ever had an unpleasant wine from Benziger Family Winery, dating to the time when its sauvignon blanc (which is no longer made) was a regular in the $10 Hall of Fame. Benziger is a pioneer in organic and sustainable wines, and remains a family business — which is saying something in California these days. More importantly, the family makes quality wines, and especially in the $15 to $25 range where so much of what California produces is chain wine made to get a certain score.

The Signaterra ($50, sample) highlights what Benziger does so well. It’s a red blend that is true to its terroir and to the varietal character of the cabernet sauvignon and merlot used to make it. It’s still a young wine, and will improve with age. But you can drink it now, for the tannins, acid and alcohol are already in balance. It’s full of dark and cherryish flavors, but it will probably get darker and less fruity as it gets older.

This is a fancy dinner wine, the sort of thing one serves when the in-laws come over or the boss is angling for an invitation. It’s a red meat wine as well, prime rib and the like.