Four fine wines (From the Fall 2011 issue of SONOMA)
Ben’s Brew Evolve 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
Evolve 2010 Sauvignon Blanc
$19.95 at Sonoma Market
If you don’t know Ben Flajnik’s name by now, just turn the page. The handsome, young Sonoma winemaker/entrepreneur, who achieved national fame on a reality TV show called The Bachelorette, by proposing marriage to a woman who turned him down, is headed to what will probably be even greater fame after being named the next star of the counterpoint program, The Bachelor, which starts taping this fall, with 25 comely women vying for young Ben’s attentions.
Local Flajnik fans, some of whom have known him since first grade and were bemused by his rise through the Bachelorette ranks, followed his progress in part because his growing national popularity shed positive light on the Sonoma Valley and his fledgling wine label, Evolve.
With partners Mike Benziger and Danny Fay, Ben had already launched his first foray into the wine world when the TV show came knocking. His success as a suitor ignited a passionate interest in his wine, and Evolve sales soared.
Now Ben & Company are poised to release a new label, Epilogue, to reach a more accessible level of wine drinkers, presumably those with reality TV habits and an eye for hunky young winemakers.
All of which fails to resolve the one Sonoma-centric question in all this newfound fame: How good is Ben’s wine?
Since his sauvignon blanc sales went through the roof thanks to the show, that’s what we tasted. And this is what we found: a crisp, medium-dry porch wine with a lovely, flowery bouquet and a lot of fruit and a near-perfect sugar-acid balance that finishes smoothly. It’s priced at 19.95 and worth it.
Now the question is who Ben will find worthy in the harvest of romance?
Available only at Mandarin Oriental Hotels
Price: Don’t even ask
Ngima Sherpa has never grown a single grape, has never made a single bottle of wine. He is from a small village in the Khumbu region of Nepal, hard up against Mt. Everest, where the only thing that grows is potatoes. Certainly not grapes.
All that notwithstanding, Ngima (pronounced Nee-mah) Sherpa has his name on an entire cuvée of world-class pinot noir. How? That’s a really good question.
Ngima manages the bar, and much of the house, at Meritage Restaurant and Oyster Bar in Sonoma. That’s when he’s not guiding climbers up the treacherous slopes of Mt. Everest. He’s a consummate professional at both jobs, which is why he met a contingent of dining sommeliers from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel group, on their way to Hirsch Vineyards to blend a special Mandarin cuvée.
After dining at Meritage, the group was so impressed with Ngima’s service, knowledge, kindness and personal history, that they decided to name their next personally blended pinot cuvée in his honor.
Thus was born Ngima’s Cuvée, a 100-case lot of Hirsch Sonoma Coast pinot magic, with a hand-painted label, created by Marie Hirsch, showing a wave of marine-layer fog flowing over the coastal ridge and bouncing into a vineyard.
The wine is wonderfully complex, with an incredibly sophisticated nose, a combination of smoke, powdered marble, a deep, multilayered, flowered perfume and a subtle, complex finish. In keeping with the rest of the Hirsch production, it is a world-class wine.
Find it, if you can, at a Mandarin Oriental Hotel. And tell them that Ngima sent you.
Annadel Estate Winery
$45 at the winery. Also available at Sonoma’s Best.
This is what you call a fruit bomb, an enological explosive device, a terroir terrorist weapon that knocks you over, seduces you and then renders you unconscious.
Someone should report this to Homeland Security. The alcohol climbs up the side of the glass and parks in your nose. It’s almost like sniffing Armagnac. The fruit flows across the topography of your tongue, triggering the tasting nodes like a string of fruit grenades. As the juice runs off the back of your tongue your brain shouts, wait, come back, do that again!
After one glass it occurs to you, Wow, maybe I should have laid this down, for a decade or two. But then you pour another glass because you can’t resist it.
Remember Kathleen Turner in Body Heat? It’s that irresistible.
Consider where it came from. Block 23, Monte Rosso (“Red Mountain”) Vineyard, 1,100 feet up off the Valley floor on the southwest-facing slopes of the Mayacamas just above the fog line. Hot days, cool nights, big flavor plus lots and lots (16.9 percent) of alcohol.
When you know who made it, you’re not surprised. Dean Bordigioni is not what you would call effete. He had a Harley dealership, rode hogs for years, he’s not small and he doesn’t make small wines. His Annadel Estate Winery, up near the top of the Valley of the Moon is an oasis of big roses, great grapes, giant oaks and velvet lawns. Italian by heritage and at heart, Dean vows each bottle holds “the highest expression of love.”
Annadel Estate Winery
6687 Sonoma Highway
Santa Rosa 95409
$45 at the tasting room
You can almost feel the warmth hanging over the vines as you make your way up the gravel drive to Little Vineyards Family Winery. It’s homey, it’s little and it’s definitely family. From the old tractor in front, to the ’51 Ford pickup rumored to have starred on TV’s Sanford and Son, there is a lived-in feel to the Little enterprise. What you can’t see is what’s buried, in the soil underneath those vines, hot springs that reach the surface at 85 degrees, and that, along with the marine breeze, mean the grapes never freeze. That warmth is reflected in the laid-back reception you’ll get from Rich and Joan Little, who quickly make you feel like part of the family.
Almost as hot as the groundwater is the music played by the Rich Little Band, which rehearses in a recording studio behind the tasting room and performs all over the Valley.
You can buy their “Band Blend” CD in the tasting room, where Rich himself is inclined to play his multistringed Chapman Stick for delighted guests.
Which brings us to the 2009 cabernet that won both Double Gold and Best of Class among Sonoma appellations at the 2011 California State Fair. The blend of 90 percent cab and 10 percent petite sirah, was the work of winemaker Ted Coleman, who is also Joan’s brother (there’s that family thing again).
It is a gorgeous, balanced, smooth and fruity cab, with great mouth feel, meaning that it slides down your throat like honey. There are only 428 cases, so grab some while they last.
15188 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen
From the Fall 2011 issue of SONOMA