Premieres Symptomes Sonoma
working for 17-18 hours a day has a singular effect on a person, that is they want to sleep above (almost) anything else. That is how i felt today after making plans to run all over sonoma doing everything. Instead i slept for 13 hours and got going at 2 in the afternoon after listening to Air‘s superlative Premieres Symptomes on repeat the night before. After this we only had time for three wineries, two of which were on our list and one that should have been.
We started at Benzinger Vineyards, which is one of the few wineries doing biodynamic agriculture in all of Sonoma. I have to say i like their wines with a few caveats; i thought their flagship biodynamic wine Tribute was weak and unstructured, while many of the vineyards that are still being certified BD were more structured, finished and worth the time. Of note were the De Coelo pinot, their rose, and the syrah.
Next we tried out Imagery winery, Benzinger’s sister winery and another area biodynamic producer. Unfortunately they were closing shop and we only had time for their white burgundy style chardonnay which was not bad, if a little on the oaked side (we grabbed a bottle to drink with dinner). Next we tried the malbec, which was overpriced and heavy, missing most of the lightness that characterizes that varietal (i’ll say it now, who is going to buy a 36$ malbec when you can get a good bottle for 12$?).
The highlight of the day, however, was Mayo family vineyards, who put on a left field tasting for us (is there even anyone else making alicante-bouchet?). Poured by the sardonic, cynical, and highly knowledgeable Rich who was an excellent balm from all the overly cheerful salespeople that populate the rest of the tasting rooms. This may have to do with the fact that Mayo stays open until 6:30 while everyone else closes at 4:30-5:00, but whatever the cause he was definitely a notch above. It started out with a fantastic sparkiling (chard-pinot meunier blend) that was nice full and yeasty. Next was a overly ripe viognier that was, suffice to say, not good. From there things looked up with perhaps the best domestic sangiovese i have had, full of bright acid. Next was a full bodied barbera that, while good, would have to be a pass. Next in order was a fantastic, light french style 2002 syrah from Domaine Berthoud with a good ageworthy tannic structure, a too young Bordeaux blend that needed about 5 more years, another too young hermitage style syrah that provided an excellent counterpoint to the lighter wine before it. After that was a 100% cab and the aforementioned alicante-bouchet, which is one of the only grapes that actually bleeds red.
The highlight of the evening was not the wine (although it was excellent and unexpected), but rather we had the chance to discuss wines, biodynamics and sustainable farming practices with Bill Hawley of Random Ridge who was stopping in for a glass of bubbly. If you haven’t already i would recommend getting your hands on a bottle of their extremely limited release stuff. It is well made, funky, and best of all the prices, if you can locate a bottle, are reasonable.
The legendary Bill Hawley, Myself, and Rich at Mayo’s tasting room.