Benzinger Bets Big ($) On Pinot Noir

Benzinger has long been a dependable Sonoma label over the years, producing straightforward, varietally correct, and respectable wines at reasonable prices. Though the name is probably familiar, the fact that they have been religiously employing organic and biodynamic practices in their vineyards may come as a surprise to many.  What's more is that with the birth of the Signaterra and De Coelo brands, they are making a bold foray into pricey territory at a time when many wineries are retrenching towards value lines and/or selling off excess capacity.

Do they know something we don't?

The quartet of Pinots reviewed below was part of a TasteLive event - a very cool way to create a pop-up community of wine lovers all focused on the same few wines.  The de Coelo wines make a clear statement that stands in contrast to most of the Sonoma Coast characteristics prevalent in the market today.  Muted and surprisingly low in alcohol (13%), these are the antidote to boozy, in-your-face-fruit powerhouses that seem to be getting so much attention these days.  But at a whopping $75 apiece, there's enough in-your-face in the price tag to make you yearn for higher alcohol.

The Signaterra wines, both from vineyards in the Russian River Valley, are quite different.  Showing refreshing herbal characteristics that show off acidic balance, this is not your typical NorCal fare, either.  In fact, these wines remind me of the Wrath wines from down in the Santa Lucia Highlands, perhaps influenced by winemaker Rodrigo Soto's use of whole cluster fermentation.  The Bella Luna shares more in common with the de Coelo wines that it's sibling from the San Remo vineyard, a dazzling wine by comparison.  These are less insanely priced, though still reaching at $49 a pop.

Wow.  Brave, indeed.  On to the wines...

(Disclosure: These wines were received as press samples)

2009 Signaterra Pinot Noir Bella Luna Vineyard $49
Initially hot and lively, this light bodied Pinot is translucent even in a thick decanter.  Pleasant mingling spices with a lingering finish.  Uncharacteristically herbal and floral for Russian River Valley fruit.  The balanced acidity is refreshing and brings green notes and bracing tannins along for the fast-paced ride.

2009 Signaterra Pinot Noir San Remo Vineyard $49
Deeper and lush looking in the glass.  Tight floral aromatics at first.  Real action and excitement from the attack, through a solid mid-palate, and a long the vibrant finish.  The zipadedoodah factor diminishes quickly after decanting, leaving a pleasant, if unexciting wine that remains true to the variety without doing any crazy tricks.

2009 de Coelo Pinot Noir Terra Neuma Vineyard $75
Delicate framing supporting a layered, nuanced, and refined body. Much lighter than what California Pinot drinkers have become accustomed do. Clearly a well made wine, but $75? Really?

2009 de Coelo Pinot Noir Quintus Vineyard $75
No doubt a cooler climate wine. Multidimensional, though very subtle.  Lovely balance, though not so obvious grace.  Again, having trouble swallowing the price.