This is another case of “Sonoma-envy,” in that it’s a winery I’ve heard about (all amazing things), but haven’t actually visited (yet). And, of course, in context of the rave winery reviews, I’ve heard mouth-watering descriptions of their wines. To be honest, I didn’t know that Benziger Family Winery would have bottles available at a local grocery store. But, as I’ve said in other posts, I’ve learned to search all shelves in the wine aisle — my friends, I’m telling you: gaze your eyes upwards, kneel down towards the floor and you’ll find wine gems like Benziger Family Winery Merlot.

I know I’ve mentioned in other Merlot posts that I have never been a natural fan of Merlot. It has nothing to do with any certain line from any certain movie — it’s just when I first starting exploring the wine-world, I never came across a Merlot with unique characteristics. So my assumption was that “bland” was a characteristic of all Merlots. Wrong. And this is where I will re-assert that spending some time in the wine aisle, looking beyond the eye-level offerings, and actually taking a chance on varietals outside your comfort zone pays off.

About the Wine: Every wine in the Benziger Family Winery portfolio is certified sustainable and each vineyard is certified sustainable, organic or Biodynamic. The grapes for the Benziger Merlot came from various vineyards in Sonoma County that, from the spec sheet, “elicit the ultimate expression of full fruit and velvety texture, while maintaining varietal integrity.”

The 2013 vintage is made from 100% Merlot grapes, aged for 16 months in French and American oak barrels.

14% ABV

Flavor Profile: A beautifully rich, velvety shade of burgundy in the glass, Benziger Sonoma County Merlot emits the aromas of a fully ripened blueberry bush found amidst deep forest greenery at night. Secondary aromas include woodsy spices reminiscent of black tea or even a fine cigar. On the palate, the wine is just as voluptuous and as smooth as it looks, but contrary to the nose, which painted a picture of moisture, darker, drier notes take over the tongue. Primary flavors are those of dried fruits — currants, fig — while secondary flavors include cherrywood tree bark. But the wine is by no means dry — as mentioned, it’s quite voluptuous with a round, calming mouthfeel. Tannins are present, giving the wine a full body and a strong structure, yet there’s nothing sticky or tacky about it. And there is a thin underline of juiciness due to the most delicate use of acid: those blueberries you smelled — they fell to the forest floor, are not just over ripe, and that’s the thin underline of juice you’ll taste.

Food Pairing: I enjoyed Benziger Sonoma County Merlot with a peppercorn crusted steak grilled just over rare. Pair that with an herb-based salad tossed with fresh blueberries and sprinkled with blue cheese, and you’ll have the fruit, the juice, the earth, and the oak talking to each other between the glass and the plate.

More Info: If you’ve never heard of Benziger before, now you have. And though this once little winery is seeing some big time business success, I venture to say that whether visiting their Sonoma winery or tasting from your own location, you’re going to sip on some homegrown, grassroots-style wines. I can’t wait to open my next Benziger bottle.

The Benziger Family Winery Merlot is available at Safeway (Sale Price: $12).

For more information about Benziger, their available wines, and to purchase wines directly, please do visit the Benziger Family Winery website.

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