posted on April 22, 2009 19:37
BENNETT LANE: IN THE WINNER'S CIRCLE
By Dennis Schaefer
There are hundreds of wineries to visit in Napa Valley but only one has a NASCAR race car in the corner of the barrel aging room.
Bennett Lane Winery, just north of Calistoga, was the first winery to sponsor and own a NASCAR racing team, one that won the 2007 NASCAR Grand National Division West Series Championship. And, by the way, Bennett Lane also makes wine that belongs in the winner's circle. Also, Bennett Lane has kept their wine prices reasonable for such expensive grape-growing real estate. In the recent "Savvy Shopper" issue of Wine Spectator, Bennett Lane was called "a reliable source for high quality and good prices."
The 2007 white Maximus ($28), subtitled "white feasting wine," is a proprietary blend, primarily of sauvignon blanc, with a bit of chardonnay and muscat in the mix. The aromas are enticing, with orange blossom, honeysuckle and grapefruit, smelling like the best breakfast juice you could conjure up. The flavors are ripe with fruits of white peach, nectarine, orange citrus, pear and red grapefruit, backed up by prickly acidity that just gives it more oomph on the mid palate and a lengthy finish.
The 2005 Maximus red wine ($35) is about two-thirds cabernet, one-quarter merlot with the balance syrah. Again, the aromatics are a strong point, with dark plum, black cherry, blackberry, cocoa powder and vanilla. The well-extracted flavors spread out on the palate like a buffet, including sweet and ripe black cherry, licorice, blackberry and plum with subtle layers of mint, cinnamon, nutmeg and cedar. As jam-packed as that sounds, the wine is nevertheless supple and refined with an incredible balance of fruit, spice and acidity. A tasty best-buy and worth twice the price.
This being Napa Valley, Bennett Lane most certainly makes a cabernet. The 2005 [Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon]version ($55) has darker, deeper and reserved aromatics (than Maximus) with cherry, candied violets and aged barrel notes of clove and cedar. On the palate, the flavors are more sustained with dark plum, cassis, black cherry and cedar. It's savory in the same way the juicy pink center of a medium-rare steak is. A myriad of deeper flavor components, not all of which are evident on first pass, reveal themselves with time in the glass. Great length and persistence is obvious in this cab and you can drink it now or age it for a few years.
The winery also wants to go toe-to-toe with other high-end Napa cabs with their 2005 cabernet reserve ($95). It has the darkest of all cassis, licorice, cherry and plum aromatics you can imagine; the flavors are focused with plenty of dark fruits, including a rich layering of raspberry, cocoa and chocolate and hints of licorice, green herb and vanilla. It's the absolute finest cabernet they can make at any price and it was my best of show of all the wines. Put this one in the cellar for up to 10 years.
The 2006 Los Carneros reserve chardonnay ($45) just jumps right out of the glass with billowing clouds of pineapple, honey, coconut, cinnamon and clove. The real focus of flavors are on fresh pineapple that's vibrant in nature, along with baked apples and toasted hazelnuts in an important but supporting role. The mouthfeel is juicy as well as rich and the finish is crisp and lengthy.