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Wine of the week: Benovia, 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

This week’s blind tasting

Benovia, 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 14.1%, $45, 4.5 stars. This pinot has generous fruit, but it’s the wine's pitch-perfect balance that’s most impressive. With deep aromas and flavors of raspberry and black plum, this pinot has intensity. Riding on crisp acid, it has a lingering, tangy finish and it’s striking.

Inman Family, 2017 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 13.8%, $68, 4 stars. A complex pinot weighted to red fruit, with layered flavors of raspberry, cherry and mineral. Nice length. This balanced pinot finishes crisp.

Pelligrini, 2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 13.9%, $65, 4 stars. Aromas and flavors of a range of red fruit — Bing cherry, plum and pomegranate — with a savory note of thyme in the mix. A feminine pinot with a lingering finish. Pretty.

Sangiacomo, 2018 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $60, 4 stars. Aromas of pomegranate, strawberry and sage and a hint of caramel follow through to the palate. Refreshing, this pinot rides on crisp acid.

Pedroncelli, 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 13.5%, $22, 3.5 stars. A tasty pinot with notes of pomegranate, strawberry and a kiss of vanilla. Balanced, with crisp acidity. Light and lively, this is a refreshing, budget-wise quaffer.

Pinot noir is a high-maintenance grape prone to rebellion unless consistently pampered in the vineyard.

“It can be unforgiving if planted in the wrong place or farmed incorrectly,” said Benovia Winery co-owner and winemaker Mike Sullivan. “You must pay special attention to every aspect of winegrowing when farming pinot noir because it can only be grown in a handful of places in the world. Rain at the wrong time or a heat spell can be a disaster for a thin-skinned varietal like pinot noir.”

Sullivan is behind our wine of the week winner — the Benovia, 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 14.1%, $45. This pinot has generous fruit, but it’s the wine's pitch-perfect balance that’s most impressive. With deep aromas and flavors of raspberry and black plum, this pinot has intensity. Riding on crisp acid, it has a lingering, tangy finish.

Other tasty pinot noirs, at a range of price points, include the Inman Family, 2017 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 13.8%, $68; Pelligrini, 2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 13.9%, $65; Sangiacomo, 2018 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $60; Pedroncelli, 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 13.5%, $22.

As for the winning Benovia pinot, Sullivan said the bottling captured the potential of what the varietal can do in the Russian River Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area).

“This is a blend of all three of our estate vineyards — Cohn, Martaella and Tilton Hill,” he said. “Each estate vineyard sits in a different neighborhood of the Russian River Valley. ... The 2019 vintage was an exceptional vintage in the Russian River Valley, and we experienced almost perfect growing conditions and a long, cool harvest.”

The winemaker said he’s trying to craft a yin-and-yang pinot, one that’s ripe yet elegant and straddles the line between Old World and New World wine.

“I’m trying to produce a pinot noir that has vibrant fruit aromas and flavors with bright acidity, one with fine tannins and a long finish,” Sullivan said. “I’m trying to produce a pinot noir that’s distinctively from California but has the balance and elegance that you’d find in the Old World.”

Sonoma County, he said, is one of the greatest winegrowing areas in the world.

“I grew up in Sonoma County, and my parents are winegrowers on Sonoma Mountain,” he said. “I fell in love with the world of wine as a teenager working summers planting grapes for my parents and working in the cellar at local wineries. I fell in love with Sonoma County growing up here, and I never wanted to leave.”

Sullivan, 52, has a degree in enology from Fresno State University. His first job in the industry was in 1987 at Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood.

Crafting pinot noir for decades, Sullivan has become a pinot specialist, and he said the Benovia bottling is a good deal for its price. Other pinots of this caliber are in the $60-plus range.

“We own and farm our own vineyards and have our own winery,” he said, “That’s why we’re able to produce an estate pinot noir at a reasonable price.”

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

This week’s blind tasting

Benovia, 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 14.1%, $45, 4.5 stars. This pinot has generous fruit, but it’s the wine's pitch-perfect balance that’s most impressive. With deep aromas and flavors of raspberry and black plum, this pinot has intensity. Riding on crisp acid, it has a lingering, tangy finish and it’s striking.

Inman Family, 2017 Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 13.8%, $68, 4 stars. A complex pinot weighted to red fruit, with layered flavors of raspberry, cherry and mineral. Nice length. This balanced pinot finishes crisp.

Pelligrini, 2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 13.9%, $65, 4 stars. Aromas and flavors of a range of red fruit — Bing cherry, plum and pomegranate — with a savory note of thyme in the mix. A feminine pinot with a lingering finish. Pretty.

Sangiacomo, 2018 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $60, 4 stars. Aromas of pomegranate, strawberry and sage and a hint of caramel follow through to the palate. Refreshing, this pinot rides on crisp acid.

Pedroncelli, 2019 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 13.5%, $22, 3.5 stars. A tasty pinot with notes of pomegranate, strawberry and a kiss of vanilla. Balanced, with crisp acidity. Light and lively, this is a refreshing, budget-wise quaffer.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

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