Tasting Notes, 2008: Bennett Lane Winery

bennett-lane-maximusIn many ways, I consider Calistoga to be a destination unto itself, a town somehow removed from the rest of the Napa Valley, not only geographically, but in its attitude as well. With the exception of Castello di Amorosa, the gauche opulence that pervades many parts of the Napa Valley seems to be mostly absent in Calistoga, which remains both rural and rugged. Most of my previous entries regarding Calistoga wineries have echoed this sentiment, along with my reminder this (pending) appellation can offer some really terrific wine values.

Certainly, one of the greatest wine values in Calistoga is over at Bennett Lane, which has continued to offer its popular proprietary blend, Maximus, at very reasonable prices. I tend to classify Maximus alongside Newton’s Claret and Chappellet’s Mountain Cuvee, although it is slightly pricier than either of these two wines. On the upside, Bennett Lane does not require a tasting appointment, so visitors can sample and purchase these wines on a casual walk-in basis (both Newton and Chappellet require appointments). I stopped by Bennett Lane the other day to taste their latest releases:

• Of course, the 2005 Bennett Lane Maximus ($35) was a stand-out, as always. The wine, which is primarily a Cabernet and Merlot blend, exhibited a great deal of earthiness, which was supported by noticeable dose of Syrah. The 2005 Bennett Lane Cabernet Sauvignon ($55) was also noteworthy, and one that I would definitely recommend. There are quite a few outstanding Napa Cabs at the $60 price point, and this wine certainly earns a place on the list.

• I tasted a couple whites as well, including the 2007 Bennett Lane White Maximus ($28), which is primarily Sauvignon Blanc, with the addition of Chardonnay and Muscat. Although I really enjoy Sauv Blanc (as well as Sauv Blanc-based blends), the White Maximus is just not as appealing as its red counterpart, and the 2007 vintage will be the winery’s final bottling (which only began in 2005). I also sampled the 2006 Bennett Lane Los Carneros Reserve Chardonnay ($45), which was pleasant, but not to my tastes. I should note that this Chardonnay is about 30% malolactic, which is right at the upper limit of what I prefer.

• The last wine I tasted was the 2005 Bennett Lane Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($95). I enjoyed this wine, but actually felt that the non-reserve bottling had a little more to it. Either way, I felt that both wines were more or less in the same league, which is always a good news-bad news scenario. Fortunately, the non-reserve bottling presents a strong value, but it may ultimately steal the thunder of the reserve offering.

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