Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wine Review: Courtney Benham Vin d'Eliza 2010

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the wines of the Cotes du Rhone. I find them versatile, with a great balance of tannins, fruit and acidity. They are the Goldilocks of wine: just right. I often find that they are also some of the most perpetually unnoticed wines out there. If you are a score whore, in the Rhone aisle there are more highly rated wines for less than twenty bucks than in any other 12 foot section of shelving in the place. I like Rhone wines so much I even made a pilgrimage there last August.

Rhone wines are universally beloved by those in the know, and who could be more a wine aficionado, more in the know than the people who make it? Whether it’s “Rhone Rangers” in California or Australians making GSM’s, the style of Rhone Valley wines (north and south!) are being emulated around the world. There’s a Rhone clone on the shelves at my store that I’ve been wanting to try for some time now.
Courtney Benham is a producer in California with a pretty big portfolio of wines and a company umbrella under which the Angeline and Martin Ray brands also sit. The 2010 Vin d’Eliza is an eclectic blend of Rhone varietals sourced from California Central Coast vineyards and clocks in at $14.99. Composed of 26% Carignane, 24% Cinsaut, 20% Mourvedre, 18% Grenache and 12% Syrah, the blend is heavier on the lesser grapes of the Rhone and lighter on its traditional workhorses. I was intrigued by this, and wondered how it would play out.

For dinner I selected one of my favorite proteins, and a natural match for any Rhone wine: lamb chops.

It pours a bright ruby into the glass, and has an inviting nose of raspberry jam. It takes almost no time to develop in the glass, and is ready to go just shortly after you pour it. Cherry and raspberry notes are the first to crash across the palate along with a medium-plus acidity. As it mellows into the finish, pepper and faint tobacco/earth notes arise.    The body is on the light side. It doesn’t hang around too long, and leaves you ready for another sip.

The wine lacks density and concentration, but is delightfully light on its feet. There is decent tannin structure present, which coupled with the bright fruit attitude and lively acidity made it an interesting study in contrast. It paired well with the lamb chops and wasn’t easily overwhelmed.
It has nice character, and while not a world class champ, was certainly an enjoyable little California Rhone clone.
If you are looking for a quaffable, food friendly bottle, and want to see what Rhone varietals can do outside of their spiritual homeland, I'd definitely say give this a try.  The price is right, it's fun and lively, and if you have some lamb chops hanging around you should introduce the two.

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