To get back on the wagon (or continue falling off, depending on your perspective) after our less than stellar experience at Atam Winery, we headed on over to Benson Vineyards Estate Winery. Benson is probably the Chelan area’s most well known winery and the one of the only wineries in the area that is a 100% Estate Winery. To qualify as an Estate Winery, that means the winery and vineyards have to be in the same AVA, all of the vineyards have to be controlled or owned by the winery, and the wine has to be made from start to finish at the winery. Most of the Chelan area wineries source some of their fruit from the Yakima and Columbia Valley, so Benson is unique in that respect.
The tasting room is another in the grand Tuscan Villa style, with the building cut into the hill so you walk into the tasting room on the same level as the parking lot, but on the back side you can head down a flight of stairs to a gorgeous patio with chairs and tables, and a spectacular view of the lake. Well, the view… the weekend that we were there… not so much. You haven’t forgotten about the smoke, have you? My lungs hadn’t!
We enjoyed tasting several of their wines, starting with their 2011 Chardonnay. This wine was aged in French oak for 6 months, but honestly it didn’t taste like an oaked Chardonnay. It was very crisp, with flavors of tart apple – a very nice Chardonnay. I tried the Rosé next, a Syrah Rosé that is dry with a light sweetness and flavors of cherries. It would be an excellent accompaniment to BBQ on a hot day. But I wasn’t so impressed with their 2009 Pinot Noir – it tasted too earthy for my taste, with lots of bitter coffee flavor.
The 2009 Nebbiolo was a big smooth wine, with flavors of strong tobacco and peppermint. It was decent, but at a $45 sticker price, it needed to be amazing for me to buy it. At $28, I liked the 2008 Rhythm much better, with a nice balance of berry and smoke. The 2009 Cabernet Franc was another big tannic wine, with flavors of coffee and heavy smoke. Not really my taste. I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon much better, although it was also a big wine, its flavors of leather and chocolate were very smooth.
After our tasting, Jon and I sat out on the patio for awhile and enjoyed the warm air, but we couldn’t really linger for long because of the heavy smoke in the air. So, we headed to our next destination. At that point, we didn’t really know where we wanted to visit next, so he headed out and turned when we saw a winery sign that piqued our interest. That sign said Chelan Ridge Winery. We had no idea what we were in for…
The tasting room was staffed by Henry, and a tasting room server (I didn’t catch her name). Henry explained that he and his wife Lynn own the winery, and she is the winemaker. He spent his career as a commercial airline pilot, and they decided to start a winery as a retirement project (that sounds like an awesome retirement!). Henry and the server were both really friendly, and Henry enjoyed talking about the wines. When he saw that I was taking notes during the tasting, he offered to make a copy of the tasting notes for me. They had 4 reds when we were there, and here’s what I thought.
2008 Merlot – Estate Vineyard
The Winemaker’s Notes – This Merlot opens with rich, bright aromas of ripe dark cherries, blackberry jam, and dark chocolate. It’s bright acidity and supple tannins round out a long firm finish with flavors of black cherries, black currant, mocha, and toasty French oak.
My Notes – Very tannic, Toasty – aged in French oak. A lot of great structure and balance – needs some age.
2008 Syrah – Estate Vineyard
The Winemaker’s Notes – This Syrah opens with lush aromas of ripe dark fruit, white pepper, and violets, followed by rich jammy flavors of blackberries and plums, along with spicy oak. Bold tannins show on the entry and in the finish. This is a no sissy wine! Pairs wonderfully with grilled ribeye!
My Notes – White pepper. Very good structure – big tannins.
2008 Rouge de Moraine (Bordeaux-Style Blend) – Estate Vineyard
The Winemaker’s Notes – Our Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Cab Franc (27%), and Merlot (18%) is a real fruit bomb layered with dark cherries, rich plums, and toasted oak forming the base of the aromas, with cherries, pomegranates and blackberries on the palate. The dense tannin profile is complemented by dark chocolate notes and good acidity making it a great food wine.
My Notes – very smooth – excellent blend. We bought two of these.
2008 Cabernet Franc – Estate Vineyard
The Winemaker’s Notes – Spicy aromas including red currants, raspberries, vanilla and light oak give way to black cherry flavors, black raspberries, and baker’s chocolate. Bright acidity and moderate tannins provide good structure and balance. Superb with alder plank salmon or grilled meats!
My Notes – Raspberry on nose. Dark bitter chocolate. We bought one of these.
I may not have written much in my notes, but this is no way means the wines were duds. In fact, these wines were the stars of the weekend. If Jon and I weren’t trying to save money, I would have gladly bought multiple bottles of each of these wines. I contained myself with just the three bottles, but it was really hard. If you have an opportunity to visit this winery, don’t pass it up. It is truly a gem with standout wines!