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Wine of the Week: Benziger 2012 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon

While leading a tour of Benziger Family Winery’s estate vineyards earlier this year, Mike Benziger commented that a redwood forest once stood on the site.

Redwoods, in Sonoma Valley?

Many people are familiar with the great forests that begin in the Russian River area, but impressive stands of the long-lived trees grew even farther inland than this favorably sheltered, northern slope of Sonoma Mountain.

That was long before the Benzigers moved in, of course, and planted grapes, later transitioning to Certified Biodynamic farming to help heal the land. Sure enough, I look up and see a so-called fairy ring of young redwood trees — they might be 100 years old, but that’s young — that sprouted around the stump of a fallen giant above Benziger’s wine caves.

Reflecting on the hidden history waiting to be revealed in the trees on Sonoma Mountain, like the eucalyptus forest in neighboring Jack London State Park, planted a century ago by the successful author — and amateur agronomist — I’m reminded of Jared Farmer’s  fascinating 2013 book, “Trees In Paradise,” that explores California’s arboreal legacy. Who knew trees could be such a good read, with plenty of drama, science and quirky characters — not just for tree nuts!

As a nice coda to all this talk of trees, I see that Benziger has just debuted a new tree-themed wine label. Symbolizing the winery’s commitment to “honoring nature and preserving our resources,” the tree takes the spotlight from the more cryptic “four elements” logo.

You’ll get a good hit of oak wood from Benziger’s 2012 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($20), anyway, but it’s a nice, oily oak aroma — not overly charred. This opaque, deep purple-hued Cab keeps its fruit close, even after being opened for two days, but the fact that it reminds me of a certain brand of organic black licorice that I haven’t smelled for 20 years is a good sign — it’s got the mind engaged.

While it tastes less like blackberries than the 2012 Merlot, its aroma also calls to mind a fresh basket of blackberries, uncrushed. Mouth-filling, with plush, terry-cloth tannins, this wine’s about texture, with the creamy blending of dark fruit and quality wood slowly winning over the palate.

Benziger’s Sonoma County tier of wines are grown by farmers who adhere to the winery’s point-based sustainability assessment system, “Farming for Flavors,” which includes up to 20 points for “Expanding your mind,” as well as installation of nesting boxes for birds and practices that enhance the quality of the fruit.

Don’t expect Benziger’s 2012 Sonoma County Merlot ($19) to be softer than the Cab. This Merlot comes on with an aggressive, smoky aroma, like oily French roast beans, plus pencil shavings, stone dust, crushed blackberry, and all that classic, Bordeaux-lovers’ catnip. The palate is juicy with blackberry, bitter with iron, and finishes dry. I’d decant both of these wines for a good while. Solid, serious stuff for the price.

Bluie’s Low and Slow Beef Pot Roast

Yield: 8-10 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 2 1/2 hrs.

“Our mother Helen was affectionately known as ‘Bluie’ for the blue bath robe she wore around the house,” Mike Benziger writes in the forward to this recipe. “Cooking for a family as big as the Benzigers (five boys, two girls) was no small feat; in fact, her slogan was: “Hot and a lot!”

On special occasions, especially in the fall, we’d get a treat with Mom’s Pot Roast. The whole house knew when she was preparing this meal, the secret being to let the flavors of the roast and vegetables meld together at a low temperature for hours. The all-day anticipation only made dinner that much better.”

Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 pounds beef chuck roast
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Benziger Estate Olive Oil
  • 2 onions (yellow or white), chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup Benziger Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 pounds red skinned potatoes, quartered

Directions

Preheat a 5-quart (or larger) Dutch oven on medium-high, and add in the olive oil. Season the chuck roast with salt and sear it on both sides in the hot Dutch oven for 5-6 minutes a side; remove. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chopped onions. Cook until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, stir, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the roast back into the Dutch oven and then add the wine, broth, thyme, bay leaf and black pepper.

Stir and bring to a simmer before covering and popping the roast into a preheated, 300-degree oven. Cook for 2.5 hours. Add the peeled and chopped carrots and quartered potatoes. Cover and place the Dutch oven back in the oven for another 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove the roast and either slice or shred (using two forks). Place the meat back in the pot so it can absorb the juices.

Serve and garnish with more fresh thyme if desired.

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