Far Niente Unveils Benson Vale Cabernet Sauvignon

Longtime winemaker Nicole Marchesi teams up with consultant Thomas River Brown on new luxury Napa Valley wine.

Such a pleasure last month to meet Beth Nickel of Far Niente Winery. With her late husband, Gil, she restored the same-named winery John Benson founded in 1885. The occasion was the unveiling of the first Benson Vale Cabernet Sauvignon vintage.

In the wake of Prohibition, the stone winery Hamden McIntyre designed for Benson stood abandoned until 1979, when the Nickels arrived on the scene and began restoring the property. The couple retained the Far Niente moniker (in Italian, “doing nothing” or, per the winery’s website, “without a care”).

Nicole Marchesi and Thomas Rivers Brown.

Nicole Marchesi, Far Niente’s winemaker since 2009, and consultant extraordinaire Thomas Rivers Brown teamed up to fashion the lusciously elegant Benson Vale from western-bench Oakville AVA grapes. The winery’s marketing team commissioned an appropriately luxurious label.

Cars, champagne, and violins by the pond.

The festivities began by the pond with sips of Krug Grand Cuvée Brut to the strains of violins. A few of Gil Nickel’s collector cars graced the lawn. After introductions, it was on to the Great Hall for executive chef Britny Maureze’s four-course feast.

Top row: Maine lobster in puff pastry, “Duck Four Ways.” Bottom row: braised Wagyu beef short rib, pan-seared foie gras with Dolce-poached apricots.

I’ve always thought of Far Niente’s wines as smoothly elegant, the 2016 and 2019 accompanying the duck course being textbook examples. Brown’s contributions to Benson Vale — most notably his trademark polished tannins — elevate matters further. The wine seduces with vibrant fruit and a lush, enveloping mouthfeel. A party in a bottle on its own, Benson Vale ultimately wants a dish like Maureze’s braised Wagyu beef short ribs with truffled potatoes, a scintillating pairing.

Benson Vale is named for John Benson, Far Niente Winery’s 19th-century founder.

Bookending the Cabernet were a 2019 Cave Collection Chardonnay, its acidity and judicious oak enhancing the lobster course, and a 2000 Dolce Late Harvest Wine with the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding dessert: pan-seared foie gras with Dolce-soaked apricots. Having recently tasted the 2016 Dolce, I appreciated the subtle flavors that emerge over time in this clean-on-the-palate, not-too-sweet gem.

Chef Britny Maureze.

If you’re into scores, Benson Vale just received 98 points from Jeb Dunnuck. It’s definitely special.


1350 Acacia Dr., Oakville, 94562

See Also

Nickel & Nickel
10 Foolproof Napa Valley Cabernet Tasting Experiences

Napa Valley Itineraries

48 Perfect Hours in Calistoga
3 Historic Napa Valley Wineries Day Trip
2 Splendid Days in Walkable Yountville

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