2020 Martha Stoumen, Mendocino Benchlands Red, Mendocino County.
The fresh and spicy 2020 Stoumen Benchlands feels juicy, vibrant and dry with crushed raspberry and peonies leading the way on this attractive and lighter framed 40% Petite Sirah, 37% Zinfandel and 23% Nero d’Avola blend that is perfect medium bodied wine for pasta, pizza and especially outdoor dinning with smooth dusty tannins and zesty natural acidity. An easy to love quaffer, the latest Benchlands includes a high dose of carbonic Petite Sirah which Martha handled with her more delicate touch, as well as the usual Zinfandel, which gives this wine its California sunny personality and her signature Nero d’Avola, the Sicilian grape that adds complexity and a dark earthy charm, with all the grapes coming from three sustainable/organic Mendocino sites set on stony benchland, hence the name on this wine, valley floor uplifted soils with mainly gravelly/sandy loams. Stoumen says this wine was inspired by the Italian farming tradition where grapes were planted on the poorer soils and you can feel it here on this latest release with its fruit forward nature and slightly rustic character, it is an honest and good drinking wine with a simple array of red fruits, a touch of iron, a light crunch of herbs, blood orange, pretty florals and a lingering tanginess. Think of this wine as a no pretense, fun companion, one to be poured with happy friends around a campfire or sitting by a lake, it is a superb Summer red, like an Italian country wine and or a Carignan based Corbieres, from France’s wild Languedoc.

The Mendocino Benchlands, a red blend, that Martha resurrected in 2019, her original vintage was in 2015, it was brought back as a result of a new vineyard she started leasing and farming in Mendocino County called the Chiarito-Ling Vineyard, where Stoumen gets her Zinfandel and some of her Petite Sirah. This vintage deviates from the 2015 and 2019 vintages, as Martha says, a smidge, because in 2020 she also added some carbonic maceration Petite Sirah to bring some blue fruit to the blend, which shows up after the wine has been open a white and with food, adding a some delicious blueberry and plum. The other two vineyards, the Benson Ranch vineyard, in Ukiah, provides a little extra Petite Sirah, while the Nero d’Avola comes from 33 year old vines at the Fox Hill Vineyard, located on the Talmage Bench in Mendocino County, which is most likely the oldest Nero d’Avola vines in California. The ripe and lively Benchlands Red comes in at just 12.5% natural alcohol and never gets dull in the glass which has an inviting garnet/ruby/strawberry hue, it is also very low in total SO2 and Stoumen notes it is, like all of her wines, vegan safe. The grapes were fermented separately in small batches, with whole cluster employed for the Zin and Petite, though all de-stemmed for the Nero. All of lots were pressed prior to dryness and then barrel aged in all neutral French oak for 6 months off lees and then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Martha suggests, and I agree, to enjoy this Benchlands young and chilled, drink over the next two or three years. There’s a lot to like in Martha’s latest set of releases, especially her new Vermentino, her Rosato of Nero d’Avola and this one, be sure to check them out.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

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