Guerilla Pouring with Benjamin Spencer



Benjamin Spencer's great viognier

While waiting for the Rhone Rendezvous tasting at the recent Hospice du Rhone wine festival, we started chatting with winemaker and blogger Benjamin Spencer.  You can catch one of his posts here at  He also has a very small boutique winery Leojami – and you can check out their site here


Spencer and Anne were talking about writing about HdR, but then Spencer mentioned that he was about to do a guerilla pouring, as well.

A what?

“Well, basically, it’s just a behind the scenes pouring at public wine events,” Spencer explained.  “You grab your newly-released viognier, in my case, for Leojami, and you put in on ice in your trunk. And you pull it out when everybody else is tasting and you find your friends from Facebook, who you know are soms [sommeliers] at various established resorts and restaurants and wine writers for Wine Spectator, etc.”

But why not just get a table?

“For people like us, we’re only making 400 cases per year,” Spencer said.  “We’re possibly pouring out a substantial amount of our potential profit, it just doesn’t make sense. So, I’m not… I haven’t always been on this side of the law, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I’m very happy to get out there and work for whoever wants to taste our wines.”

We did get a taste of Spencer’s 2008 Viognier and liked it a lot.  It had the typical viognier flowers in the nose – kind of a honeysuckle thing, but not sweet like honey.  There was some nice food-friendly acidity, and Mike tasted some stone fruits and a hint of citrus, with a medium mouthfeel and no oak.

Irish Family Vineyard 2007 Viognier

Type: Dry White
Made: In Calaveras County, California, With viognier grapes
Plays well with: seafood, salads, mild cheeses


The 2007 Viognier from Irish Family comes with the expected florals in the nose – honeysuckle in this case. A grape of the Rhone region wines in France, viognier has an instantly recognizable nose of flowers like honeysuckle or citrus like tangerine peel and also honeyed. A little blended into syrah contributes aromatics to a traditional red wine in the Rhone from France. Viognier is a handy grape to have around.


There is a flinty minerality as well that wasn’t covered by oak because there wasn’t any oak added. Steel fermentation and neutral barrels (barrels that have already given up all their oak flavors) allowed the flavors to concentrate. Crisp acidity gives a cleansing of the palate that plays well with seafood, salads and cheeses.

Due Vigne 2006 Viognier

We picked this one up at Blackwell’s Wines and Spirits during our recent visit to the Bay Area largely on the recommendation of Sara (and pray forgive us, Sara, if we have spelled your name wrong).
By Due Vigne Di Familia in the Napa region, the wine is a class act with 86 percent Viognier, eleven percent Roussanne and a scant three percent of Marsanne, aka a classic blend of three Rhone white grapes. Sara told us that the panel almost passed on the 2006 vintage because they didn’t think it was dry enough.
It was dry enough. The golden color in the glass had a nose of lychee nuts and banana on the first sniff and some citrus on a second smell. There was also some of the honeysuckle aroma. The rich mouthfeel first tasted of anise – licorice or fennel to some – that led into a hint of peach at the back of the mouth. The finish was decent and you could tell they used the oak sparingly.
The best part was that the wine was only ten dollars. You could certainly enjoy this wine buy itself. But try it with a creamy seafood bisque now or grilled scallops next spring. The wine certainly plays well with others and should have that chance. The catch is that at this price, if it’s still in the store, it won’t last.

Nelson Family Vineyards 2007 Riesling

Mendocino County is famous for three specific grapes: pinot noir, more pinot noir and something other than pinot noir.  Okay, it’s more than pinot. Chardonnay and riesling are especially at home there as well. And many more good grapes abound in this region, but that’s another post or twenty down the road.

This is about the riesling from Nelson Family Vineyards. Riesling is another grape that has been given a bad reputation by growing in too many bad neighborhoods and hanging with the wrong crowd – winemakers without the right skill set for good Riesling production. The fact that the Nelsons grow their own doesn’t guarantee that a good wine could result. But this time it’s true.

The 2007 Nelson Family Riesling has a honey and flowery nose – think honeysuckle not gardenias. There is also a quality peculiar to riesling that smells slightly of petroleum or kerosene. That is a fusal compound in the grape and only the best fruit and proper care can tame or mute it. If your last Rielsing smelled like a gasoline can and tasted weird, don’t judge all Rieslings this way.

The Nelson has a lush mouthfeel and the spiciness known in the best rieslings. The overall quality of the Nelson makes it perfect for either sweet or spicy dinners.  Or both, such as spicy orange chicken (a fave around here) or maybe spicy tortilla soup with lots of corn.

Three Sticks 2006 Durell Vineyards Chardonnay

Courtesy Three Sticks
Courtesy Three Sticks

We tasted the Three Sticks 06 Chard in possibly the worst possible situation – a gigantic show and tasting put on by the Family Winemakers of California.  Imagine a room as big as a football field, with over 100 wineries, each trying to impress restaurant owners and retailers and even some consumers.  It was chaotic and noisy.  And there was a lot of wine.  So it really means something that this one chardonnay managed to stand out – in a good way.

It has the classic chardonnay nose, with a little hint of honeysuckle, just enough to tease, but not enough to smell sweet or cloying.  There’s a touch of oak, a combination of fifty percent new French oak and fifty percent neutral oak, just enough to concentrate the flavors that make a good chardonnay without tasting like splinters.

Tasting, Michael got apples, citrus and melons with a rich mouthfeel and enough tannins to keep the palate happy.  This is a good food wine.  Try fruit, cheeses, chicken and possibly a cream sauce with pasta. And if you really want to, you can cellar it, thanks to the right balance of acids, tannins and alcohol.