On a recent visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, I stopped by a nearby grocery store to pick up some food and wine for an evening barbecue. (Thank heavens for grocery-store wine sales; wine lovers who live in states that don’t permit them are really losing out on convenience and selection). I was on the hunt for good bottlings in the $10 to $15 range and quickly zeroed in on two wines made by Courtney Benham.
In 1990, Benham purchased the historic but defunct Martin Ray label, which set the standard for quality in the Santa Cruz Mountains, near San Jose, in the mid-20th century. Since then Benham has greatly expanded Martin Ray’s offerings, as well as those of two other brands he’s founded: the eponymous Courtney Benham and another called Angeline.
The 2009 Courtney Benham Sauvignon Blanc, from Napa, showed ripe tropical fruit flavors, including mango and pineapple, with hints of fresh apricot and herb. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and includes 10 percent Chardonnay in the blend. I rated it 85 points, non-blind; it costs $10 a bottle.
I also picked up one of his Sonoma bottlings, the Martin Ray Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2009, for $15. It delivered ripe apple, pear and citrus overtones, with plenty of honeyed and buttery elements. I scored it 86 points, non-blind. Both wines represent solid values in today’s pricey world of California wine.
WineSpectator.com members: Read blind-tasting reviews for other Martin Ray and Courtney Benham bottlings.
• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for Easy Finds among value-priced California white wines.