PICK of the RACK: Buena Vista Winery | The Count | Founder’s Red Wine | Sonoma | California | 2008 | $20 | 88 pts

Aromas: fragrant; black cherry & plum; anise; mocha
Character: dry; full-bodied & fruit-driven; balanced & smooth; medium tannins and acidity; subtle oak
Flavors: ripe blackberry; mission fig; roasted plum; touch of smoke
Food Pairing: medium-sharp cheeses; pizza & Italian fare

Buena Vista is among California’s oldest and most historic wineries.  It was founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian immigrant who fancied himself the “Count of Buena Vista” and was a trailblazing pioneer and advocate of California viticulture and winemaking.  At a time when thousands of immigrants (among other “forty-niners”) were venturing into California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains in search of gold, Haraszthy found his way to Sonoma in pursuit of “purple gold” and constructed a stone winery just outside of town.  That winery and its underlying cellars, now over 150 years old, still stand as a testament to his quest and lasting legacy.  Today Buena Vista Winery is undergoing something of a renaissance.  In 2011 the Boisset family of Burgundy, France, acquired the property and have painstakingly restored the winery and cellars to their former glory.

While we knew of Buena Vista Winery and were aware of Haraszthy’s influential role in California’s early wine culture, we had not recently tasted a Buena Vista wine.  Which is why we were thrilled to happen upon this little gem named in honor of “The Count” himself.   A blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel, the wine is ripe and fleshy, with effusive aromas of black cherry, plum, and anise followed by generous flavors of blackberry, fig, and roasted plum, all framed by undulating wisps of smoke and toasty oak.  It was aged in American, Hungarian, and French oak for 16 months.  Warm and smooth on the palate, this is a versatile red that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser; it’ll serve well with pizza, lasagna, and other hearty Italian fare.  It’s handsomely bottled, as well, with just enough history printed on the back label to spawn casual conversation on the very early days of California wine.

Availability:  Buena Vista Winery’s “The Count” Founder’s Red Wine is available at World Market stores (where we found it), and it (along with other Buena Vista bottlings) can be purchased directly from the winery at www.buenavistawinery.com.  Visit the website, too, for a more complete account of the winery’s storied history, opportunities to visit, and vision for the future.

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