Tasting Notes: Buena Vista Vineyard

Ever heard of a little spot in Sonoma called Buena Vista Vineyard? It’s the oldest winery in California.

Just let that sink in for a moment. Now, before I get to the wines, I want you to understand the history of this interesting place. Yes, history and culture are part of terroir—in other words, part of the environment that makes a wine unique.

The American Dream 

Way back when during the gold rush, back before your grandparents were even born, a Hungarian immigrant named Agoston Haraszthy (and you thought my last name was un-pronouncable!) came to the U.S. seeking fame and fortune. Some say he was an exiled noble, others believe he was just some guy chasing a dream.

Well, he didn’t find gold, but what he did find was even better. After serving a brief stint as San Diego’s first sheriff, Haraszthy (jokingly called “the Count” by his friends when they wanted to tease him for his supposed noble heritage) relocated to Sonoma county.

He quickly realized what he’d found: purple gold, the perfect terroir for Old World grape varieties to flourish. After some experimentation, he started churning out some kickass wines, and made quite the name for himself. The Count began to build his kingdom in earnest.

Sadly, phylloxera (a louse that eats wine grapes and destroys vineyards in no time flat) ravaged the land in the early 1900s, and Haraszthy believed his dream was destroyed. While he worked to slowly rebuild, he took a detour to South America. There, he hoped to do it all again, this time as a sugar cane plantation owner.

Long story short, one fateful day he took a dip in the wrong river, and perished when the crocodiles found him. Thus ended the life of the sheriff, the count, the legend. But his story wasn’t over.

Buena Vista Vineyard, his baby, continued to rebuild, and later to thrive. The winery survived Prohibition, and continues to produce fine wines to this day. Fittingly, the enterprise is now owned by Jean-Claude Boisset, another big personality who has a taste for the finer things in life, including delicious wine.

The Tasting

So, why does all of this matter? Why Buena Vista? As I’ve set about the task of revamping our wine list, I’ve brought in several Buena Vista wines in the past, and cultivated a bit of a following here in Old Town Lewisville. When I got the opportunity to host a Buena Vista wine dinner, I jumped at the opportunity.

So, today I set out to choose the perfect wines to pair with a gourmet four-course meal. As I take you through each of the wines I tasted today (by no means the entire Buena Vista catalog), I’ll go over tasting notes, overall impressions, and offer some pairing suggestions for each.

Let’s get to it.

The Wines

The lineup.

BV North Coast Chardonnay (2015)
This food-friendly Chard presented ripe green apple, lemon rind, and yellow pear on the nose. On the palate, a touch of butter accompanied flavors of ripe pear, yellow apples, lemon zest, and green apple jolly rancher. This wine has pronounced acidity, isn’t too heavy on the oak or malolactic fermentation (which causes buttery flavors), and would pair well with a variety of starters, notably seafood.
Likely Pairings: Shrimp & grits, scallops

BV Carneros Chardonnay (2015)
Remarkably different from its cousin, this Chardonnay presents rich, ripe stone fruit flavors and notes of creme brûlée, buttered popcorn, vanilla, and caramel from the oak and malolactic fermentation. This wine is prefect on its own, and perhaps not the best match for food.
Likely Pairings: I successfully paired this wine with a strawberry cupcake. True story. This is also a decent match for a cheese plate.

BV North Coast Pinot Noir (2016)
This is a light Pinot Noir denominated by bright flavors of ripe red fruits: strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, and cherry. A good acidity balances the fruit basket palate. This isn’t a Pinot to stand up to lamb or filet, but best matched with lighter dishes.
Likely Pairings: Stuffed mushrooms, chicken, foie gras

BV Carneros Pinot Noir (2014)
Compared to the last Pinot we tasted, this is bigger and more complex. On the nose, I got flavors of dried and stewed red fruits, potting soil, fermented honey, and dried spices. The palate to this Pinot is much earthier, with notes of compost and forest floor alongside the rich, cooked strawberry and cranberry flavors.
Likely Pairings: Duck or pork (preferably with a fruit garnish or sauce), stuffed mushroom

BV Sonoma Valley Merlot (2013)
Truly a Cab drinker’s Merlot. Dessicated red and black fruits led the palate, alongside notes of cedar and potting soil. On the palate, the flavors of cedar and soil continued alongside richly ripe currants, spiced plum, cherry, and dark berries. Pronounced tannins and a balanced acidity suggest this is a great food wine.
Likely Pairings: Beef, lamb, or even chocolate (think fondue or a dense, death-by-chocolate style cake)

BV “The Count” Founder’s Blend (2014)
This wine is the epitome of the Buena Vista story, and truly a piece of living history. Even its label—black faux crocodile skin framing an ancient photograph of the Count himself—recalls the winery’s story. This bold blend of 8 grapes is characterized by stewed plum, blueberry, and black cherry on the nose. On the palate, these ripe red, black, and blue fruits continue, with a sharp, distinct note of black pepper.
Likely Pairings: Braised beef, rack of lamb, lamb chops

BV North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon (2016)
On the palate, this wine reminded me of the North Coast Pinot we tried earlier today. Ripe red and black fruit was prominent (cassis, plum, blackberry); on the palate, blackberry compote, cherry pie, and potting soil continued.
Likely Pairings: Filet mignon, Black Forest cake

BV Sonoma County “The Sheriff” Red Blend (2016)
Just to remind you of Mr. Haraszthy’s accomplishments, a gold star on the bottle announced the name of the vineyard. This delectable wine is almost purple in the glass, signaling rich, unctuous juice to come. On the palate, notes of blackberry jam, prunes, cigar box, cassis, and dried green herbs tease the palate. When you sip this wine, you taste lush, stewed black fruit with hints of tobacco and vanilla. Napa Cab lovers will enjoy this wine.
Likely Pairings: Beef tenderloin, filet, lamb, wild game (such as elk or venison)

BV Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Buena Vista (2015)
On the palate, black fruit (cassis, plum, currants, and blackberry) dominate, along with notes of cigar box and subtle green bell pepper. On the palate, rich layers of black fruit and cocoa with silky tannins and velvety texture explode on the tongue. This wine boasts the highest price point of the wines I tried today, and I’m here to tell you, it’s worth the extra money.
Likely Pairings: Ribeye, chocolate cake, a fine cigar

The Legacy

Although the Count himself has long since left this mortal coil, his ghost still wanders between the rows and lingers on the grand staircases of the Buena Vista Estate.

…OK. Not quite. So, Mr. Boisset employs a convincing look-alike and actor to portrary Mr. Haraszthy for vineyard guests. It’s a full time gig, and this gentleman does a fantastic job. If you ever pay a visit to Buena Vista, you can book a private tasting with the Count, or perhaps encounter him in the tasting room or out on the grounds.

Occasionally, he even goes on tour. Mr. Boisset has agreed to send this entertainer all the way to Texas for a visit. Old Town Wine House is proud to host an exclusive wine dinner hosted by the Count himself on Monday, October 29, 2018.

If you’re in the area, make reservations! Eat, drink, and be merry with us. If not, don’t fret, I’ll share pictures when the time comes. And I’ll have a glass (or two) for you.