Randall Grahm, owner and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyards, has employed a technique he discovered years ago to improve his Le Cigare Volant red Rhone blend. That's a wine many may feel didn't really need improving, but, as they used to say back in the field blend days of California winemaking, he's gone and done it anyway. The results are exquisite. Bonny Doon was kind enough to supply a sample for the purpose of this article.
2008 is the first vintage of Grahm's flagship wine to receive this treatment. The Central Coast Rhone-style wine from Santa Cruz, California is unfiltered and produced en bonbonne. The label describes it this way:
"After a short tenure in barrel, assemblage, and completion of malolactic fermentation, the wine was removed to 5-gallon glass carboys (bonbonnes), where it reposed sur lie for 23 months. This yielded a rare degree of integration and complexity, plus a preternatural degree of savoriness."
In fact, it has some of the most savory aromas and flavors I’ve experienced in California wine.
A carboy is really just a jug, much like the one on the water cooler at work, except it's made from glass. Grahm was introduced to the aging of wine in glass carboys decades ago, when he first discovered that the method kept wine amazingly fresh, even after years and years. Here, from the Bonny Doon website, is how the winery employs the carboy method for aging wine:
“What we do is after the Cigare Volant normale has finished malolactic fermentation and the final blend composed, we then add a modest amount of sulfur dioxide (maybe 35 ppm.), bottle the wine up in 5-gallon carboy, seal them up very tightly, and place the bottles on their sides. The lees that repose at the bottom are agitated with a Teflon-coated stir bar inside the bottle through the agency of strong magnets, thus re-suspended.”
I can’t shake the mental image of a tourist - taking a tour of the Bonny Doon winery - who happens upon Grahm, hunching over a carboy and moving a magnet around it to stir the lees. “Whut’s HE doin’?” Another one who'll never believe that understanding wine is easier than it seems.
Ah, were we about to taste some wine? Bonny Doon’s ‘08 Le Cigare Volant Réserve is 45% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 13% Mourvèdre, 7% Cinsault and 5% Carignane. It has a 14.2% abv number.
A deep ruby color is at the core, and the wine is showing a little brick red on the edge. The nose of cassis, leather and meat is almost startling in its forcefulness. The leather aspect increases with breathing time, such that by the third night open - even under a screwcap - it's like putting your nose into a old baseball glove. It’s a truly amazing bouquet, and very masculine.
The palate shows the wine to be very dry, with very nice acidity and grip. Flavors of dark fruit have to fight the good fight with minerality. It really doesn’t matter which one wins that battle, but minerality takes two out of three falls. Cherry and raspberry have a bit of spice and oak abetting them.
Le Cigare Volant Réserve is a serious wine, retailing for $65 a bottle. It's a wine that won't leave one feeling that the money was wasted. It’s fantastic now, and is expected to age well for 10 to 15 years.
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