Friday, January 16, 2015

A Good Cigare Is A Smoke

To say that Randall Grahm is an iconoclast may be a little strong.  After all, he did knock down a few walls while finding his way as a winemaker.  He did not do so out of spite, of course, but as a means of redefining what was possible in the vineyards of California.  He had a go with Pinot Noir but, in a case of “right grape, wrong place,” he moved on to helping give the grapes of the Rhône Valley an official residency in the Golden State.  His Franco fascination really knows no borders, extending to the vines of Spain, Italy and Germany as well.

Grahm’s label notes say the Bonny Doon Vineyard 2010 Le Cigare Volant Réserve en bonbonne “seems to disarmingly suggest a Burgundian take on Châteauneuf, if such a notion can be fashioned.  This is not an ordinary wine.”  To which I can add, somewhat less poetically, “You got that right.”  You may be tempted to think of Le Cigare Volant Réserve as a brawny Pinot Noir.  Its roots are Rhône, though - no surprise, coming from the winemaker who is sometimes billed as The Rhône Ranger.

The wine is made from Central Coast grapes, 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre, and 16% Carignane.  Alcohol is a very restrained 13.3% abv,, which makes this a beautiful wine to sip - despite its obvious talent as a mate for food.  It retails for $79.  Grahm advises us to, “Ideally hold for a year or two (Sept. 2015-16).”  He feels the wine can stand a good 15 to 20-plus years of aging.  The iconic label art by Chuck House appears so often in my home it’s almost an installation.

This Cigare is the same blend as Le Cigare Volant normale, but for the réserve, the wine spends only a short time in barrel.  It is put in five-gallon glass carboys - bonbonnes - for twenty months of sur lie aging.  Grahm feels aging the wine in glass, while still in contact with the spent yeast cells, adds to the wine’s integration, complexity and savoriness.

The dark wine shows some truly outstanding attributes, beginning with the nose.  Black cherry fruit is delightfully muted by the savory side - black olives, tobacco, smoke and spice all have a part to play.  It's an olfactory experience to be savored, and it gets better.  In the mouth, this Cigare really gets lit.  The acidity is phenomenal and the tannins are nice and firm, so save a seat for it at the dinner table.  Flavors of plums, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries make a broad palette that showcases a spicy aspect, stretching from cinnamon to sassafras. Slightly tart on the finish, that Burgundian reference plays out nicely.