Showing posts with label Central Coast. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Central Coast. Show all posts

Monday, May 6, 2024

Don't Call This Chardonnay Cheap - Call It Affordable

Grocery chain Trader Joe's is a place you learn to love very quickly. Nice prices on things like wine, beer, cheese and nuts are fine, but the fact that the product is of high quality is a real bonus.

TJ's carries wines from a variety of producers, but the 2023 Trader Joe's Coastal Chardonnay is reportedly made by Castoro Cellars in the Paso Robles town of Templeton. Central Coast grapes went into the private label wine, which is unoaked. Alcohol is reasonable at 13$ abv and it sells at Trader Joe's for a bit less than $7. 

This wine has more of a yellow tint than I would expect from an unoaked Chardonnay. The nose is clean, though. Brilliant aromas of flowers, pears, peaches and apples come through with nary a trace of wood aging. The palate is rich and full, with fruit flavors dominating. Acidity is fresh and zippy, and nearly razor sharp. The fruit lasts on the finish and the wine is a perfect match for seafood, white sauce pasta or chicken.

Monday, August 16, 2021

A Wine From The Hitching Post

If you have ever dined at one of the Hitching Post restaurants in Santa Barbara County wine country, you may be familiar with their line of wines.  They are cellared and bottled by Hartley Ostini Vintners in Santa Maria (fisherman Gray Hartley and chef Frank Ostini).  

Their Gen Red 2019 is a Central Coast beauty, made up of 31% Merlot grapes, 31% Valdiguie, 22% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Sangiovese, grown in several Central Coast vineyards.  The grape varieties and the blend seem to change from vintage to vintage.  Alcohol sits at 14.1% abv and the price tag of $17 makes it the least expensive wine in their line.  I got mine at a Los Angeles specialty market.

The wine shows a medium dark ruby color in the glass.  The nose sports blackberry, black cherry, earth, spices and coffee grounds.  On the palate, the full mouthfeel is abetted by a wonderful freshness and firm tannins.  The finish is long.  I used a portion of the bottle to bring another dimension to my red beans.  The wine added such a layer of complexity to the dish - I don't know how people manage to cook without wine.  Even if it never makes it into the food.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Foxglove Chardonnay

The Foxglove 2018 Central Coast Chardonnay was bottled by Varner Wines, in San Miguel, CA.  Jim and Bob Varner produce handmade wine from grapes grown in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles AVAs.  Winemaker Bob sources his Chardonnay grapes from Edna Valley, and employs a light touch throughout the vinification process.  Made and aged in steel, the wine is all fruit, with no intervention from oak and no malolactic fermentation.  Nevertheless, the wine feels full and creamy in the mouth, and shows enough spice that the lack of oak seems a mystery.  Alcohol sits at 13.6% abv while the wine generally sells for around $17.

I had the Foxglove Chardonnay at The Willows in Palm Springs, during their evening wine and cheese soirée by the waterfall wall.  It shows quite a yellow tint in the glass.  The nose displays tropical fruit along with citrus and salinity.  The palate brings Meyer lemon, and abundant minerals.  There is a nice acidity, yet a creamy mouthfeel. 

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Bonny Doon Cigare Grape Shakeup

One of the California wine world's constant beacons is undergoing a major facelift after 34 vintages.  Bonny Doon Vineyards winemaker Randall Grahm (left) has made some significant changes to his flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant, and its white counterpart, Le Cigare Blanc.

Grahm says the way he made the Cigares previously kept the wines in the cellar for too long, at a time when people are saying that they want the world's finest wines, they want them here and they want them now - to paraphrase from "Withnail and I."

To make wines which are approachable earlier, Grahm dropped Mourvèdre from the red blend and increased the presence of Cinsault, a grape he considers to be greatly underappreciated.  He doesn't see "rock-stardom" in Cinsault's future, but he does feel the grape is "soon to achieve its moment."

Le Cigare Blanc has also undergone a shakeup, with Vermentino replacing Roussanne in the white blend.  Grahm calls that switch a "tectonic shift," saying that while Vermentino "might not have the gravitas of Roussanne ... I've found Roussanne to often be quite ponderous, and we are seeking elegance (and intelligence) above all." 

Grahm has given the new versions of his wines the subtitled name of Cuvée Oumuamua, after a cigar-shaped space object discovered by astronomers on Maui.  The changes are reflected in the label picture, which shows a UFO shining a beam of light upon an unsuspecting vineyard.  Colors have been added to the image, which Grahm says shines "a clarifying, and revivifying light on what had been a somewhat sepia-toned reality."

Both the 2018 Le Cigare Volant and Le Cigare Blanc retail for $20 and carry alcohol at 13.5% abv. Grahm produced 20,000 cases of the red, but less than 300 of the white.  He feels, however, that the new Blanc is a "stylistic harbinger of LCBs of the future."

The 2018 vintage of Le Cigare Volant was made from 52% Grenache grapes, 35% Cinsault and 13% Syrah.  They were harvested from Monterey County vineyards including: Alta Loma, Loma Del Rio, Mesa Verde, Zayante, Rancho Solo and Lieff.

The medium ruby colored wine gives off a fruity nose, a bit of a departure for Bonny Doon bottlings. The savory is not forgotten, but a healthy dose of raspberry, blackberry and red currant comes forward in unbridled fashion.  On the palate, there's a tartness, but also a juicy acidity at play.  To me, it drinks somewhat like a cru Beaujolais, only from Monterey County.  The semi-lengthy finish carries the fruit well.

The 2018 Le Cigare Blanc was made from 54% Grenache Blanc grapes and 46% Vermentino from the Central Coast vineyards Cedar Lane, Paragon and Beeswax.

I'll admit, I miss the Roussanne, a favorite grape of mine.  Fortunately, I love Vermentino, too, and it delivers enough salinity to be a worthy replacement.  The nose threw me, because of its strong fruit'n'floral aromas.  After a few minutes, the salinity came through and even more savory notes appeared on the nose.  As with Le Cigare Volant, the Blanc is probably much more approachable in its new form.  That may be great for sales, but it doesn't make me like it better.

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Monday, July 8, 2019

Reborn Zinfandel

The back label of the Saucelito Canyon Estate Zinfandel says grapes were first planted at Rancho Saucelito in 1880, on the ocean side of the coastal range in the cool-climate Arroyo Grande Valley of California's Central Coast.  The Zinfandel vineyard survived Prohibition, but it was abandoned in the 1940s, then ravaged by fire and animals.

Although the vines were decimated, the roots kept sending new growth shooting upward each spring, and the original vineyard was restored in the 1970s by Bill Greenough.  His son, Tom, now makes the wine from those revitalized, dry-farmed grapevines.  The 2015 Estate Zinfandel hits only 14.1% abv and sells for around $35.

This deep, ruby red wine has enough black pepper on the nose to prompt a sneeze.  There's a ton of intense black fruit as well, along with licorice, tobacco and some rustic oak.  The palate shows off its country side, too, with black and blue berries and an oak treatment that does not go overboard.  Tannins are not extremely forceful, but there's enough structure to make it worth your while to pair it with lean meat dishes or pasta.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Rosés For Spring: Vin Gris De Cigare

Hey, is it rosé season already?  Maybe it creeps up on me because it's always rosé season at my place.  We are taking a couple of weeks to spotlight some worthy pink wines which will help get us in the swing for spring.

Bonny Doon, the Santa Cruz-based winery that's on a self-described "adventure to make naturally soulful, distinctive, and original wine," is heading into spring with another vintage of its beautiful rosé.  Randall Grahm calls his Vin Gris de Cigare the "pink analogue of  Le Cigare Volant," the flagship wine of the Dooniverse.

The 2018 vintage, maybe the 35th or so, is made from 38.5% Grenache grapes, 30.5% Grenache Blanc, 12.5% Carignane, 10% Cinsaut, 6% Mourvèdre, 2% Picpoul and a dash of  Vermentino.  For me, it's a rite of spring, and a rite I would love to have on Thanksgiving, too, if I could hold off that long on opening the bottle.  Grahm says the pink wine will improve in the screw-top bottle for several years, by the way.  He sorts the grapes this way:

"The Grenache for our Vin Gris came in large part from bespoke sections of the Alta Loma Vineyard, a cool climate site in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County that gives us grapes with a distinctive black currant character.  The Carignane, responsible for the fundament of the wine, derived from very old vines from Antioch in Contra Costa County.  A substantial percentage of the wine is composed of the elegant Grenache Blanc variety, adding a lovely richness and foundation to the '18 vintage.  The Cinsaut,... ah, a delicate cherry top note."  He also notes that the lees were stirred to give a creamy mouthfeel.

The '18 Vin Gris de Cigare is very pale pink in the glass, quite lovely in fact.  The nose shows red fruit and a light floral note with a savory mineral edge.  The palate displays cherries and apples, with a very light and creamy mouthfeel, yet with a wonderful acidity.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Pink Wine With Plenty Of Complexity

Bonny Doon, the Santa Cruz-based winery that's on a self-described "adventure to make naturally soulful, distinctive, and original wine," knocks me out every year with their releases, the red, the white and the pink.

Owner and winemaker Randall Grahm makes a great variety of rosés, of which this is probably the leader and the pink flag of the Cigare line.  It's the Reserve version of the rosé, but vinified in five-gallon demijohns instead of larger containers.  The bottle is adorned with the classic aliens-in-the-vineyard artwork that identifies the full line of Cigare Volant of all shades. 

The 2016 Vin Gris De Cigare Reserve is composed of 50% Grenache grapes, 15% Grenache Blanc, 12% Cinsault, 12% Mourvedre, 8% Carignane and 3% Roussanne.  Labeled as Central Coast pink wine, the grapes came from eleven vineyards, principally Rancho Solo. 826 cases were made with alcohol hitting 12.9% abv.  Grahm advises, "Be careful not to serve it too cold."

This is a rosé for people who don't drink rosé because they feel there's no complexity there.  This is loaded with complexity, starting with the color - is it pink, salmon, copper, onion… - and continuing on the nose, which offers up a hint of funk along with a host of saline, herbal aromas.  The palate shows more fruit, but stays in the savory range.  Zesty acidity tops off this piece of perfection with poise.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Fall Is Time For Rosé, Too

Pink wine screams spring and summer, but there shouldn't be such a mad rush to discard the rosés simply because the calendar page flipped.  You can stow away the white slacks until May if you like, but keep some pink wine handy all year long.

Not only is rosé a very food-friendly wine - especially the one we're concerned with today - it's just about a perfect match with turkey, as well as with those leftover turkey sandwiches.

Randall Grahm makes a great variety of rosés, of which this is probably the leader and the pink flag of the Cigare line.  Bonny Doon Vineyard's 2017 Vin Gris De Cigare consists of 57% Grenache, 18% Grenache Blanc, 9% Mourvedre, 6% Roussanne, 5% Carignane and 5% Cinsault.  Nearly a quarter of that grape content are white Rhône varieties.  The grapes were grown all over California's Central Coast, in vineyards like Alta Loma, Beeswax, Bokisch Ranch, JD Farming, San Miguel, Cass, Gonsalves, Scheid, Wente, Rancho Solo and Ventana. 

The bottle is adorned with the classic aliens-in-the-vineyard artwork that identifies the full line of Cigare Volant reds, whites and pinks.  The 13.2% abv alcohol number makes for an easy-drinking pink while stirring of the lees during and after fermentation gives extra creaminess to the wine.  The trademark Bonny Doon savory notes also help make a nice food wine.

Vin Gris De Cigare's nose offers tart aromas, stemmy strawberries, raspberries and apricots.  The palate is riper, but still not a fruit bomb by any stretch.  Acidity is at just about the perfect balance between food-friendly and sipping.  I can't wait to have it with a ham sandwich - that's my post-Thanksgiving leftover favorite.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Pushy Central Coast Syrah

Winemaker Randall Grahm notes on the Bonny Doon Le Pousseur label that Syrah's aroma will stay with you a long time. "One will wander the world till the end of one’s days," he writes, "its sublime, haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one’s own name." I don’t see myself getting quite that carried away, but I will admit to a slightly stunned and displaced look on my face as I sniffed Grahm’s Central Coast Zahir-apparent. That is, a little more stunned and displaced than I usually look.

What does "Le Pousseur" mean, en Francais? Grahm writes a bit about the feminine qualities of Syrah, the grape's elegance. However, "le" is a masculine article. When I looked it up, a translating website said "Le Pousseur" means, "the pusher." The label art makes me think of the Steppenwolf song by that name. I delved deeper. "Tugboat?" "Bulldozer?" "Booster rocket?" That’s some fairly masculine imagery right there.

As far as the wine goes, it is well-mannered, to be sure, but it does not strike me as elegant. In fact, Le Pousseur uses hands of steel to wield Grahm’s trademark savoriness for the purpose of blunt force trauma. Which is a good thing, and accounts for that slightly stunned and displaced look.

The grapes for the 2013 Le Pousseur came from three cool-climate Central Coast vineyards: 63% from Santa Maria's Bien Nacido Vineyard, 34% from San Luis Obispo County's Alamo Creek Vineyard and 3% from Ventana Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA. These vineyards each bring an earthy element of their terroir to the wine, a rich, mineral-laden display that makes wine savory. And, for my money, makes wine great.

The wine's notes explain that Grahm likens this Syrah to a northern Rhône offering, specifically one from the Saint-Joseph region. Rhône ambassador Christophe Tassan calls the wines of Saint-Joseph "gutsy, rugged, demanding by nature." In this regard, the comparison is on the money. A "pushy" wine? Maybe so. It certainly has plenty to push. Le Pousseur hits a modest 13.5% abv and sells for $26

The wine is dark, as in black, and the nose is savory. There is dark fruit, yes - plums, blackberries, etc. But there are black olives and dirt and rocks and licorice and spices all competing for attention. The palate brings a smooth mouthful of minerals and acidity to the taste buds. It’s a deep and moody wine that "will not be ignored" and calls for similar food to be paired with it. Lamb chops are recommended, and I'll go with that.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Pushing Pedals: Cycles Gladiator Merlot

Great label. The Lady on the Bicycle is an homage to women's freedom during the Belle Epoque, when bicycle sales in France flourished prompted by the suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony noted that bicycles gave women the ability to leave the home to work and vote. Cycles was just one bicycle company that “plastered Paris with posters” depicting free and liberated women on bikes au naturel.

Winemaker Adam LaZarre says he grew up in New York’s Finger Lakes area, but not until a U.S. Navy stint in Seattle did he get the wine bug. He started Cycles Gladiator in 2005. LaZarre’s creative tasting notes brought forth some online comment, and he tweeted that he used to write them while drinking tequila. "I don’t do that anymore," he wrote, "I changed to bourbon."

LaZarre calls this "little Merlot monster" a "fruit-driven cherry bomb of a wine." The alcohol is fairly restrained, at just 13.9% abv.  The fruit was nearly all grown in the Livermore Valley, and there are smidges of Cabernat Sauvignon and Syrah in it.  It was aged for 16 months in French and American oak.

The nose of the Cycles Gladiator Central Coast Merlot 2014 gives off a telltale funk, belying the Syrah, especially after a few days open. The fruit is dark and moody and there are notes of spice and a sweet smell, like burnt caramel, on the nose. The sip is powerful, belligerent fruit and brawny tannins, so don’t be shy. Cook a big, dirty steak and throw it on a plate next to a glass of this.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Bonny Doon Pushes Syrah Value

Bonny Doon’s chief, Randall Grahm, sums up his career in one paragraph, quite a feat for a guy who seemingly has never summed up anything in one paragraph. "Like Columbus who sought a trade route to Asia, Randall Grahm set sail in 1979 for the Great American Pinot Noir," it says, continuing in more Grahmesque prose, "foundered on the shoals of astringency and finesselessness and ended up running aground in the utterly unexpected New World of Rhône and Italian grape varieties." He left finesselessness behind long ago, and who needed a new trade route to China anyway.

Grapes for the '13 Le Pousseur pushes together grapes from some great sites - 63% Bien Nacido, 34% Alamo Creek and 3% Ventana vineyards. This represents a lot more Bien Nacido than the 2012 edition, which is always good with me. Grahm says the vineyard "imparts a distinctive smoked meat/ bacon fat aspect, characteristic of the Syrah from that cool climate vineyard, even in a slightly warmer vintage." The wine clocks a reasonable 13.5% abv and retails for an even more reasonable $26.

Le Pousseur is made in Grahm's custom, a minimal-intervention, hands-off style. What you taste here are the grapes and the dirt. Plenty of dirt.

As is usual with Grahm’s wines, savory hits first, and hardest. With almost two-thirds of the grapes from the great Bien Nacido Vineyard, one might expect a dark and savory nature in this wine. Grahm, however, seems to wring more of those qualities from that great soil than other winemakers. The nose is Rhônishly funky. Meat? Don't be a jerky. Forest floor? Scrape some off your shoe. Santa Maria Valley dirt? In spades. The palate allows for more black and blue berries to show, but that darkness permeates the flavors, too. Meat, spice and cigars all come to mind. The minerality of this wine is apparent in every whiff and sip.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bonny Doon's Great Twist On Albariño: Bubbles

When you want a fresh look at a wine style, or a grape, Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz can usually supply you with something of great interest. Randall Grahm's Sparkling Albariño 2010, Central Coast is a fantastic change of pace.

This fun - but complex - sparkler is made entirely from Central Coast Albariño grapes, 84% of which came from Jespersen Vineyard south of Paso Robles and 16% from Monterey County vineyard Rancho Solo. The traditional secondary fermentation that occurs in the bottle gives great bubbles - which dissipate rather quickly - but it is the 14 months of aging in contact with the yeast cells that brings the creamy aspect to the wine. At 12.5% abv, it’s light enough so you can enjoy a little extra. The wine retails for $36. Plus, how often do you get the chance to have a five-year-old Albariño?

Opening this bubbly is a little tricky. It comes under a bottle cap, not a cork, so you can't control the speed of the opening as with a more traditional closure. The Bonny Doon website notes that “the Sparkling Albariño is quite effervescent, so please use caution and patience when opening!” I worked my way around the cap, opening one crimp at a time, and lost very little of the contents.

The wine’s golden color shows its aging, and the nose shows the yeast. This is a powerfully yeasty wine, but the aroma of apricots and citrus is unmistakable. There is a faint layer of burnt caramel, and I also get a vegetal note that’s hard to pin down; maybe it’s peas, maybe okra. Whatever it is, it adds a dimension to an already complex aroma profile. On the palate, this wine is a lot drier than I expected it to be. Big lime notes join the Beauty-and-the-Yeast palate with a decent level of acidity and a big finish that hangs around a good long while.

Pairing with Korean barbecue is Grahm’s suggestion, and it’s an admirable one. I like it with sourdough bread and olive oil. Cashews pair well, too. I usually like wedding cake with sparkling wine - it goes so well with brut that I figure that’s why bubbly is served at so many nuptials. The extreme yeastiness of this one would not be a hit with the cake's icing, I fear. It was pretty good with a slice of cinnamon raisin bread, though.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Proper White Wine - Bonny Doon Gravitas

Bonny Doon’s companion wine to their “A Proper Claret” red blend is just as much a delight. As with that red tribute to Bordeaux, Randall Grahm’s salute to white BDX gives old-world winemaking a new-world touch.

The 2014 Gravitas is a blend of 54% Semillon, 43.5% Sauvignon Blanc and 2.5% Orange Muscat grapes from five Central Coast vineyards - Yount Mill, Jack McGinley, Steele, Fortress and Ventana. Grahm advises that this wine will cellar well for another five years. Alcohol sits at 13.5% abv and Gravitas sells for a modest $16.

Notes on the label, as with A Proper Claret, are provided by Grahm's alter-ego Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite. The notes describe - comically - the difficulty in finding a white wine with proper gravitas, with a few "blimeys" and "crikeys" thrown in for authenticity's sake.

The wine has a pretty golden tint and a savory nose featuring tangerine, Meyer lemon, a touch of lanolin and a bit of a floral note. The palate shows fabulous salinity - a Grahm hallmark - with citrus and an extremely refreshing acidity. The weight is great, too. It fills the mouth fully.

Pair this wine with any chicken dish - a roasted chicken with some roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnips, for instance. Pasta with cream sauce, salad with blue cheese dressing or a nice piece of fish will go great with it as well. It’s a natural, by the way, for Thanksgiving.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Pair Of Cigares

It is sometimes remarkable to taste the same wine from different vintages back to back. In the case of Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Le Cigare Volant red Rhône blend, the differences are striking. Not only does the growing season show itself, but the actual blend varies from year to year, making for a wine that is not only a delight, but also a surprise.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2010 Unfiltered

This flagship wine from the land of Bonny Doon is a Rhônish blend: 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 17% Cinsault, 17% Mourvèdre and 16% Carignane. The grapes were picked from a wide assortment of great Central Coast sites: Bien Nacido Vineyard (27%), Evangelho Vineyard (23%), Alta Loma Vineyard (17%), Bechtold Vineyard (16%), Gonsalves Vineyard (9%), Ca’ del Solo Vineyard (5%), Alamo Creek Vineyard (2%) and Enea Vineyard (1%).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying Le Cigare Volant right now - it’s hard to resist - but it is billed as a wine that will age gracefully for ten to fifteen years from release, which was in February, 2014. Alcohol is a very reasonable 13.3% abv, 1,344 cases were produced and it sells for $45 per bottle.

 A beautiful purple tint looks great in the glass. It is wonderfully fragrant with cherry tart and a touch of spice, a little light clove. A hint of earth peeks through, but in an elegant way - not rustic. On the palate, black pepper meets blackberry. The mouthfeel is quite full and juicy, and earth notes last well into the lengthy finish. There is a sense of dirt, but it's elegant dirt. Cigare’s acidity is refreshing and its tannins are brawny enough for beef,but its flavors are pretty enough for pork.

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2011 Normale

The 2011 Cigare is a different mix of grapes: 37% Mourvèdre, 34% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 9% Cinsault. The Carignane did not make it into this bottle. The vineyard selections are a bit different, too. Again, eight vineyards contribute fruit, with the addition of Ventana, Del Barba and Rancho Solo vineyards joining Evangelho, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Bechtold and Gonsalves.

"This is a wine from an extremely cool and elegant vintage,” winemaker Randall Grahm notes, and he figures this 2011 Cigare will age gracefully for ten to 15 years from right now. Alcohol is almost a full point higher, 14.2% abv, and the bottle retails for $45.

The nose is full of red berries, with a dark flair. Raspberry, cherry, and red currant are met with Grahm’s signature savoriness of roasted meat, beef jerky and black olive tapenade. The sip reveals that the ‘11 Cigare is a festival of darkness. The savory aspects come forward in a rush. The forest floor, the olive, the spice - all are cloaked in a dark fruit setting. Black plums, currant and berries work hard to mesh with the wine's earthy character. The acidity is remarkable and the tannic structure is firm.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bonny Doon Vineyards Le Pousseur Syrah 2012

Bonny Doon Vineyards' 2012 Syrah, "Le Pousseur," is made from Syrah grapes grown in some nice Central Coast spots - 48% Alamo Creek Vineyard, 18% Bien Nacido Vineyard, 18% Spanish  Springs Vineyard and 16% Ventana Vineyard. These are cool-climate sites and the website states that with "a fair amount of whole clusters included, this is a savory Syrah of great restraint."

Randall Grahm writes that he finds Le Posseur "enchanting and captivating rather than overpowering." He labels it as a "feminine" Syrah. I don't make it a habit to argue with a winemaker about his wines, but I was taken to task once for the use of the term "feminine" as a sexist way to describe a wine. PC or not PC, it does not strike me as feminine. Maybe it's feminine in a masculine way. Or masculine in a feminine way. Maybe it's just a wine having a crisis of sexuality. Or maybe it's just a Syrah of great restraint. It retails for $26 and 2,126 cases were produced.

Under the screw cap is a wine which is opaque indigo. Big blueberry fruit dominates the nose with a savory undercurrent. It is possibly the fruitiest nose I've experienced from a Bonny Doon red, which usually lean savory. The palate shows dark fruit too, with just a hint of that black olive note Grahm's wines often exhibit. Very nice acidity and a good tannic grip top off an entirely enjoyable experience. The oak touch is nice, just right in fact.

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.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bonny Doon Vineyard Albariño Central Coast 2013

Spring is taking its dear, sweet time about settling in this year.  Earlier this month I was still noticing baseball umpires wearing heavy jackets and gloves in Chicago.  Of course, in Chicago that might be considered routine.  The coldest baseball game I ever attended was in Chicago on Memorial Day weekend.  My eternal gratitude goes out to the nice folks who sat next to me.  They brought an extra blanket.  And to the hot chocolate machine.  It was way too cold for a beer.

Here in Los Angeles, spring comes and goes all year long.  Summer has already started trying to crowd its way in.  The tourists in rented convertibles are starting to look like they aren’t freezing with the top down.  Whether your spring is swinging, or you need some help really feeling it, an Albrariño just might do the trick.

Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyard has a recently released Albariño that is perfect for spring, and several other seasons, too.

Yes, the iconic “Rhône Ranger” also works his magic with the Iberian grape variety.  To hear him describe his minimal intervention winemaking, though, you get the impression there’s no magic involved.  You  may even think he simply throws some grapes in a tub, sits doon, waits a while and puts on a screw cap.  That’s not true, though.  Mr. Grahm has a machine which puts on the screw caps.

The Bonny Doon website offers a brief intro to Albariño:  “Until 1989 Albariño was one of the rarest wine varieties in the world, rarely glimpsed outside the Iberian Peninsula. Since that time, this light yet vibrant white grape has become a darling of wine geeks worldwide with its preternatural ability to pair with all types of seafood, cheese and salty dishes.”

The grapes for the 2013 Bonny Doon Albariño are Central Coast fruit, all Albariño.  73% of the grapes were grown in Kristy Vineyard in the Salinas Valley while the other 27% are from Edna Valley’s Jespersen Ranch.  Grahm notes that both sites are windy and cool during the summer.

The wine’s alcohol content of 13.2% makes it a perfect choice for spring and summer refreshment.  To paraphrase the brewer’s old ad copy, it’s a great wine for "when you’re having more than one."  Production was 1,592 cases and the wine retails for $18.

Pale straw in color with just a hint of green tint, the wine looks slightly frizzante in the glass.  A ring of small bubbles cling to the rim.  One sniff brings springtime into full focus.  A floral note of hibiscus mingles with peaches, pears and citrus mineral notes.  The palate shows some very nice mineral-laden salinity riding herd over the peach and lemon peel flavors.  There’s boat load of acidity, so the wine is completely refreshing.  It's also a great food wine.  Look for some Thai food or shellfish to make it really sing.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Savory White Wine Of France, California And Oregon

Serendipity is a beautiful thing.  I stumbled upon one wine event on the way to another that was being held in the same hotel at the same time.  The event featured wines represented by the Estates Group, a division of Southern California wine distributor Young's Market Company.  Here are some quick notes on some very fine - mostly savory - wines.

Dominique Lafon Wines

Dominique Lafon is considered a pioneer in Burgundy and one of France's finest winemakers.  He oversees his own properties and is the consulting winemaker for America's Evening Land Vineyards as well.  Lafon took over his family’s estate in 1987 and raised a few eyebrows as he moved away from traditional farming methods involving chemicals.  He improved the quality of the fruit and proved his critics were wrong when they said his wines would never amount to anything.  His bottlings - particularly the premier cru wines - command a hefty price.  My thanks to the hosts for allowing me to step in and sample.

Bourgogne Blanc 2010
Smoky nose with tropical fruit.  Savory grapefruit edge on the palate, but not tart.  Gentle acidity.

Bourgogne Blanc 2011
Light nose, savory flavors of melon, cantaloupe.  Gentle acidity.

Meursault 2011
Lightly smoky nose , savory pear on the palate.

Meursault Les Narvaux 2011
Smoke, pear juice aromas, savory flavors of pear and white peach.

Puligny Montrachet, Premier Crus Champ Gain 2011
Nice, savory melon and pear.

Volnay Villages 2011
Delicate nose of strawberry and roses.  Bright cherry and strawberry on the palate.

Beaune Epenottes Premier Cru 2011
Beautiful acidity.  Nose of dusty strawberry, palate showing beautiful cherries and roses.

Volnay Les Lurets 2011
Lovely, delicate nose, bright fruit palate.

Evening Land Vineyards

Always seeking great vineyard sites, Evening Land started with Occidental Vineyard in Sonoma Coast, moved north to Seven Springs Vineyard in Oregon's Willamette Valley, then to Burgundy.Producing wines in California, Oregon and Burgundy presents some logistical hoop-jumping as well as some neccessary duplication of efforts.  Winemakers Isabel Meunièr and Cristophe Vial oversee the Evening Land wines in America and France, respectively.  Dominique Lafon consults.  The company’s Central Coast California offerings will be going by the wayside as their American arm shifts its focus to the Sonoma Coast.

Au Château de Bligny Pouilly-Fuissé 2011  $28
Malolactic fermentation, 35% of the wine spent eight months in french oak, the remainder rested in a tank.  Tropical fruit on the nose, with a mouthful of minerals, tangerine peel and lemon. Brilliant acidity

Chardonnay Eola-Amity Hills, Seven Springs Vineyard 2011  $65
Whole cluster pressed, and the herbal element comes through.  Aged eleven months in oak, another five months in steel tanks.  The Eola-Amity Hills AVA is located within Oregon's Willamette Valley.  Smoky oak on the nose, savory fruit on the palate.

Chardonnay, Edna Valley 2011  $25
Single vineyard, two miles from the Pacific Ocean at 900-foot elevation.  Barrel fermentation in French oak, whole cluster pressed.  Smoky minerals with a savory, tart palate.

Au Château de Bligny Bourgogne Rouge 2011  $25
Least expensive of the Evening Land French wines.  Half is aged in French oak for ten months, the rest in stainless steel.  Aromas of roses, light cherry flavors.

Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills 2011  $50
Aged 16 months in French Oak.  Funky nose, cherry and strawberry on the palate.

Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Occidental Vineyard 2011  $120
A real terroir wine.  12-14 months in French oak, a miniscule amount made.  Smoky funk dots the nose, while the palate shows delicate flavors of  cherry and plum.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rebel Wine: Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra 2011

2011 is the third vintage of Contra, an "old-vine field blend" of primarily Carignane, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel.  Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm writes that the grapes come from "the sandy, head-trained, dry-farmed vineyards of Oakley and Antioch in the Sacramento Delta of Contra Costa County."  This vintage is, as Grahm says, "a happy medium between the mineral-driven '09 and the riper '10."

The wine's name suggests not only the county in which the grapes were grown, but the Nicaraguan opposition forces funded by the US government.  I don't think Bonny Doon is being subsidized by the feds, but now that I'm thinking of it, Grahm's Twitter communication seemed to drop off after the guvmint shutdown.  For all I know, Carignane, Mourvèdre and Zinfandel could be code names for three old rebels still hiding out in the fields.  The couch-in-the-vineyard imagery on the wine's label suggests that one could get comfortable amongst those gnarly old vines, or at least in the presence of their fruit.

Grahm calls Contra one of the "straightforward and frank wines of yester- and future-year."  When I came across that nugget on the label it didn't sound the least bit unusual, possibly because of the spaceship hovering near the words.  I don't know what the future holds, but I sure get a sense of the past in this wine.

Contra is, specifically, 56% Carignane, 28% Mourvèdre, 9% Grenache, 6% Syrah and 1% Zinfandel.  Grahm calls it a "contrarian blend of old-fangled grape varieties from mostly older vineyards."  The varietal makeup certainly harkens back to California's gold rush era and the field blends of that day.  Although field blends are referenced here, it's not a true field blend, since the grapes were vinified separately.  2,256 cases were made, and it retails for an affordable $16.  Alcohol sits at a very respectable 13.5% abv.

Inky purple, Contra displays a dark and brooding nose full of currant, anise and all the dark fruit that's lying around.  It's wonderfully pungent and even a tad funky - I guess that's how they roll in the Contra Costa.  Sipping it shows a distinct mineral note running right through the middle of the blackberry, cassis and black licorice flavors.  Acidity is great, tannins are round and the wine goes down very smoothly with notes of cinnamon and allspice.  The finish is extraordinary - and extraordinarily long.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Troublemaker Non-Vintage Red

Some winemakers see trouble when they produce a non-vintage wine.  Vintage, after all, is a prime factor to which wine lovers look when determining the quality of a wine.  Perhaps more important in wines from French regions than in those from California's warmer locales, the vintage has become blurred in Hope Family Wines' Troublemaker red blend produced in Paso Robles.

The winery's website calls Troublemaker "a blend crafted from multiple varietals and vintages. The majority of wine comes from 2011 vintage, with a remaining portion coming from 2010.  By using a multi-vintage approach, winemaker Austin Hope allows the wine to show uncanny complexity in its youth, yet rich and fruit-forward characteristics that make it ready upon release."

The blend is 50% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Zinfandel and 10 % Petite Sirah, from California's expansive Central Coast appellation.  The wine kicks 14.5% on the alcohol meter and retails for $20.  I was provided a sample from a publicist.

The grapes involved bring forth the attributes for which they are known.  Troublemaker is a very dark-colored wine, with an extremely fragrant nose of black currant, blueberry, vanilla spice and cinnamon.  There is quite a show of Syrah, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre and Petite Syrah.  On the palate, a rich and ripe fruit display shows dark fruit in the form of plums and blackberries. Spicy with the nice acidity one would expect in a Grenache, and with firm tannins, the wine is smooth enough to provide enjoyment as a sipper while maintaining good structure to allow for pairing with some meaty dishes.

If you are looking for a nice, affordable red to put on the holiday table, this Troublemaker won't cause any trouble in that setting.

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