Showing posts with label Santa Cruz Mountains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santa Cruz Mountains. Show all posts

Monday, July 9, 2018

Get Offa My Grapevines!

It's the 30th anniversary vintage of Bonny Doon Vineyard's flagship wine, Le Cigare Volant.  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 the "flying cigar" release.

The label, by Chuck House, depicts a strange airship sending down a beam of red onto a pastoral vineyard.  Legend has it, in 1954 a UFO scare terrified the winegrowers of Châteauneuf-du-Pape so much that a decree was issued, banning any "flying cigar" from landing and destroying the vines.  To my knowledge, it's still on the books today because, why not?  It's a great story and one of the better back stories for any wine ever.

Le Cigare Volant is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape-ian blend of 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault.  The grapes came from six noted California vineyards, Rancho Solo, Bien Nacido, Ventana, Del Barba, Bechtold, Alta Loma.  Alcohol stands at the usual 14.5% abv, 2,400 cases were produced and the wine sells for $45.

Owner and winemaker Randall Grahm remembers the 2013 vintage as "cool and elegant" and says the 2013 release is "slightly less muscular than '12."  Grahm expects the wine to age well for 10-15 years.

The Syrah in the mix came mostly from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, possibly my favorite vineyard, and one which Grahm says has the "closest analogue we have found to a Northern Rhone Syrah."

I love smelling the wines of Randall Grahm.  He makes savory walk and talk and jump through hoops.  This wine, the 30th anniversary vintage of Cigare, brings it home like it always does.  It shows a medium dark color in the glass and on the nose.  There is cassis and licorice, but the savory notes carry the load.  Black olive is the first smell I get, followed by a bit of tar and a whiff of smoke.  Cigar box, leather and bacon fat finish out a complex aroma package.  The palate is delicious as always.  Grahm says the '13 is "less muscular," but I think there's more to it.  This Cigare drinks with the weight and elegance of a Pinot Noir.  Black fruit is forward, while more savory aspects of sage and mint come in to join it.  The tannins are gentle, the acidity fresh and the finish long. 

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Bonny Doon Vineyard A Proper Claret 2012

Bonny Doon Vineyard has been "a strictly Cabernet-free zone for the past 28 years,"  so it may come as a bit of a surprise to find Rhône-loving winemaker Randall Grahm harvesting Bordeaux varieties.  The last Claret - the British term for red Bordeaux - produced by Grahm was in 1985, and it was made from grapes grown at the late estate in Bonny Doon.

Why a Claret now?  Grahm notes, "the deal was doon grudgingly and harumphingly."  Those who know Grahm's prose will see this as the shrewd marketing that it is.  He implies that this Cabernet-based wine is the only such that ever crosses his lips, although that may or may not be true.  He wraps up the promo sheet with, "Proper (!?!) Claret.  Indeed."

The promotional information is actually attributed to one Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite, who I take to be an alter ego of the illustrious Mr. Grahm.  It is a mark of the super-intelligent to always have a couple of extra egos lying around the house.  This one, if that is him pictured in the Bascove label art, wears a monocle, a smoking jacket and some brightly colored thigh-high hosiery attached to a garter belt.  Proper alter ego, indeed.

The less lurid side of the label explains the need for A Proper Claret.  “A Proper Claret brings order and focus to a meal as well as to a world that is in constant danger of, dare I say, changing," writes the alter ego.  "In conclusion, it is likely that it is only A Proper Claret that will keep the barbarous hordes at bay, and allow Civilization a modest prospect of some undoubtedly short-term continuity.”

Mr. ffrench-Postalthwaite’s pairing suggestions include, "proper (British) mutton and proper leg of lamb (ideally served with proper Yorkshire pudding).”  I sipped the contents of my promotional bottle with bangers and mash.

A Proper Claret 2012 contains 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 8% Tannat, 7% Syrah and 1% Petite Sirah.  Alcohol hits a very reasonable 13.2% abv.  7,000 cases were made and they retail for $16 per bottle - a very proper price point.

Grahm - er, Reginald - says the  presence of Petit Verdot adds "silky violets and textural elegance, in precision counterpoint to the lead-in-the-pencil firmness of the manly Tannat."

The deep purple wine gives a spicy nose marked with cigar tobacco and eucalyptus.  Dark red fruit - plums and raspberries - provide the backdrop for all those fireworks.  The acidity is very nice and the tannins do their work without getting in the way.  The palate is dark and a bit savory, but the fruit is in full bloom.  I'm thinking about that leg of lamb, now.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Bonny Doon Vineyards Old Telegram 2010

I had never received a telegram before.  I’ve seen them in the movies a lot, and they usually carry bad news, so I don’t feel I’ve been shortchanged.  I have heard them referenced in the great Kinky Friedman country classic “Western Union Wire,” which is likely the only country song about a telegram.

“It said, ‘from Billy’ at the bottom, ‘to baby’ at the top.
Western Union wire please help me. Stop.
Western Union wire don't leave me. Stop.”

The label on the bottle of Old Telegram - received as a sample - will stand as the only telegram I have ever received, and it will do nicely.  With STOP at the end of each truncated sentence and a little Friedmanesque wordplay thrown in - “I can’t STOP” - it makes for an amusing read while you are letting the wine breathe.  That is the purpose of a wine label, right?  The small, less entertaining print reveals an alcohol content of 14.5% abv.  Retail is $45.

Bonny Doon Vineyards Old Telegram is winemaker Randall Grahm’s love letter to the great wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Vieux Télégraphe.  Like the Rhône classic, it is produced from grapes which the label identifies as Mataro, an alias under which thick-skinned, late-ripening Mourvèdre sometimes goes.

Grahm states that the grapes for the varietal wine are taken from "two exceptionally old, dry-farmed, head-trained Mourvèdre vineyards - Enea (75%) in warmish Antioch and Enz (25%) in the coolish Cienega Valley of San Benito County."  He says the 2010 Telegram has lots of heft, but is riper than the typical release.  It is mostly reserved for DEWN wine club members, but he says a few cases will drift into “wholesale commerce.”

One of the telegram lines on the label promises a “wildly aromatic” experience, and it is.  The nose of this dark red wine shows pepper, tobacco, anise and some beef jerky amid the riot of dark fruit.  After a sniff, the heft is expected.  With a sip, it is delivered.  The wine has great acidity and firm tannic structure.  The fruit does come on strong - big, dark shades of black plums and blackberries.  There is a rather large licorice play, too, and some some tarry meat figures in - especially on the finish.  A singing telegram.

Pair it with as much beef as you like, but I think it would be wonderful with some duck, grilled chicken or even roasted potatoes and veggies.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Réserve 2008

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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Monday, July 4, 2011


Rail2Rail Zinfandel

Buying a $10 wine can be a real gamble.  There are plenty of good ones on the shelf, but there are some dogs, too.  Zinfandels that thrill generally run a bit higher than a ten-spot, so my expectations were slim, hanging by the notion that an old vine Lodi Zin would save the day at that price point.

Rail2Rail Zinfandel is produced by the Laumann Family Estate Wines of Santa Cruz.  This is one of three labels produced by Eric Laumann, the other two being Cambiata and Ludwig.

I have tried Cambiata's Albarino before, and liked it.  I also like the fact that Laumann trades in grapes you don't see very often in California, like Tannat and Dornfelder.  The '08 vintage of the Zin won awards at a couple of competitions, so I was looking forward to this Zinfandel.

The name, by the way, is taken from a surfing term which describes a "full commitment S-turn."  A rail-to-rail turn is a showy move that sprays water everywhere.  Along that line, the label promises a big wine, but one which keeps the tannins in check and balanced.

The wine does come on big, with a 14.5% abv number.  Most of that shows up on the nose when the bottle is first opened.  The smell of alcohol nearly knocked me over on the first whiff.  Big , bright cherry and blueberry aromas do manage to make their way through.

Even on the third night the bottle was open it was alcohol-heavy.  It also took on more of a candy-like appearance on the palate which I didn’t find too enjoyable.  A brambly character that appeared saved it from despair, but just by a bit.  It's a far cry from unpalatable, but I kept wishing more had been delivered.

Rail2Rail is a $10 Zinfandel that, unfortunately, drinks like one.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010


Le Cigare Volant T-shirt

Some wines are made to be aged. I have the feeling Le Cigare Volant is one of those wines.  Every time I have a bottle of it, I intend to leave it alone and try it a few years down the road.  "I'll set it aside," I say, "and see what some aging does to it."  I haven't found out yet.  I never make it past six months of cellaring before it starts calling out to me.

We were invited to a dinner at the home of some friends we hadn't seen in quite some time.  It sounded like a special occasion, so I dusted off a bottle of what I know to be a good "special occasion" wine.  Bonny Doon's Le Cigare Volant has been oohed and aahed at every table to which I have taken it.  This was no exception.

Natalie and Michael were both quite receptive to the wine.  They had even paid a visit to the Santa Cruz winery some years earlier.  Natalie disappeared and returned wearing her souvenir of that trip, a vintage - we won't say which vintage - T-shirt depicting the Le Cigare Volant label, flying cigar and all.

I had presented the wine to our host and hostess thinking that I would get the chance to show off and explain the "UFO in the French vineyard" story.  I was beaten to the punchline.  It was a moment to remember.

The 2005 vintage is a blend of Grenache (50%), Mourvèdre (24%), Syrah (22%), Carignane (3%), and Cinsault (1%).  The wine was provided by Bonny Doon as a sample for review.

The '05 Cigare pours deep ruby red and shows very dark and earthy charcteristics on the nose.  Black cherry and a meaty aroma also waft up from the glass.  The palate is simply delicious every time I have it.  This vintage expresses the fruit very darkly.  Black plums and a mushroom aspect flow under a layer of earth and game, with cherry cola appearing on the finish.  The fruit is what the finish wants to show, though, and it does so at a lingering pace.

Maybe my next bottle of Le Cigare Volant will be the one that stays unnoticed in the rack.  It's not likely, though.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Thomas Fogarty Gist Ranch Chardonnay

The Santa Cruz Mountains make a lovely place in which to get lost.  “Get lost” is used in the figurative sense here, but if you can't listen to and follow directions, it may take on a more literal context when you visit Thomas Fogarty's winery.

We visited the Fogarty Winery a few years ago, on a trip to Half Moon Bay.  Fogarty isn't what I would call convenient to Half Moon Bay, but we were making a day of it anyway.  Down the coast for a picnic in Pescadero, a stop at a particularly rustic looking restaurant for a cool, refreshing lemonade and off we went – up into the Santa Cruz Mountains.  It was a long way to the top, as the song says, but after following the winding mountain roads for what seemed a good part of the afternoon, we finally arrived at the Fogarty Winery.

The visit definitely is worth it, but check the website for directions and then call ahead. As stated on their website, “Mapquest and GPS are both unreliable guides because the mountain roads don't always compute."  Also, pay attention to your driving.

The Grapes

2005 produced a small but perfectly ripened yield of fruit in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Gist Ranch Vineyard is a 100 acre chunk of land 2200 feet above seas level on a ridge southeast of the winery and about 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean, in position to grab those cooling ocean winds. The west-facing block is planted in Dijon clone 96.

Preparing to open the bottle, I'm thinking the sandstone and shale in the Santa Cruz Mountains earth should give a nice minerality and sixteen months in French oak should give nice vanilla notes.

The Wine

The oak is quite present on the nose of this Estate-grown Chardonnay, with those creamy vanilla notes really smelling like a cream pie.  On the palate, I get the taste of the little, round pears that grew in my backyard as a kid.  There are strong spice flavors coming through, with a sharp, focused acidity.  The finish lingers nicely.

We brought the Fogarty Chardonnay to a vegetarian Thai restaurant on Melrose – Butan – and tried it with a number of different items.  It seemed to work best on salads and spicy dishes, less so with peanut-based sauces.