Down with the (Bonny) Doon!

…or why I’m a fan of Bonny Doon Vineyard

Bonny Doon Vineyard Those that have been following along closely (via twitter or via CellarTracker) know that I have been drinking (and enjoying) quite a few of their wines lately. Yet for whatever reason that has been slow to translate into me posting them here. That said it is time to reconcile that.

Now I thought of starting this with a big introduction to Bonny Doon Vineyard but it has already been done better than I can do justice by many others before (see here, here and here or you can read Randall’s version here) so I’ll stick to the short story. Randall Grahm originally set out to make Pinot Noir before discovering Rhone grapes were a better match for California’s Mediterranean climate. He made the first vintage of Cigare Volant in 1984. In 1990 the winery entered a rampant period of growth launching the well-known Big House brand (including Cardinal Zin) and later Poet’s Leap Riesling. In 2006 he made the decision to trim his portfolio from 450,000 cases to 35,000 cases, selling off the labels mentioned above, to focus on biodynamically produced wines exhibiting “vin de terroir”. Never one scared to rock the status quo he opted for screwtops on his premium wines in 2000, lists all ingredients used in winemaking on his labels and has now set out to grow a new vineyard from seeds (which is unheard of). In this I see a passion for exploration which I share. Perhaps that is part of the reason I am drawn to his wines but I’m guessing it is more because they are damn good!Randall Grahm

My first of the Bonny Doon wines was the 2008 Vin Gris which I fell head over heels for. From there I picked up a bottle here and there before I took advantage of a few of their “shipping included” six pack offers (get free shipping now on all case orders through November 25th). What I’ve learned over these bottles is these wines bring together a nice balance of new and old world for those that like some rusticity and focus to go along with their fruit (as well as pair it with a meal). Perhaps more exciting they show an excellent QPR track record and consistency from vintage to vintage. I really need to get down to the Santa Cruz Mountains and pay them a visit. I don’t know how many more excuses I need as I am keen to try their new red (the Vino Rosso) and look forward to dining at the Cellar Door Café. While I work on that here are some thoughts on their two latest releases:

  • 2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard Grenache Clos de Gilroy ($18) – Fresh floral aromas with light berry fruit. Light and juicy with tart cranberry, strawberry and hints of rhubarb along with a bright. From there it dries showing white pepper (and a touch of oak) that lingers pleasantly on a soft finish. My 2nd vintage of this one as I enjoyed the ’09 as well.
  • 2007 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant ($35) – The 23rd version of the flagship Cigare Volant is dominated by Grenache (versus a more even Grenache/Syrah blend in 2006 ). A beautiful nose with layers of aromas. Dark and lush with ripe blueberry flavors and a nice acidity to keep it honest. Slightly tart (yet barrelly sweet and creamy) with dry herbs and soft, lingering tannins on a warm, comforting finish. A lot to like here. Easily drinkable now and appears ready to age effortlessly.

For those that didn’t get enough (if there is one of you…) you can get more Bonny Doon coverage here or head on over to CellarTracker to read more of my tasting notes.

How about you? Are you a fan of Bonny Doon? If not who have you been a fan of lately?

2007 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant

2007 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare VolantPrice: $35.00 @ Bonny Doon Vineyard*

What They Said:

Per Bonny Doon Vineyard “Bright ruby red with a pale purplish rim. Bright cherry aromas with a bit of spice, menthol, and black pepper. On the palate, fresh cherry, currant, and red bramble fruit. Peppery and lively with good acidity around an earthy, savory core.”

What I Think:

(14.4%) 60% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre, 4% Cinsault – Beautiful, layered nose of earthy, berry fruit, herbs and spice. Dark and lush with ripe blueberry flavors and a lot of them on the palate. That said this one isn’t jammy as it has a nice acidity to keep it honest. Slightly tart (yet barrelly sweet and creamy) with dry herbs and soft, lingering tannins on a warm, comforting finish. Nice character and layers of flavor throughout with meaty, herbal, mineral and spice components making appearances. Easily drinkable now and appears ready to age effortlessly. Pair it with steak or the hearty meal of your choice. Perhaps Randall said it best: “the wine is powerful, yet still retains a fair elegance and grace”. A wine I look forward to drinking more of!

Wine Geek Notes: 2,732 cases produced.

Rating: Wow!

*While I did receive a bottle of this wine as a sample I’ve purchased previous versions of this with my very own money and plan on doing so again…

2006 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant

Price: $35.00 @ Bonny Doon Vineyard

What They Said:

2006 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare VolantPer Bonny Doon Vineyard (pdf) “This cuvée, the 22nd edition of Le Cigare Volant a blend of syrah, grenache, cinsault with just a soupçon of mourvèdre and carignane, make for a bright and wonderfully gamey wine. Very youthful with toasty notes of cherry, birch, sassafras and pomegranate. Pair this racey red with a bloomsdale spinach salad with sherry vinaigrette garnished with carpaccio of tuna or beef. Speaking of beef, a rare steak in any number of variations (tri-tip, hanger, New York, filet) would be quite delish. But more exotic fare such as chicken tikka masala or Tandoori lamb chops will also work wonderfully well. While the zesty ’06 is excellent right now, decanting or aging it for 2-3 more years would be all to the good.”

What I Think:

(13.3%) 43.6% Syrah, 43.5% Grenache, 11.7% Cinsault, 1.1% Mourvedre and 0.1% Carignane – The blend percentage as only Randall and crew would tell it this is my first go round with the Le Cigare Volant. Dark red in color with earthy red fruits, spice and almost a hint sweet on a savory nose. Starts rich and lively on a meaty, chewy palate that shows brambly berry fruit. From there it turns tart, earthy and mineral driven before drying out on a peppery finish where the fruit reemerges before giving way to lingering, lip smacking tannins. Nice tannins and structure this is a wine drinks well now but definitely has a brighter future ahead of it. Thankfully I already have one more on hand… (3,300 cases made)

Rating: Wow!

2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard Grenache Clos de Gilroy

2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard Grenache Clos de GilroyPrice: $18.00 @ Bonny Doon Vineyard*

What They Said:

Per Bonny Doon Vineyard “The Wine Formerly Known as Clos de Gilroy (TWFKaCdG) pays homage to the quaint, rustic town of Gilroy, the spiritual locus of all matters alliaceous. The fruit for our Grenache does not, despite its name, derive from Gilroy (clos, but no Cigare), but instead primarily from our former estate vineyard in Soledad and the Alta Loma vineyard in Greenfield, along with a sprinkling of other vineyards along the Central Coast. The wine exhibits all the hallmarks of exceptional cool climate Grenache—bright raspberries, a strong suggestion of black pepper and red fruits, and a supple, lingering finish.

The strawberry-rhubarbity of grenache is complemented by a delicate note of kirsch from cinsault and the spicy catch of syrah’s white pepper. Brilliant rubescent pink with a fuchsia rim, the wine is intensely aromatic, with notes of strawberry, raspberry, pepper, and wild herbs. Supple and medium-bodied, the dominant flavors on the palate are of red fruits: strawberry, red currant, kirsch, and strawberry-rhubarb. Fruity and spicy but fully dry, this wine is the perfect foil for all manner of grilled meat or vegetables, roasted poultry, the aïoli platter (naturellement), and anything prepared al fresco—especially when anointed with olive oil.”

What I Think:

(13.1%) 75% Grenache, 13% Cinsault, 12% Syrah – My 2nd vintage of this one and a winner again. Fresh floral aromas, light fruit and a bit of earth on the nose. Initially light bodied with tart cranberry, strawberry (of the brambly sort) and hints of rhubarb. Not overly fruity and well balanced with bright acidity. Perhaps a bit too green for some but I am a fan. Dry and herbal showing white pepper (and a touch of oak) that lingers pleasantly on a soft finish. Has the looks of a regular favorite!

Rating: Buy It

*Yes again I did receive this wine as a sample but I’ve previously purchased on my own and plan on doing so again…

2009 Bonny Doon Vineyard Grenache Clos de Gilroy

Price: $15.00 @ Bonny Doon Vineyard

What They Said:

2009 Bonny Doon Vineyard Grenache Clos de GilroyPer Bonny Doon Vineyard (pdf) “The great grenache years at Bonny Doon tend to be very late, when the grapes have had a better opportunity to develop the nuance and complexity we esteem. 2009, was no exception to this historical dictum – apart from the fact that this grenache does not, in fact, derive from Gilroy – hence the slightly perplexing nomenclature. The fruit this year is from the Alta Loma Vineyard in Greenfield and from our own estate vineyard in Soledad. The wine itself exhibits all the hallmarks of exceptional Grenache – bright raspberries; a strong suggestion of black pepper and kirsch; and a piney, resinous quality that shows up in only the best vintages of Grenache from cooler climats. To those yearning for the early days when CdG was the first wine out of the blocks, this vintage should induce a happy remembrance of Gilroy’s d’antan

What I Think:

(13.5%) 88% Grenache, 10% Cinsault, 2% Syrah – Almost translucent violet in the glass with violet aromas, cherry and a bit of pepper on the nose. Starts bright and juicy with nice strawberry flavors, rhubarb leafs and hints of cherry. This is delivered over a smooth yet firm structure that shows nice acidity throughout. Firm tannins emerge on the mid-palate and lead to a dry, spicy finish that lingers on nicely. For $15 this is all you can ask for and more. I’ll certainly be looking to buy more…(750 cases made)

Rating: Buy It

2010 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare

I’m way late to the party on this one as it has received heaps of praise from the interwebs. That said there is never too much of a good thing right? I was first introduced to this wine (my very first from Bonny Doon) with the 2008 vintage and have grown to love it more with each passing bottle. But enough of the love story, let’s get to the wine!

2010 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de CigarePrice: $15.00 @ Bonny Doon Vineyard*

What They Said:

Per Winophilia “Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyard is one of the grandes dames of the Cali-Rhône movement, and for my money Grahm’s most consistent wine over the years has been his pink Vin Gris de Cigare. Made from a blend of Rhône varieties, it is a consistently excellent California take on the refreshing, dry Provence rosés loved by wine drinkers around the world. Grahm has been making this wine since 1984, back in the days when pink California wine meant the dreaded white zinfandel. That particular category was so uniformly bad that rosés as a group were uniformly rejected in the U.S., but Bonny Doon stuck with it. In the category of American rosé, this is the éminence grise, as pun-meister Grahm would likely say.

Very pale pink in color, it offers an array of red berry, citrus and spice flavors, with a racy quality that makes it extremely flexible with food. Or serve it by itself. At 12.8% alcohol it’s very easy to drink. You’ll be shocked how quickly a bottle disappears, so don’t buy just one.”

What I Think:

(12.8%) 71% Grenache, 16% Rousanne, 11% Grenache Blanc, 2% Mourvedre – An interesting mix of mostly red and some white grapes this one is a beautiful salmon pink in the glass. It explodes with strawberry field aromas (and a hint of minerals) on the nose. Strawberry, melon, crisp green apple greet you on the palate along with subtle floral notes. The mid-palate shows a firm rocky, creek bed mineral component and balanced acidity that leads to a crisp, pleasant and refreshing crescendo where the Rousanne adds a nice touch of richness to the finish. Dry throughout this one leaves your mouth watering and begging for more. Pairs easily with food and the only problem with popping it on the porch is that this is more than a typical quaffer and may distract your attention with its goodness. At $15 this is more than I typically look to spend on a rose but worth every penny. This one will leave you wishing you had more so be sure to stock up. I know I will be… 3,298 cases made

Rating: Wow!

*While I did receive a bottle of this wine as a sample I have since purchased many more on my own. You should too…

2009 Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra

Now Randall Grahm is a character and I mean that in the very best way. I’ve previously referred to him as the Dos Equis man of the wine world and he never ceases to amuse. Be it his thoughts on blending the latest Cigare Volant or his letter introducing (pdf) the Contra he always finds a way to entertain.

So what is this Contra all about? For starters where did it get its name? From the Gonsalves vineyard in Contra Costa county from which 79% of this one hails. Did I mention this vineyard is a field blend? Oh how I love a field blend! The couch? Yip! Apparently in the vineyard there is a lot of “discarded junk lying around including the couch shown in the picture.” Interesting but let’s cut to the chase. How is juice in the bottle…

2009 Bonny Doon Vineyards ContraPrice: $14.00*

What They Said:

Per Bonny Doon Vineyard Winemaker and President-for-Life Randall Grahm “Contra unites the earthy rusticity of old-vine carignane – that hard, stoniness that if untempered may be a tad too austere for some – with the luscious, opulent fruitiness of a number of the softer blending grapes. In the wine, you’ve got rocks and raspberries (or maybe they’re mulberries or blackberries), a lively acidity, tannins that are firm but perfectly ripe, and the result is an amazing experience that is both intellectual and sensual. It is hard to really articulate why this experience is so special, but the yin and yang of soft and hard, of fruit and earth, creates the most electrifying aesthetic frisson.”

What I Think:

(13.5%) 55% Carignane, 15% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 7% Petite Sirah, 5% Zinfandel and 3% Syrah – Soft nose with sour cherry, forest floor and spice notes. Lively and juicy on the palate this one shows mulberry fruit, a touch of red licorice and a hint of earthiness on a mineral, stony backbone. Its firm acidity & structure throughout make this super food friendly and a match for many a meal. As it evolves in the glass the fruit becomes plush and take center stage with the mineral notes moving to the edges. The finish is smooth and short with barrel notes but the lingering effect is slightly hot. On the plus side it lasts for ages while open under the screw top. I drank mine over a week plus and saw little oxidative effects even on day 8. With the constant friction between old world and new this is a fun wine to spend time with and I am already on the lookout for another bottle. Feel free to grab some for yourself while you wait for my follow up report…

Rating: Interesting <- a new rating in honor of Randall who believes as I do that the “wine tasting experience is far more about the experiencer than the experienced.”

Interested in reading more about the Bonny Doon Vineyards Contra?

  • RJ’s Wine Blog discusses Randall Grahm literature skills and calls the Contra a “Great ‘good’ wine.”
  • Jon Bonne writes it has the “perfect profile for a big meal.”
  • Palate Press calls it a mix of elegance and muscle and recommends pairing it with roast duck.
  • Katie of Gonzo Gastronomy says “All that for $14? I’d have gladly paid $20…”

*this wine was received as press sample

2008 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare

2008 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de CigarePrice: $9.99 @ Cost Plus

What They Said:

Per Bonny Doon Vineyard “Fresh and bright with a pale pink color and a soupçon of blue rose. Hints of wild strawberry, white cherry, apple blossom, and the barest whiff of spearmint. Palate is quite dry and zesty with pale red fruits, blood orange, citrus and a lean yet supple finish. Another excellent example of our skill with Rosé, the 2008 has a greater quantity of grenache than previously yet it’s the cinsault and roussanne which really shine; adding complex notes of stone fruit and the nuanced texture of old vines. Delicious today but will develop added richness and aroma with an additional 6-12 months of bottle age.”

What I Think:

Surprisingly this is my first offering from Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyards. Randall is known and called many things but he is always creative and sometimes eccentric in my mind. And best of all he is always pushing the boundaries of traditional thinking. From advocating for full “ingredient” listings being disclosed (beyond the grapes this includes tartaric acid, and sulfur dioxide with indigenous yeast, yeast nutrients, bentonite and French oak barrels used in the winemaking process) to trying to accelerate the process of creating terroir-driven wine in new regions it seems he is always up to something that captures my attention. Dos Equis: the most interesting man in the wine worldGiven that it is no surprise that I can’t help but think of him whenever I come across a Dos Equis advertisement as he is certainly the “most interesting man in the wine world”.

So what about that wine? This offering is a blend of 58% Grenache, 18% Cinsault, 10% Roussanne, 7% Mourvèdre, 4% Syrah and 3% Grenache Blanc. Reddish/salmon in color with loads of strawberry on the nose. On the palate it adds in flavors of the patch from whence they came on a floral/stony backbone. This fuller bodied Rose is dry on the mid-palate with enough acidity to keep it well balanced and delivers a tart, crisp finish. No quaffing allowed here! This one is a well made with enough to ponder on its own and the ability to pair with a meal should you desire. At $10 I’ll be revisiting this again throughout the summer. In fact if you’ll excuse me I believe I have a bottle chilled in the refrigerator right now…

Rating: Buy It

And as an added bonus for those wondering what to pair this with Viviane Bauquet Farre recommends a heirloom tomato caprese salad (and offers her thoughts on the Vin Gris de Cigare). This is a match I will surely have to try!