Archive for March, 2013
It's fitting with today commencing the Weekend Celebration of American Rhones, in San Francisco, to celebrate this amazing, unique release of Cigare Blanc, the flagship Rhone white blend from Bonny Doon Vineyards.
It's creator, Randall Grahm, tonight at a very special ceremony will be awarded the first ever Rhone Rangers lifetime achievement award. As I wrote in For The Love of Rhône: Randall Grahm Lifetime Achievement Award; A Rhône Weekend in SF the American Rhone winemakers and consumers owe Randall this, and much more.
The Re-Emergence of The Original Rhone Ranger, Pioneer's Vision
In his spot-on keynote speech at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, (video or transcript ) Randall gently chided the wine industry, for being a victim of its own success, almost 'selling out' and lamenting the world of unique wines, that had some risk to making them.
'Modern winemakers live in an era of tragic self-consciousness about the economic consequences of their winemaking decisions, utterly aware of the peril of somehow falling outside of the stylistic parameters of accepted wine styles.'
On a macro level this is sadly true. Wines, especially whites, are made risk free, manipulated, and churned out by the container load for mass market. “Flash Detente' – seriously? I'll go return to my beer brewing roots before I ever cross this line. Every article I read on it gives me hives – where does this end?
But there is a burgeoning new movement, a tiny but growing population of bold winemakers who return to the risk taking Randall laments, making wines of unique varieties, vinification, climates and more. (Teaser, also watch for notice for a special tasting of a gang of 13 of these upstarts in Healdsburg in May.)
These vintners of passion often selling their crafts for a modest price, keeping the approachable. Sommeliers are loving this re-birth. Some old school journalists have no clue what to do with it – why not keep just writing about Cabernet & Zinfandel. Other visionaries like Jon Bonné of the Chronicle embrace and support the change, and even has a book coming out. (You can pre-order now, I did.)
Leading By Example and Creativity – Winemaking With Risk (Equals Reward.)
Randall leads the path again (one that I follow, inspired, with my own Rhone project.) His special 2010 Cigare Blanc Reserve and 2008 Cigare Volante are aged 'en bonbonne' – glass carboys, protected from light and air, and stirred….magnetically. As only Randall could do.
Why? Randall was inspired by wines of Dan Wheeler tasted from carboy, and astonished by how fresh the wines were, 20 years later, followed by a similar experience with Emidio Pepe.
At the Wine Bloggers Conference, Randall held a special semi private tasting of some of his wines, including the 2010 Cigare Blanc reserve & 2008 Cigare Volant Reserve 'en bonbonne'. The gift was lost on some, but it was a special experience to taste these the normal and en bonbonne' side by side. There was a clear, textural and flavor difference.
It inspired me to taste them both again later several times, where I could focus without Rex Pickett of Sideways making drinking from dump bucket jokes to impress a nearby female. Not a problem as I am a DOON Club member, and regularly order, and have, including a re-order of this wine.
Review: Bonny Doon Vineyard 2010 Cigare Blanc Reserve en bonbonne
A certified biodynamic blend of 56% Grenache Blanc and 44% Rousanne. (You had me at Grenache Blanc.) As Randall's own tasting notes concur, it continues to improve in bottle, and was changed, even more favorably from last fall.
The 2010 vintage was allowed to go through secondary malo-lactic (a personal preference for me, as I think many white wines, with sufficient acidity, should do to enhance mouth feel and complexity.)
- To The Eye: Slightly cloudy, but clearer than previous tastings. Its turbidity makes me love it even more. It's about time the consumer world understood a tad of turbidity in whites might make it better. I will follow with less trepidation.
- On The Nose: wondrous nose of yellow pear, stone fruits, hints of white grapefruit and phizer viagra hazelnut.
- On The Palate: Amazing. Lush, but in a restrained way. Textural and 'grown up' but with a vibrant acid backbone that lingers beneath in balance. The front palate starts off bright and fresh, the mid palate shows the wondrous texture, mouth feel ripe pear, yellow peach, citrus. The finish is of ripe Meyer lemon, lingering pleasant acidity.
I have yet to figure out how Bonny Doon makes these so wonderful in flavor and low in alcohol, as Roussanne and Grenache Blanc both require proper ripening, ever for my acid addicted palate. Bravo.
A wine that while wonderful solo, would be heavenly with rich seafood, creamy pasta, or roasted chicken.
- Recommendation: This is one to buy a case and drink 1-2 bottles a year. Buy online while you can.
94 points. Yes its pricier than every day wine. Life is short, live a little.
Winemakers Notes & Geeky Stuff
I have written in various places about the inspiration to age wine in demijohns/carboys/bonbonnes. Some of it has come from my fascination with oxidation/reduction chemistry, an aspect of wine art/science not well understood and its importance greatly unappreciated. Years ago, as a young pup I tasted wine from carboy with Dan Wheeler of Nicasio Cellars in his do-it-yourself-handdug cave in Soquel, and was astonished at how youthful were the wines, twenty plus years later, almost as if they had been placed in suspended animation. At about the same time, I also happened to taste the wines from Emidio Pepe in Abruzzo, who also aged his product in demijohns, likewise evincing extraordinary youthfulness and vitality.
We did some small encouraging experiments years ago, then more or less forgot about them until relatively recently, at which point we began the carboy ageing project with red Cigare. It wasn’t until ’09 that it dooned on me that perhaps there were even more interesting things to discover with the white. The ’10 Cigare Blanc Réserve, our second vintage of this wine, is absolutely amazing, an advance over the ’09. To refresh everyone’s memory, this wine is more or less the same blend as our standard issue Cigare Blanc, apart from the fact that we’ve allowed it to undergo malolactic fermentation, and at that point, we gave it a light SO2 addition, racked it to glass demijohn (bonbonne), where it reposed for a year and a half, getting anaerobically stirred more or less fortnightly.
The wine derives entirely from the Beeswax Vineyard, located at the mouth of the Arroyo Seco, and is farmed biodynamically and produced according to biodynamic specifications (very easy on the extraneous additions).
I’ve had the pleasure of tasting this wine over the last year, and what is most remarkable about it is that every time I taste it, it gets younger and younger! The wine was not filtered, and therefore is partly cloudy, though lately, it is curiously, getting brighter and brighter. The wine has a rich, unctuous texture, despite its modest (12ish%) alcohol, as well as possesses the most satisfying savoriness. In the nose, there is a wonderful suggestion of hazelnuts (hmm, white Burgundy, anyone?), as well as a beautiful fragrance of wintergreen and a wine-like pear. A great gastronomy wine, one that will perfectly suit rich, cream-based dishes.
- Blend: 56% roussanne, 44% grenache blanc (Certified Biodynamic®)
- Vineyard: Beeswax (Certified Biodynamic®)
- Appellation: Arroyo Seco
- Serving Temp: 50-55ºF
- Alcohol by Volume: 12.4%
- TA: 6.2 g/L
- pH: 3.62
- Optimal drinkability: Drink now-2020
- Production: 497 cases
For The Love of Rhône: Randall Grahm Lifetime Achievement Award; A Rhône Weekend in SF. (And Reader Offers)
It's no secret that if you tap one of my veins, it's likely a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah will spring forth. My love for this wine category has caused me to change my entire life, quickly transforming, with no master plan, from avid consumer, to (once) a widely read blogger, and from garagiste to commercial vintner.
Rhône wines can be a challenging category. It's not mainstream – your classic new world oaky Cabernet consumer perhaps can't even describe what Rhone wines are, let alone appreciate the breadth of complex whites the category offers. “Serious” wine snobs may turn their noses as they consider they are not 'geeky' enough – after all its not some obscure Italian varietal, or skin fermented white wine whose name you can't spell, fermented in an exotic container and bottled in 500 ml granite bottles. Its just 'grenache.'
Yet many American Rhone wines ARE rare. Grenache Blanc has existed in California for only ten years, with only 220 acres planted in the entire state. The source I work with for Roussanne & Marsanne are the only known in the entire AVA. The Mourvedre is only one of two plantings. The cool climate Grenache – perhaps 3-4 at most. Even in Rhone 'heavy' areas like Paso Robles, the total acreage of most Rhone whites is minuscule.
On the reverse side, not all off the old guard of some media get 'it. Respected and esteemed Chronicle wine writer, and Rhone advocate, Jon Bonné, was recently criticized publicly by a veteran wine writer for his waxing poetic on Grenache,
Yet, we not only persevere as a domestic category, we prosper and slowly grow. We are after all 'Rhone Rangers' both as consumers and winemakers. When everyone said pull the plug on our NY event one week after Hurricane Sandy, we turned it into a fundraiser, showed up despite many challenges, and eager enthusiasts filled the tasting, amidst a Noreaster snow storm. THIS is how we Rhone.
Be assured of one thing, domestic vintners and winemakers dedicated to Rhones, do so for passion, not money.
An Eternal Debt Of Gratitude to The Original Rhone Ranger & Special Recognition Award
With that backdrop, it's all the more clear to me the incredible debt that all Rhone enthusiasts (and wineries) owe Randall Grahm, lauded as the original Rhone Ranger. (In truth there are a few other early pioneers. Sadly, not all support the namesake organization.)
Randall has been committed to Rhones since he released the first Cigare Volante in 1984. In a world where we take Grenache Blanc for granted, only the earliest and smallest of Rhone plantings, sometimes mis-identified, could be found, and there was little experience to reference. There were certainly easier paths to follow.
Randall has been a personal inspiration for me. He helped my find the Grenache Blanc vineyard I started with in 2010, even viagra soft tabs offered encouragement, as he does for so many, despite the often one man show that he is, tirelessly & humbly promoting, pouring, his crafts.
This year, at the Rhone Rangers March 22nd Winemaker Dinner in San Francisco, the Rhone Rangers organization will award its first lifetime achievement award. As a board member who was in the meeting when the topic came up, the unanimous decision took only as long as it did for the suggestion to be comprehended.
We can only hope that Randall recognizes the deep respect, and love that so many have for he and his efforts. Simple Hedonisms has written about Bonny Doon wines many times, and I hope to review more wines all week, in tribute.
YOU have a chance to be at the award ceremony, and thank Randall, in person.
This dinner always sells out, but as of this writing, about 10% of tickets remain. The event itself is pretty phenomenal, with a special meal catered by the girl & the fig, 16 featured winemakers, a pre-dinner tasting, and lively auction at the end. Do not wait until Wednesday night to decide to buy one, you'll likely regret it and be empty handed. (Note: dinner is on a Friday night this year, not Saturday.)
Tickets are here: http://rhonerangerssfwmd.eventbrite.com/
Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund, which provides grants and scholarships to help educate the next generation of American Rhone winemakers.
Wineries: Anaba Wines, Baiocchi Wines & Vineyards, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Davis Family Vineyards, Folin Cellars, JC Cellars, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, kukkula, Margerum Wine Company, Mounts Family Winery, Petrichor Vineyards, Ridge Vineyards, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Terre Rouge, Two Shepherds and Villa Creek Cellars.
A Weekend Celebration of American Rhone Wines
The dinner is the tip of the spear of the now largest Rhone wine event in the U.S.
Saturday morning two seminars will be moderated by Jon Bonné, Wine Editor, San Francisco Chronicle, followed by the Grand Tasting Saturday afternoon, where over 100 wineries will pour white, red, and rose' Rhone wines. Sorry, no Cabernet.
This years seminars are quite exciting and unique.
- “Old World Inspiration, New World Innovation” with wine importer, Patrick Will, Vice President of VINTUS. This seminar will include benchmark wines from Guigal (Condrieu, Tavel, Chȃteauneuf du Pape and Côte Rôtie), as well as wines from Rhone Ranger winery members who were inspired to create their “Rhone style wines” while using innovative new world craftsmanship.
- “Mourvèdre: A Rising Star in the World of American Rhones” will feature six wines (red and rosé) that are based on the grape known as Mourvèdre, Mataro, Monastrell and at least fifty other names depending on where it is grown.
In the afternoon there is the Grand Tasting: Trade/Media & VIP Tasting 1-3 pm, and the Consumer Tasting is 3-6 pm. Note, by popular request is on Saturday this year. Enjoy Rhone wines followed by dinner in the city.
- A weekend pass that includes the seminar pass and Grand Tasting is available here for $150.
- Tickets to the Grand Tasting, only, are available here for $50. (Seriously, only $50?)
For those of you 'afraid' of Ft Mason events as a drunkfest, as someone who has been on both sides of the table, this tasting attracts a more engaged, enthused audience, and is not over crowded – so, come, learn, enjoy.
Reader Offer #1 – use code '”22RRgrapes” to save off of either purchase.
Insider Info: Download the 80 page event guide and start planning your tasting in advance! RRSF2013PrintedProgram-FinalProof
Share Your Rhone Love and Win A Pair of Tickets to The Seminars or Grand Tasting
Love Rhones? Or keen to learn more? (We all start somewhere.)
On Tuesday evening I will select a winner who can select to win a pair of tickets to the Grand Tasting or The Seminars.
To enter to win, simply share in comments below. Make sure I have your FULL name and email.
1. What is your favorite Rhone varietal, and if you have a special food pairing you enjoy with it.
2. Which Of the Pouring Wineries Are You most excited to try, and why? (list here. )
Rhone Twitter #WineChat This Wednesday Night
In celebration of the event (Twitter hashtag #RRSF) I will be leading this week's weekly Twitter #winechat – the topic and wine of choice being domestic Rhone wines. Open a bottle and join me in a glass as I wax semi poetic on Rhones.
It's likely Randall
will make a brief appearance at the beginning.
Cheers, and lets get ready to Rhone!
SF Chronicle: A bright moment for the Rhone-minded
As Syrah falters, make way for Grenache (SF Chronicle)