Wed 14 Nov 2012
Perhaps the title of this post should read “Bonny Doon’s Syrahs & Rhone-Style Blends,” but few wineries in California are more informed by and associated with a single powerful personality than Bonny Doon is by owner and winemaker Randall Grahm, a tireless shape-shifter, guru, mage and humble servant of the vineyard and the grape. In the mid 2000s, Grahm divested himself of several brands, such as Ca’ del Solo and the Big House wines — and boy did Big House plummet after that! — to focus on where it seems his heart had been all along, with Rhone Valley grapes and models (he still makes a nebbiolo and albariño). What we review today are 100 percent syrah wines from designated vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and San Luis Obispo and blended wines from the Central Coast under Bonny Doon’s well-known Le Cigare Volant label, all from 2007 and 2008. I’ll point out that while several of these wines are quite tannic, even fiercely so, they primarily do not ravage the mouth astringently and stay light on their feet and elegant; Grahm seems to be after structure that’s indubitably there but a function of agility and nerve.
Most of these wines were tasted at home, as samples for review, in September 2011 and November 2012, with a few recapitulated or anticipated in August 2012 with Grahm (and a small but restless and eager crowd) in a hotel room at the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon.
(I don’t know who took the splendid image of Randall Grahm, and I wish I could acknowledge the photographer, but I borrowed it from eventbrite.com.)
First, the 2007s.
Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Vineyard Syrah 2007, San Luis Obispo. The color is dark inky-purple; the bouquet is fleshy, meaty, packed with scents of dried fruit and dried flowers with notes of fresh blackberries and black raspberries and hints of pomegranate, leather and graphite; in the mouth, finely meshed and grainy tannins take control and along with polished, slightly rustic oak and robust acidity impose a sense of formidable structure on the wine, which concludes with dusty, almost ecclesiastical severity and austerity. 13.3 percent alcohol. Production was 662. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $35.
Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2007, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County.. The difference between the “Bien Nacido” Syrah 07 and the “Alamo” Syrah 07 lies in this wine’s overwhelming freshness and its modicum of accommodation; it drinks a bit more like a wine intended to be consumed this year rather than a lifetime down the pike. Present is the full complement of fresh and dried black and red fruit scents and flavors, potpourri and lavender, hints of black tea and leather, thinking of leather’s earthy, sweaty component and its firm suppleness; present also are dusty, almost powdery tannins that burgeon from mid-palate back through the finish, piling up the granitic minerality and underbrush-like austerity. 13.5 percent alcohol. 657 cases. Best from 2013 or ’14 through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en demi-muid” 2007, Central Coast, and Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant “en foudre” 2007, Central Coast. A demi-muid is a 500-liter wood puncheon; a foudre is a 10,000-liter upright wood tank; the wine in the smaller vessel (which is slightly more than twice the size of the standard barrique at 225 liters) will get more wood exposure than the wine in the much larger container. Other than the oak regimen, the wines were treated the same and are each a fairly classic Rhone Valley-style blend of 50 percent grenache grapes, 32 percent syrah, 4 percent mourvèdre and 4 percent cinsault.
The “en demi-muid,” a medium ruby-megenta color, is ripe, fleshy and meaty, with a bit of charcoal edge to the notes of red and black currants and generous portions of leather, black pepper, briers and brambles; the whole package is quite lively and vibrant, and a few moments in the glass bring in hints of cloves and sandalwood and allspice as well as an impressive presence of dusty, austere tannins and woodiness that never, fortunately, reach the point of astringency. Tasted 24 hours later, the wine was dense and robust, deeply spicy but still inarguably oak-and-tannin-girt. Fashioned as a vin de garde, a wine intended for laying down, this will be more integrated from 2014 through 2020 to ’22. 14.4 percent alcohol. Production was 559 cases. Excellent. About $45.
The “en foudre” rendition — and the aging period for both was 20 months — begins all warm and spicy, with a softer bouquet than its cousin’s and appealing touches of red and black currants and plums infused with cloves and leather, espresso and moss, but I was surprised at how tannic and oaky the wine felt, and 24 hours later that tannin and oak were still working away diligently. Vin de garde, indeed, and I would estimate 2014 or ’15 through 2020 to ’22 to curb the margins of its austere character. 14.4 percent alcohol. 559 cases. Very Good+. About $45.
And the 2008s.
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 2008, Central Coast. For ’08, Bonny Doon’s “regular” Cigare Volant is a blend of 45 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah, 13 percent mourvèdre, 7 percent cinsault and 5 percent carignane. This is just lovely, a smooth, supple, well-balanced and integrated wine freighted with lavender and violets, potpourri, spiced and macerated red and black currants and cherries with a blackberry backnote; it takes 45 minutes to an hour for the finely-milled tannins and subtly spicy oak to assert themselves and remind us that the wine possesses a firm, innate structure that along with vibrant acidity gives it some class and some sass. 14.3 percent alcohol. 2,751 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $38.
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Reserve “en bonbonne” 2008, Central Coast.The blend of grapes is the same as for the previous Le Cigare Volant, but the aging is unique. After a short time in barrel and after assembling the blend, the wine was placed in five-gallon glass carboys, also called demijohns or bonbonnes, of the sort typically employed in home brewing and winemaking, where it remained for 23 months. (This process must be incredibly labor-intensive.) The result is both supernal mellowness and a resonant, burstingly packed-in sense of depth and breath of fresh and dried black and red fruit (especially black cherries, mulberries and red currants), dried baking spices, potpourri and pomander with an intriguing hint of pomegranate, all supported by supple, graphite-tinged tannins. Terrific personality and presence. 14.2 percent alcohol. 436 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $65.
Bonny Doon Alamo Vineyard Syrah 2008, San Luis Obispo. Dark ruby-purple color shading to magenta; a whole snootful of woody spices — the lilt of cloves, the headiness of sandalwood, the dark side of allspice, saturnine black pepper — and then fresh, ripe red and black currants with dried raspberries and dusty plum skin; the wine is large-framed, generous and expansive but laden with the weight of fine-grained tannins, graphite and damp earth, lavender and leather; it’s quite dry yet juicy under a swelling tide of tannins and granitic minerality; real grip and persistence here, filling the mouth with darkness. 13.5 percent alcohol. 572 cases. Now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $35.
Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Vineyard X Block Syrah 2008, Santa Maria Valley. Dark ruby with a violet edge; intense and concentrated in every sense yet somehow enjoyable in its potency. Aromas of sage and thyme, cherry-berry and dried lavender are woven with black fruit and more black fruit and a little blue, the complete effect fleshy, meaty, spicy and slightly macerated; while the Alamo Vineyard rendition is a fairly warm wine, at least initially, this Bien Nacido X Block is all cool, swathe-plowing acidity, cool graphite and obsidian-faceted minerals, tar, bitter chocolate, licorice and black tea. Boy, and more tannic, too, deep, dry, dusty and velvety, leading to some austerity in the finish. 13.9 percent alcohol. 573 cases. Now through 2017 to ’20. Excellent. About $42.