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Eat & Drink » Drink

Been There; Doon That

An evening with Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm



It's no secret to anyone who reads this column that I'm a longtime fan of Bonny Doon founder and winemaker Randall Grahm. He was one of the first wine "industry" types to get me excited about wine, in part because his talents extend so far beyond winemaking. Grahm's world-class wit, endless affection for puns, mastery of language, self-deprecating humor, and love of philosophy and literature are just a few reasons to love the guy.

He's also a mensch who happens to make uniquely fabulous wines. So, when I was extended an invitation to attend a Bonny Doon wine dinner at Finca restaurant earlier in November, I jumped at the chance.

Through the years, we'd exchanged tweets, emails, faxes and such on topics ranging from French Chartreuse to the German philosopher Edmund Husserl, but somehow I'd always missed meeting Grahm in person. So, my first order of business was to tell him how much I enjoyed his writing; I assumed he already knew how much I enjoyed his wines. Each bottle of Bonny Doon comes with added value. Whatever you think of the wine, you can rest assured you'll be entertained—and possibly even informed—by Grahm's witty wine labels. For evidence, just do a little research, or take a look at Grahm's terrific book Been Doon So Long regarding the labeling of his Clos de Gilroy California Grenache. It's just one of a long lineage of less-than-lackluster labels.

We dipped into some Clos de Gilroy 2014 ($19.32) Grenache from Monterey County (my wife's favorite wine of the evening) alongside a stunning dish of trout mousse with grilled toast, pickled strawberry and watercress that chef Phelix Gardner's team had created. As Grahm put it, Clos de Gilroy isn't made from the "weapons-grade Grenache" that he uses to produce Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant. This is a softer, more feminine, spicy wine that's mostly Grenache, with a smidgeon of Mourvédre and what Randall calls "a homeopathic amount of Syrah" blended in.

Earlier, we'd begun the evening with pumpkin "leather" and peppercorn ricotta while sipping Bonny Doon Querry Cider ($13.75). I hadn't realized that Grahm had gotten into the cider biz, but this grown-up fruit juice brimming with pear, apple and quince flavors made me happy he did. I'd be tempted to bring a bottle of Querry with me to my next sushi sit-down.

Bonny Doon Le Cigar Blanc Réserve (en bonbonne) 2011 ($50) was a surprise. I was expecting a traditional Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc-style wine—which happens to be one of my favorite indulgences. Without getting too wine geeky, this Roussanne/Grenache Blanc/Picpoul blend ages not in barrels, but in glass demijohns (bonbonnes) which serve, as Grahm puts it, "as a sort of lees hotel: the lees check in, but they don't check out." The presence of the lees in the wine gives it a luscious, cloudy and creamy texture with hints of pear and quince (is there some Querry in there?)—a wine with elegance that could tag-team a plate of buttery shellfish. At Finca, it was served with a killer dish of creamy leeks and cave-grown mushrooms.

Le Cigare Volant is Bonny Doon's flagship wine, so it was a real treat to get to taste 2008 Le Cigare Volant en foudre ($55). En foudre refers to the 10,000-liter upright wood tanks that this blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre, Cinsault and Carignane lives in before bottling. Here's a little secret: There just might be Grenache clones from the renowned Chateauneuf-du-Pape producer Chateau Rayas in a bottle of Le Cigare Volant. Perhaps they inadvertently fell into someone's luggage. What a happy accident that turned out to be.