Wine of the Week
Every year, I look forward to the new release of wines from two of California’s most iconoclastic winemakers, Dan Karlsen of Talbott and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon. Both men are unapologetic interlopers in an arena that all too often prides itself on quietly disappearing into a haze of conformity.
Dan Karlsen is an unabashed fan of his own Monterrey County grapes. His single vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs range up to $75 a bottle, which I grant you, is a lot of money. Karlsen’s trick is that his wines always outperform their price point. His least expensive wines are the Kali Hart Chardonnay and Kali Heart Pinot Noir. At $21 a bottle (even less on sale), these wines are the equivalent of some Sonoma wines at twice the price or more. Unscrew a bottle (yes, he uses screw tops) and you can enjoy the richness of Monterrey County fruit. These wines are boldly Californian, yet Karlsen never goes the easy route, avoiding the overly extracted and simplistic wines that California sometimes produces. Instead, using grapes from the ideal climate of Monterrey County, his wines demonstrate a canny combination of old world elegance and new world intensity.
Randall Grahm is often referred to (especially when he’s doing the referring) as the Rhône Deranger. He also describes himself as quixotic, which is about the second best label for him. The best label would be passionate. He has started and sold vineyards, wineries, and companies in a never-ending search for the perfect grape/vineyard/barrel. His first love was Pinot Noir, but he believes that California is more suited to grapes that typically grow close to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s hard to pick which are his best wines, but a case could be made for the wines under the Cigare Volant label. They come in three colors. The red is made of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. The white is a combination of Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. And the Rosé is a blend of the whole lot. He produces a regular bottling of each, as well as reserve bottlings of the red and white. It’s best to start off with the normal versions (white $28, Rosé $18, red $45) and if you like them, move up to the reserve wines (white $54, red $79). All of the Cigare Volant wines are excellent values in their price ranges. Oh, and always be sure to read the back label on any of Grahm’s wines; he’s a magnificent writer.
Both men’s wines are available at better wine shops.