Wine of the Week

Bonny Doon Keeps the Faith

Wine of the Week

Few California winemakers would easily fit into Austin society. Most of them range from rich hobbyists to pocket-protector science types. But there are a few that would fit in well. Societal renegades with wicked senses of humor. Tops on that list would be Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. He led a parade in New York for the funeral of the cork (all his wines are under screw tops). He's been known to send friends and members of the press massage oil at Valentine's Day. He's even started rewriting Dante's Inferno as an impious skewering of the wine trade. His labels, always a howl, are frequently designed while Grahm and his artist sit in a deli, drawing pictures with borrowed lipstick and pasting them on the sides of mustard bottles with dabs of mayonnaise. Obviously Grahm needs no help in keeping it weird.

None of that would be interesting if his wines weren't so good. For years, Grahm produced one of the wine world's great bargains in his Big House wines. Planted next to a prison, these scrumptious blended wines came in red, white, and pink and all for under $10. Last year, Grahm sold the Big House wines to the megalithic Wine Group (owner of dozens of wineries, including Franzia, Corbett Canyon, Glen Ellen, and Mogen David).

Besides the fact that Grahm is now insanely rich, he also has more time to devote to his core wines, where the quality just keeps getting better and better. The 2004 Syrah le Pousseur ($16) is a dark, velvety Syrah made from California Central Coast grapes. I love the mix of black pepper, blackberry, and floral aromas. Have it with braised meat.

His 2004 Le Cigare Blanc ($20) is Grahm's version of a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It's mostly Roussanne with a dollop of Grenache Blanc. The flavors and aromas are complicated. It's just a little musky with a bit of honeydew and pear aromas. Try it with crab cakes, where the shellfish, mayonnaise, and bread crumbs will match the wine perfectly.

The top of the Bonny Doon line is Le Cigare Volant ($28), a blend of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape grapes like Syrah and Grenache. Grahm isn't interested in creating a fruit bomb of jellylike proportions, something you find too often in California Rhône-style blends. Instead, he goes for subtlety, allowing each of the flavors to shine through. This is a wine for a slow meal filled with intelligent conversation.

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Bonny Doon, Randall Grahm

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