For almost four decades, Randall Grahm has been producing wines that are, in a word, intriguing. Knowing Grahm, the founder and self-proclaimed “president-for-life” of California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard, I think he would appreciate the description.
Unlike many winemakers, Grahm, for better or worse, has never been particularly focused on critics’ scores or on making what he calls “cheerleader” wines he believes many of them like. He has long been obsessed with “wines of terroir” and the potential for creating them in his corner of the wine world in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“A vin de terroir,” he has written, “is a chameleon, changing and evolving in the glass; it is not a wine capable of being captured in a snapshot, as many of our wine critics would like to do.”
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I started to think about all of this again as I tasted the newly released 2015 vintage of Bonny Doon’s signature white wine, Le Cigare Blanc. Is this a terroir wine? I wouldn’t attempt to say. But it does evolve. It is complex. And it is, well, intriguing.
After a youthful and futile attempt to grow Pinot Noir, Grahm found a better fit with Rhône varieties in his part of California (he is one of California’s original so-called Rhône Rangers).
Hence, Le Cigare Blanc is a blend of 55 percent Grenache Blanc, 36 percent Roussanne, and 9 percent Picpoul, with the grapes sourced from the Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco on the Central Coast.
The result is a $28 wine of depth and balance — opulent but fresh, driven by its ripe fruit tastes but also its herbal background notes. The aromas and tastes bring to mind pear and honeydew melon, accents of rosemary and mint, and subtle orange and lime zest on the finish. The rich, creamy texture would pair well with grilled or pan-roasted scallops or a veal stew such as blanquette de veau.
Although the 2015 has some age on it, the wine is young. With time, the component parts that are intriguing now and begin to come together in the glass should meld into a seamless wine of elegance. This is a wine to appreciate for what it is and what it will become, made by an original who continues to challenge himself — and us.