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Friday, August 15, 2014

Bonny Doon + Brewology

Menu/Wine Pairings
Usually, when I have some kind of extraordinary wine experience, it’s a fabulous bottle from France or Italy or Austria - at least, those generally are the kind of experiences that I can’t stop thinking about by the next day.

A few nights ago, I had the best California wine experience - we attended the Bonny Doon dinner at Brewology and got to meet Randall Grahm himself, and enjoy several Bonny Doon wines paired with Chef Lia Fallon’s creations.


We got there a little early so we took a seat at the bar, and after a round of Gruet, we looked over the evening’s menu, and upon seeing that Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy was on the glass list but not on the evening’s featured menu, we ordered a glass, and it was a nice prelude to an evening of Bonny Doon wines.  2013 Clos de Gilroy is a blend of Grenache and Mourvedre, smooth and delicious with lots of plum, berry, and soft hints of spice.  For me, it’s a spring/summer/autumn red, and at cellar temperature, it could pair with just about anything, I remarked to Peter.

Vin Gris 2013
And then Randall Grahm arrived.  I was so enthusiastic to meet him as I’ve heard only awesome things, and honestly I was suspicious this was going to be a really fun night.  He’s so cool.  And he’s brilliant.  Over a glass of 2013 Querry Cider (Pear/Apple/Quince) and a glass of 2013 Vin Gris of I believe mostly Grenache but it was a traditional blend (which was probably the best dry rose I’ve had from a place other than Provence - just my style!), Peter and I got to talk with Randall at length.  We got to discuss everything from Tannat to bass guitar and all the while I was in my glory.

Here’s why.

As a very young child, sometimes I had a difficult time communicating certain thoughts and feelings.  My parents would put on Mister Rogers for me, and in his words and songs, it was as if he was speaking directly to me, like he knew what I was thinking and it was something I could connect with at last.

See how much fun we had?
I had a similar feeling, only the grown up version, that night.  Usually, when I hear about terroir and personalities of the wines and noninterventionist ways of making wine, it’s in a conversation with someone French, or Italian.  Here was someone saying what I think and feel about wine, in great detail, but with an American accent.  And what’s more...well, I keep a quote that I read by Randall Grahm some time ago, about Madiran, and terroir, and the quote is hanging on a mirror in my bedroom.  The other night, it was fascinating to hear a man committed to terroir and expressiveness in a wine, telling his audience about “wines of terroir” versus “wines of effort,” and that generally the former is in Europe, and the latter is in California, and about the desire to move in a direction of terroir rather than just effort from the winemaker instead of allowing the wine to do the speaking.  He even went so far as to personify some wines, by making a parallel - imagine being in a room with an individual with lots of personality - after a while you like them, but you tire of their presence a bit.  And then there’s a subtle person who is a pleasure, and everything in moderation, and that’s a person whose presence you can appreciate for a long time.  It’s what he wants in his wines now - they are not explosive.  To me, they are more suggestive and hint in different directions - and it’s how I felt when tasting the Vin Gris - so subtle and lovely and unobtrusive.  The more he spoke, the better connection I had with his wines and his style as a winemaker.  He even mentioned something about wines that have no makeup on - which is exactly how I described good Burgundies in a conversation with Philippe Pascal on the day we worked together last spring.  Good, I thought.  I get it.

Randall Grahm speaking on the personalities of the wines
Dinner opened with a delicious ceviche (which was actually my favorite dish of the evening) in an avocado boat, and 2013 Albarino.  I loved the weight of the Albarino, so fresh and yet so satisfying, a perfect summer white with seafood, a burst of flavor without excess, lots of fruit and an excellent match of textures.

Next was a pasta with truffle cheese, mushrooms, and spinach and veal meatballs - and the pairing was a side by side of 2011 Le Cigare Blanc and 2010 Le Cigare Volant (read up on the law in Chateauneuf du Pape from I believe 1954 regarding outlawing flying saucers from taking off or landing in the wine region).  Le Cigare Blanc (Roussanne/Grenache Blanc) is unique, textured, quite dry but still fairly round, showing plenty of fruit but lots of spice as well and mineral.  I liked the red better for the dish, the Cigare Volant (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Cinsault/Carignane) - this was a deep, mature, stylish wine yet unpretentious, lots of red and dark fruit and plenty of baking spices with a warm earthiness and for me, it was a near perfect pairing with that dish, although I do believe I could enjoy Le Cigare Volant anytime, anywhere.

[At this time, I realized I was already getting tipsy and promptly handed over the keys to my SUV to Peter, and a selfie ensued - we were having a blast!]

Next course was skirt steak with a rather summery medley of chopped vegetables and corn (to me, it was so seasonal Long Island, delicious) - paired with 2012 Syrah Le Pousseur.  For me, this wine was a perfect example of what Randall was discussing earlier in the evening, about subtlety and that difference between Europe and California.  When I think of Syrah, the first thing that comes to my mind generally is Saint-Joseph - raspberry and dark fruit with a wildness and lots of black pepper.  Here’s a Syrah, I thought while tasting Le Pousseur, with plenty of personality but nothing too wild, and not much black pepper, at least not what we tend to perceive in its Northern Rhone counterpart.  Lovely, I thought.  Wonderful fruit and Peter and I decided it was distinctly California, quite separate from Rhone Syrah, but still very much a Syrah, just extremely approachable and probably the easiest wine to enjoy that evening, at least for me it was, because it wasn’t overpowering anything, the way some young examples of Syrah might.  It was just being itself, and that’s more than good enough for me.  Another successful pairing.

Finally, we ended with a dessert dish of grilled peaches, meringue, almond brittle, and bleu cheese.  The wine was the 2013 Vinferno (Grenache Blanc/Roussanne), a decadent, delicious, rich wine with concentrated orchard and tropical fruit notes, bold spice, and huge aroma and flavor, and a particularly satisfying texture.  The wine refused to allow the bold ginger and funky cheese flavors from the dish to outdo it, ultimately leaving my nose and palate in a sort of wine ecstasy - just the way I like it, to end an evening of excellent wines and good pairings.

And we had so much fun.  I look forward to tasting more Bonny Doon wines and meeting Randall Grahm again.

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