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Category Archives: California wine

Wine of the week: Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2014

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Vin Gris de CigareBonny Doon’s Randall Grahm is perhaps the most subversive person in the wine business, and one sip of his rose, the Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, shows why. On the one hand, it has all of the necessary qualities for a terrific pink wine — freshness, nary a hint of residual sugar, and a certain stoniness that many of the great French roses from Provence have.

On the other hand, the Vin Gris de Cigare ($15, sample, 13%) also tastes like it will age for at least a couple of years. What cranberry fruit there is is hidden beneath the other components, and the fruit should slowly show itself over time. This is not supposed to happen with rose, which is usually made to last for just one vintage (and is perfectly fine when it does). That Grahm makes a rose that will age, and for only $15, is just another example of how sneaky he is, and how his wines almost never do what the wine business says wine should do.

Hence it’s no surprise that I enjoy them so much. Highly recommended; serve the Vin Gris de Cigare chilled, either on its own or with any summer food, be it salad or grilled fish, chicken, or beef. I drank it with socca, the chickpea flour pancake from southern France on a hot Dallas Saturday afternoon. If I wasn’t magically transported somewhere other than my air conditioned living room, the combination reminded me why pairings can work as long as we aren’t slaves to them.

Finally, a note about Grahm’s newest — and perhaps most subversive — project. He is crowdfunding a vineyard to create 10,000 new grape varieties, in the hope of finding a unique New World vinifera, something that didn’t come from Europe and so is better suited to our climate and soil. In this, Grahm figures he has a chance to explore New World terroir in a way no one ever has. That creating new grape varieties is incredibly difficult does not seem to daunt him in the least.

The project is about 15 percent of the way to its $350,000 goal — you can contribute here, and there are some impressive premiums. And, given my experience with crowdfunding, Grahm will have more fun than he can imagine. Not that I know anything about waking up at 2 a.m. to check the funding percentage.

Wine of the week: Hess Sauvignon Blanc Select 2014

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hess sauvignon blancThe knock against Big Wine is that it can’t make terroir-driven wines, because the formula that has given us better quality at lower prices works against that style. But that’s not necessarily true, and we have the Hess sauvignon blanc to prove the point.

Hess is among the 30 biggest producers in the U.S. and it sells six brands besides its namesake. So why is the Hess sauvignon blanc ($11, sample, 13.5%) a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame (since it’s probably $9.99 in many places)? Because not everyone in Big Wine uses the same formula, or any formula at all.

The Hess sauvignon blanc is a tremendous value, given that most sauvignon blanc at this price tastes like it came off an assembly line — a requisite amount of grapefruit, a hint of something tropical, and not much of a finish. This wine is the just the opposite. It shouts of the grassy aroma and flavor that defines California sauvignon blanc, and those are followed by some lemon fruit and a stony finish. Plus, it’s fresh and crisp, two of the qualities that make sauvignon blanc so attractive.

Highly recommended — wine from a producer that cares about quality, its customers, and charging a fair price for its products. Drink this chilled on its own, or with grilled or roasted chicken.

Wine of the week: Clayhouse Adobe Red 2011

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 Clayhouse Adobe Red The Wine Curmudgeon spends an inordinate amount of time trying to find California labels to use for the wine of the week. Either they’re too pricey, $10 wines in $16 packaging, or too crummy, one-note wines with little more than focus group sweet fruit.

So when I find a California wine to use, like the Clayhouse Adobe Red ($12, purchased, 13.7%), you know it’s not a wine of the week just to fill space. Rather, it’s one of a too-rare example of what California — in this case, the Paso Robles region — can do with cheap wine when a producer focuses on wine and not hocus pocus.

This red blend, mostly zinfandel, has lots of sweet red fruit. But that’s not all it has, and the fruit is more than balanced by a surprising grip, some zinfandel brambliness that you almost never see anymore, and soft tannins on the finish. That a wine at this price and this style has tannins to complement the fruit shows how serious Clayhouse is about quality.

Highly recommended, and so far above the glut of grocery store wine that I must endure to do what I do that I could carve out a special place in the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame for it. Serve the Clayhouse Adobe Red as winter ends, but keep it around for summer barbecues.

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