Randall Grahm has always attracted a crowd of wine lovers because he makes very good wines and because his wit is outrageous. In the past few years, he has reined in his wit a bit, and, according to his own admission, his ego as well. He now tries to do more in the vineyard, he says, and less personal alchemy in the winery.
Of course, having a wit and an ego have certainly not hurt winemakers in the past, so his changes in humility and humor have nothing to do with the fact that — at least to my palate — Grahm’s wines keep getting better. While some winemakers try to make a statement by going for bolder notes, Grahm has learned to play the subtle notes of winemaking to perfection. A recently released white and a pink, as well as a verjus, bear witness to that.
The 2010 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc ($21), like most of Grahm’s wines, is made from southern Rhone grapes — 55 percent rousanne and 45 percent grenache blanc — which are grown biodynamically in Santa Cruz, Calif. The wine is elegant, but not delicate. It has the fruitiness of lightly juicy pears, but it is lean and savory in the finish with loads of prickly white pepper, ideal for such fare as plump crab cakes.
The 2011 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare ($16) is a rosé by any other name. It is about three-quarters grenache and the rest a variety of Rhone grapes. One sip whets the appetite for food. Although it has a light body, it is unusual in that it has its greatest impact of flavors and essences at the end of the taste. There are notes of orange peel and other citrus with a finish that is lightly lactic, like whey. It would make a great companion to shrimp ceviche and other ceviches that have been "cooked" with citrus juices.
The Bonny Doon Verjus ($10) is, of course, to cook with and not to drink. It is young, non-alcoholic grape juice that is fruitier than vinegar but not as sweet as regular grape juice (which usually comes from grapes that weren’t intended to make into wine but which, alas, often are). This verjus is actually a tad fruitier than I would prefer for cooking purposes, perhaps picked a bit later than most green-grape verjus, with a hint of dried tobacco leaf in the flavor. Perhaps I’ll just drink it over ice after all.