Last May, an extraordinary thing happened: Randall Grahm, the iconic winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyard, came for dinner. With him arrived a caravan of 14 wines – wines that echoed through the last 25 years of his astonishing journey as a winemaker.
Seven months later, I still remember every little detail of that dinner, the joy of sipping so many outstanding wines, and the privilege of having Randall Grahm himself reflect on each wine as the dinner and the evening unfolded. I shall never forget it.
So it only felt right to end this year with Le Cigare Volant (or “Flying Cigar”*), the flagship wine of Bonny Doon Vineyard, and Randall Grahm’s lifelong homage to the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For the better part of three decades, Grahm has devoted himself to making vins de terroir. But like any true artist, he never seems to give himself enough credit for all that he has accomplished – not only with Cigare, but with all the wines that over the years he has so ardently hewn.
“Cigare, resolutely remains a ‘wine of effort,’ not expressive of any particular terroir, but an expression of my desire to find a wine that continues to hold an aesthetic fascination, and can continue to grow in complexity and depth. It has been my ‘controlled folly,’ in the parlance of Castaneda. I am so incredibly privileged to have been able to dream idle Cigare dreams, and to work to produce a wine that has sincerely delighted me, and the occasional Other.”
So wrote Grahm, in his blog post, Further Ruminations on Cigare: The Doon and Dirty.
I cannot help but feel incredibly privileged to be one of those “Others.” One thing is certain, the Cigares Volants are, in every way, wines of great complexity and depth… as is the man who dreamed them up.
Now it’s my turn to dream up a recipe that pairs with the two Cigares Volants I chose to serve for my end-of-the-year celebratory dinner – the 2006 and 2003 vintages. I wanted a recipe that would complement all that these two exceptional wines have to offer. I also wanted it to be a little surprising. I chose to make a linguini with roasted beets, fresh tarragon and caraway. The pairing turned out to be wonderful. Read on for my tasting notes.
*If you don’t know the tale of the flying saucer in the shape of a cigar that flew onto the label of the now-famed wine, it’s worth reading about it. The Wine Cellar Blog has a post on the “wacky” story: Winecology: Bonny Doon – Le Cigare Volant 2001. Read to the end for the tasting notes. (Incidentally, the Cigare 2001 is still available for purchase to Bonny Doon Vineyard’s club members).
Decant, and savor… very, very slowly.
Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant 2006
Producer: Bonny Doon Vineyard
Cellaring: 10+ years from release (Dec. 2009)
Grapes: 44% Syrah, 44% Grenache, 11% Cinsault, 1% Mourvèdre
At first glance, this Cigare Volant is inky-dark and brooding. It has incredible concentration of color, right to the rim, and that concentration is intensified when you dip your nose into the glass. Powerful dark fruit, spice and gamey aromas fill your nostrils and seem to rise into the crevices of your brain. It takes several sniffs (at least to my still-in-training nose) to capture the panoply of aromas that emanate from the glass.
My first thought was, this is going to be an intense ride. Dark cherry, cassis, black pepper, clove permeate the taste buds and then reveal hints of musty, gamey, toasty-oak notes and bitter tea leaves. No need to rush to take a second sip. I was happy to close my eyes and let the flavors linger, able to taste every bit of the wine for what seemed to be an eternity. The Cigare 2006 is incredibly complex, full, rich, deep and yes, brooding. My husband Marc, joining me for the tasting, blurted out “This has to be the Tom Waits of wines!” My taste buds happily acquiesced.
Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant 2003
Producer: Bonny Doon Vineyard
Cellaring: 10 years
Grapes: 35% Mourvèdre, 32% Syrah, 26% Grenache, 7% Cinsault
With its deep ruby hues, the Cigare 03 looks just as intense as the 06. The nose is filled with black fruits and herbal aromas that mingle in unison. All of it such a pleasing experience that it makes you want to swirl and sniff again and again. Even on the nose, this wine feels round and fully realized.
On the palate, the dark fruit flavors of cassis, blackberry, dark cherry and fig are baked and almost jammy. The herbal notes, so prevalent on the nose, now reveal themselves fully (mint and anise), coming at just the right time and the right intensity to underscore the baked fruit flavors. There’s a little spice and earth too and even a whiff of bitter dark chocolate.
Every sip of the 03 is a discovery. Every pause a revelation for the taste buds. The finish is interminably long, just as the 06’s, with the full range of flavors and nuance still expanding in the mouth long after you’ve swallowed the wine.
As for the linguini with roasted beets, the julienned beets are sautéed with caraway seeds until caramelized. Their flavors and natural sweetness are then brought to the fore with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar that quickly evaporates, glazing the beets. At the very last moment you throw in fresh tarragon to bring a brightness to the dish and a subtle contrast to the earthiness of the beets.
That’s precisely what worked so well with both wines. Both the 06 and 03 Cigares harmonized with the tarragon and caraway, although because of its herbal notes, the 03 did so a bit more than the 06. The roasted beets toned down the bitter tea-leaf notes in the 06 while highlighting the baked fruits in the 03. But the concentrated flavors of both wines were magnificent with the caramelized beets.
Although you’d think that such deep, rich, complex wines might overwhelm the pasta, the contrary proved true. Because these two wines are so well balanced, they paired beautifully with the savory, slightly sweet, intensely flavored dish.
Pouring just one of these wines with the roasted beet linguini would have been a great treat, but pouring both made the experience memorable. Going back and forth between the two wines in between forkfuls reminded me that savoring every moment of this experience is extraordinarily important.
Randall Grahm, like so many other passionate winemakers, lives to express his relentlessly creative spirit through his wines. It is for us to savor it – fully.