I first met Randall Grahm at one of the annual Rhone Rangers events in San Francisco, after which he was kind enough to invite me to his Davenport tasting room and take me through a full line up of his — then — current releases. I was enthralled, not just with Randall’s obvious passion for wine, but his innate ability to teach about wine and pass his passion forward. That first one-on-one meeting will always be a special memory for me.
The thing about Bonny Doon Vineyard wines is that there’s, well, a lot of them — reds, whites, pinks, even oranges and more obscure colors — the common thread being Rhone varietals and Rhone-style blends. As a young winemaker, Grahm sought to recreate the great wines of France here in his native California home, but soon realized that one cannot make French wine if one is not, in fact, in France. So now the very core of his Rhone-style wines is the idea of vins de terroir — wine that speaks of its specific place and time. He’s constantly experimenting with new-to-California wine grape varieties to see if and where they’ll thrive — and if he finds a vine’s sweet spot, rest-assured a wine will soon follow. He also plays with the idea of Rhone-style blends. This eclectic mix of Iberian grapes Tempranillo and Graciano along with the well-recognized Rhone grape Grenache Blanc was, for me, a new concept — and one I couldn’t leave behind in the tasting room.
About the Wine: The Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 “A Basque-ette Case” Red Blend is made from 47% Tempranillo, 37% Graciano, and 15% Grenache grapes sourced from two separate vineyards within California’s Central Coast AVA. The Tempranillo and Graciano were sourced from the John Smith Vineyard; the Grenache was sourced from Alta Loma Vineyard.
About the Bottle: From winemaker Randall Grahm: “I am so fortunate to have worked with Ralph Steadman, who provided us with this brilliant illustration from an earlier commission – he had called the original ‘A Basque on his Ass, on his Own.’ That’s pretty much that sentiment that I have personally felt in composing this blend of the significant Basque grape varieties.”
Flavor Profile: Open the bottle of Bonny Doon’s “A Basque-ette Case” and breathe in sensuous aromas of warm chocolate ganache and cherry compote. Can you picture yourself delighting in these decadent desserts under the romantic moonlit sky? Breathe in the dampness and darkness that comes only at midnight — that damp, dewy kind of soil that means dawn in coming.
On the pour, this red blend emits a gem-like red-violet color, settling into the glass with just a bit more purple giving it the purple-pink hue of a dark magenta. The wine is beautifully luminescent and immediate aromatic.
Initial aromas are bursting with plump, over-ripe black cherries, cranberry juice, a hint of perfume, and a solid line of acidity. Swirl and bring forward subtle hints of oak and a dried-flower, pot pourri-like perfume. Bring the nose slightly away from the glass and basque in the full glory of the floral aromas.
The palate is genuinely soft — in fact I think during the course of the night we used the word “soft” at least a dozen times when speaking about the wine. There are a polite amount of tannins that quite delicately — almost apologetically — dry out the outer surface of the tongue toward the finish. But, note, there’s a good use of acidity that heightens as well as adds to the freshness of those fruit aromas sensed on the nose, and brings with it just a bit of a sour sensation on the finish. Dominant flavors are of tart cherries, cranberries, damp oak wood, and a background of red raspberries.
I did not decant this wine nor did I give it time to “open up” before enjoying. And one does not necessarily have to. Personally, I think the joy in this style of wine is tasting how it progresses throughout the evening — before, during, and after a meal. I will note, however, that this wine does in fact evolve — the palate becomes smoother, rounder; the earth notes and fruit notes become one. So, if you want to jump straight to that conclusion, be sure to decant the wine for at least 30 minutes.
Food Pairing: I paired the Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 “A Basque-ette Case” Red Blend with a crispy skin duck breast on top of my French-fusion rice pilaf. What I really liked about this pairing was the rice pilaf. With all its earthy aromatics, underground vegetables, and pillowy texture, it completely paralleled the “softness” of the wine I was speaking about earlier. Conversely, those same elements actually worked to highlight the freshness of the fruit flavors in the wine, which was perfect because then those flavors, in turn, cut through the rich meat of the duck.
Perfect pairing? I loved it. But I also just really love this wine. So I will be buying it again and pairing it with, I’m sure, many other things as well.
More Info: I purchased the Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 “A Basque-ette Case” Red Blend at the Bonny Doon tasing room in Davenport, California (outside of Santa Cruz, along Highway 1). For more information about Bonny Doon Vineyard, their wines, and to purchase wine directly, please visit the Bonny Doon website.
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