Wine reviews, pairings, events, and getaways
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.
Awhile back I did a close up look at Tannat in my feature Let’s Talk (and Taste) Tannat. Here, I featured the Californian Tannat trail-blazer Yannick Rousseau of Y. Rousseau, who makes two single-varietal Tannats (his Russian River expression, and the more exclusive, single-vineyard expression entitled The Musketeer), as well as a rosé of Tannat. I also called out the Oregon pioneer Troon Vineyard who makes both a single-varietal Tannat as well as a Tannat-Malbec blend.
The truth is, however, that Tannat is somewhat the “heritage grape” of Uruguay — a region I’ve only recently began to explore through various media tasting events. After reading my take on Tannat, I was quickly put into contact with Artesana, a boutique estate winery located in the Canelones region of Uruguay. They, too, are deserving of a noteworthy title, as the creative women who run the winery are (as far as we know) the only in the world to create a unique “TMZ” blend — Tannat blended with Merlot and Zinfandel (the latter varietal being the unexpected ingredient). And so it is high time we take a look at the single-varietal expression of Tannat, straight out of the country the grape now calls home.
Sourced from the rugged terroir of the Vaca Mountain foothills, the consistency of quality fruit the Shafer family harvests year after year is, indeed, persistent, continuing, nonstop, never-ending, interminable, unceasing, endless — relentless. But, as proprietor Doug Shafer says, the “soul” of this wine comes from the winery’s long time winemaker, Elias Fernandez, whose tireless attention to detail seems to create a new level of quality with each vintage. “And so Relentless emerged as a testament to both a person and a place.”
Founder John Shafer wasn’t always a wine country cowboy. At 50 years old, Shafer left his business shoes and commuter trains behind in Chicago, trading them in for a pair of boots and a TD-9 tractor. Without a green thumb to speak of, he picked up his family and purchased his first piece of Napa Valley property. On that property were old sheds and ancient farming equipment — among them an International Harvester tractor from the 1950s. One of his first challenges was learning how to drive the rickety old beast — but he loved every moment of it.
The TD-9 proprietary red blend is made each year with that same spirit — making the best of what you have and enjoying the process. “Any time you try something new, you take a gamble,” says winery president and John’s son Doug Shafer. “But the story of TD-9 is all about risk-taking and a sense of adventure – it was there at our founding and it’s part of our DNA today.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — rosés are hard for me. Oftentimes, the popular rosés found in grocery stores tend to appeal to the mass market — cloyingly fruit forward to the point of a high perceived sweetness. But the Greek grapes used for this rosé were pretty much made for rosé. Added bonus? Seasoned winemaker Robert Rex is the master mind behind this wine. So while the wine may present a much “too” pink color and an extremely fragrant nose, rest-assured that this is a dry wine that even picky pink drinkers like myself can enjoy. (Double extra bonus points: California residents can find this bottle of Georgos Wines at your local Whole Foods.)