Monday, 25 October 2010

Terroir. The French word that links wine inextricably to place. California?

Terroir. I'm glad there's no translation for the French word that links wine inextricably to place. Because it means one thing and one thing alone. 

A bit like dental records. Whenever you hear that phrase on the radio or television it calls out to your ears because it has one unchallenged, and only one. meaning: that the examination of dental records was the only method by which to confirm the identity of a body.

The French can take tons of grapes from a single grape variety, or a combination of grapes, and vinify them in myriad ways but the unique element that gives the resulting wine its very identity is terroir - everything affecting the land on which they are grown.

But take those same grapes and transplant them to the so-called New World and do they achieve a sense of place? 

In California, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard believes so, with what he terms vins de terroir.

The Santa Cruz pioneer has long used his renowned skills as a négociant to bring together the produce of what he considered the most expressive vineyards to create the likes of Le Cigare Volant. 

The original Rhône Ranger Randall Grahm, with his
homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Le Cigare Volant
For the 2006 vintage Randall chose Syrah from the Chequera Vineyard on the Central Coast for its fragrance, in addition to the usual Santa Maria Valley Syrah and Bonny Doon's own Biodynamic Estate Grenache, plus Cinsault and a dash of Mourvedre from 100-year-old Contra Costa vineyards. Any resemblance to Châteauneuf-du-Pape is deliberate.  

In typical pioneeering style Randall actually lists the breakdown of grape varieties on the label: 43.6% Syrah, 43.5% Grenache, 11.7% Cinsault - even 1.1% Mourvedre and 0.1% Carignan.

The revelations continue with a full disclosure of ingredients on the website, and befitting for a champion of change, a screwcap on the bottle. 

It's built for aging and will still be drinking well in 2012. For now, it's all rich red Grenache fruit and smoky Syrah spices: fresh pomegranate, red cherry, sharp raspberries and strawberries with typical Grenache softness on the palate plus dried herbs, black pepper and anise with chewy tannins and 13.5% alcohol for a long finish. Worth decanting.

As is so often the case, it has a white sister: Le Cigare Blanc. White wines are often pale shadows of their big red brothers; think Rioja as well as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but Randall Grahm applied the same exacting standards to the 2007 Le Cigare Blanc as to Le Cigare Volant. 

A single vineyard cru, it uses only Rousanne and Grenache Blanc from the Biodynamics Beeswax Vineyard of Arroyo Seco. It's lively on the nose with honey and fresh lavender scents. Fine gold in colour with a hint of green on the sticky 14.5% ABV rim, the weight of alcohol makes it smoothly silken in the mouth, the Rousanne giving a Calvados like quality to its intense pear finish.  Very expressive now but it may retreat for a year or two before maturing fully.

Randall Grahm may have categorised his earlier creations as 'wines of effort' - intellectual challenges to the winemaking norms - but Le Cigare Volant and Le Cigare Blanc are examples of his resolve to allow nature to take the upper hand over nurture in expressions of terroir that belie his earliest obsession with the Great American Pinot Noir and instead betray his determination to pay homage to the great wines of the Rhône. 

With thanks to Fields Morris & Verdin for helping me track down Boony Doon Vineyards' wines in the UK and to Berry Bros & Rudd.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I'm anxious to track these wines down. Love the blog.


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