The opportunity to taste seventeen Bonny Doon wines from the outlandish Californian producer Randall Grahm was too much to resist. Glengarry Wines had bought the wines into New Zealand for sale exclusively (for the time being) at their chain of stores. The wines were launched at a free tasting party in conjunction with the Glengarry Underground Wine Letter - one of the best free wine parties in town with wine, food, music, sometimes dancing (if the crowd gets a-swinging), entertainment and prizes. I rang to ask if I might arrive early in order to make some notes and use the spittoons without being elbowed by the jostling crowd. "Come to our other tasting on the 20th" they said. "We'll be opening all the Bonny Doon wines rather than just a selection and it won't be so crowded".
This was too much of a good offer to refuse and I would be a fool not to accept. I didn't want to be a fool so I accepted.
I was excited about the prospect of American wines in New Zealand and this range in particular for I remembered Bonny Doon from several years ago - an empty bottle of 'Le Gaucher' is rattling around the back shed somewhere. But the wines disappeared from the retailers' shelves, as did many of the others Yankies that once were here, the exchange rate hindering ongoing supply. As the New Zealand dollar kept plummeting, the prices of inward goods kept escalating out of proportion and some of the wines that remained on sale simply did not offer value for money, especially in 2001 when the ratio was at it widest. I tasted a rather boring, bland and short Robert Mondavi Coastal Zinfandel 1998 which, at NZ$46 a bottle, did not offer anything near like a New Zealand, Australian wine or Rhone wine of that price.
But 'tis now 2003 and the exchange rate has vastly improved in our favour. And hence the prices being advertised for the current release Bonny Doon wines seem extremely realistic to me and in most cases the 'special' prices are quite competitive with local wines and other imports.
You definitely get more than wine when you buy Bonny Doon - you get entertainment via the loud, entertaining and humorous labels as well. The bottles with their colourful labels looked splendid as they stood in line along the edge of the table, waiting for our nods of approval. What especially caught my eye was the colourful screwcaps on the Big House duo, absolute works of art to match the cartoonish labels. In fact the artwork of the Ca' del Solo range seemed to tell a little story. I haven't actually worked it out yet, though. You have to see it when you or otherwise check the labels out on the Boony Doon website.
The tasting was done in two flights - first the whites and then the reds.
Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Big House White 2002
It's got a screwcap - Yay!!!!! But true to most screwcapped wines, this was closed on the nose at first and took a while to open up. I found the scents rather confusing, smelling like an unoaked chardonnay before other factors came into play first. Whiffs of stonefruit, riesling-like citrus, bees wax and tropical fruits. There's plenty of acidity in this fruity wine that opens up well with dry, nutty, peachy and tropical fruits and a dollop of glycerol on the punchy finish. Mmmm, I could probably drink this.
It's a multi-grape concoction of 43% Riesling, 36% Sauvignon Blanc, 11% Viognier, 5% Pinot Gris, 2% Malvasia, 2% Marsanne, 1% Scheubre, all Californian grown. No wonder I couldn't pick the variety on the nose!
You know I'd be happy to cellar this wine as it is complexly interesting now and I think it could become more so with some age. It was a good start to the tasting, for sure.
13% alc. $24.95/$18.95 special.
Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Pinot Grigio 2000 - Monterey California.
A very ripe, full-bodied, slightly oxidised wine with a crisp fry finish and lingering stonefruits. Not like a NZ PG at all, this seemed more like a fuller Italiano style to me. I could imagine drinking this with a antipasto platter as it is the kind of all that would go with many different food flavours.
87% Pinot Gris, 9% Viognier, 4% Sauvignon Blanc.
13% alc. $34.95/$28.95
Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Malvasia Bianca 2002 - Monterey California.
Great aromatics on the nose with its lemon and musky scents and tastes a little like a Muscat too. Full-bodied, fresh, lively, a little cheesy, slightly viscous, sweetish. Good acidity and weight. I'd like to try this as an alternative to Riesling and match to seafood. Made from 97% Malvasia Bianca and 3% Muscat. 12.5%
12.5% alc. $29.95/$23.95.
Bonny Doon Viognier 2000 (Pinocchio nose label) - California
Lovely aromatics with hints of melon and some faintly malolactic buttery notes, this is very dry, very subtle and very delicate with nuts and fresh apricot flavours and lots of acidity. It builds up slowly but surely to an explosive powerful finish that lingers until the next wine is consumed. More NZ in style than French and could not be compared at all to a Condrieu, but still my pick for White Wine of the Night. It would make an absolutely delightful aperitif.
13% alc. $39.95/$30.95.
Bonny Doon Critique's of Pure Riesling 2000 - Washington and California
A blend of mainly Washington fruit with some California thrown in, this is one wine I was most looking forward to tasting - my first American Riesling. But it was not at all what I expected.
The first thought that came to mind when I sniffed the wine was melon jam but it is actually quite floral with beeswax and baby-oil aromas too. It's a big, weighty wine, nutty, perhaps just a little oxidised. Very ripe fruit gives peachy rather than citrus flavours though there is some apple that brings some acidic dryness to the finish. Quite a complex wine, there's a lot going on in here but it is such a different style of Riesling to what I am used to, I am sure I would not have picked this as the Riesling grape variety in a blind tasting. I find out later that it had spent some time in oak with fermentation started in stainless steel and completed in oak barrels. Whatever, this wine did not represent good value to me.
12% alc. $46.95/$42.95
Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling 2001 - California, Washington, Germany
A rather confusing name, for as well as Californian and Washington fruit, there's a splash of Mosel (Germany) too. It's a more traditional style of Riesling in that it actually tastes like Riesling to me, it's aromatic and spicy, dry and fruity, well flavoured with apple and citrus and there's a nice seam of almost-ripe apricot coming through. It's quite lean but more of a style that we in NZ are used to. I like the spicy finish and it lingers well. At the price it is worth buying just to taste American Riesling and make your own opinion.
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 'Pink Wine' 2002
For those who like pink wines just a little off dry but not overly sweet, this will be an attractive proposition. I love the pretty light rose colour and the scent of freshly crushed strawberry and red berry fruits, the ever so slightly viscous texture, the peppery spice and the lingering citrus. A well-balanced wine, it seems sweet to start with but I'm sure that is just the deliciously ripe fruit for it finishes dry.
Another multi-grape concoction with 17% Marsanne, 25% grenache, 23% Syrah, 9% Dolcetto, 4% Nebbiolo, 3% Cinsault and more unnamed varieties. Recommended at the special price. I like it.
Bonny Doon "The Heart has its Rieslings" 2002
Made from Washington fruit, this is a low alcohol style. It tastes like a 'late harvest' to me in flavour - a ripe style but without botrytis. Very pale, it looks like water, but it is incredibly perfumed with musky florals, citrus fruit, zing and spice. It's lightly viscous with a sugared grapefruit flavour and some interesting savoury 'dill pickle' notes on the finish. Lovely fruit weight in this wine, one to drink all night for it only has 8.5% alcohol, and it is not overly sweet at all (9 grams residual sugar), perhaps just lacking a bit in acidity which makes it seem sweeter than it really is.
8.5% alc. $39.95/$34.95
Bonny Doon Muscat Vin de Glaciere 2000
Dominated by VA, sulphur or something equally high-toned and irritating to the nose, a second bottle was opened. The same aromas were there so I looked at the notes. "Acacia Wood" I read. Mmmm. Weird. Don't know if I like this strong scent and flavour. It's a thick viscous wine with a terrific syrupy texture and ripe pear and stonefruit flavours, finishing dry, nutty and grapey but the acacia wood keeps reminding you it is there. Made from 100% Muscat. Wine for the adventurous.
Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Big House Red 2001
Medium bodied ruby garnet colour with little oak apparent on the aromatic fruity nose, this is a light peppery style, good fruit, tannins and structure and a clean long finish. Straight up and down, no surprises, this has to be good value. It's an interesting blend of varieties that includes 40% Syrah, 29% Cabernet Franc, 18% Carignan, 11% Mourvedre, 8% Barbera, 4% Nebbiolo and others. Highly recommended. Screwcap closure too.
Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Sangiovese 2000
Translucent ruby coloured fruity, peppery wine with hints of chocolate, prune and cherry. It's a lifted, aromatic wine, quite dry and savoury with a firm tannin structure, a spicy character on the finish and a lingering rusticity. Interesting, attractive, opens up well. No oak apparent.
78% Sangiovese with Syrah, Charbono and Barbera adding to the blend.
Bonny Doon Ca' del Solo Barbera 2000
A softer fruiter wine with grapey aromas, earthy, savoury, nutty and spicy with a ginger ale fruitcake character and smoky, freshly pressed leathery grape skin flavours on the finish. Would make a refreshing summer drink if every so slightly chilled but probably too expensive to treat the wine this way. An interesting wine for sure.
Bonny Doon Californian Syrah 2001
Great medium rich red colour with crimson hues. A big, smoky, bushfire wine with a smoky, extracted, minty nose. Lots of tannins in this dry, savoury, peppery, meaty wine that has a streak of acidity and very good length of flavour where cherry, peppery flavours emerge. Not what I would have thought of from California - but then I haven't really tasted California Syrah before. Definitely needs food.
Domaine de Blagueurs Syrah 2000 - EuroDoon range
Vin de Pays D'Oc, France
Smell sweetish and minty, musky, farmyard. It's savoury, dry, meaty, and tannic and finishes with a sour bretty flavour. A little too dirty and grubby for me. Bottled in France for Bonny Doon.
13% alc. $25.95/22.95
Bonny Doon Cardinal Zin 2001
Good colour. Cherry fruitcake and splintery American oak nose. It seems lighter than it looks like it will be when you take that first sip but there is solid red fruits, sound tannins and balanced oak that builds the wine up to a powerful finish. It's spicy and musky with good acidity and the flavours linger well. I like it! Buy this wine for the Ralph Steadman label alone, if it doesn't offend you - it has actually been banned in some states of the US. made from 100% Zinfandel.
Midiran 'Heart of Darkness' 2000 - EuroDoon range
App. Midiran Controlee, France
Savoury aromas. Rustic and savoury in flavour with sour cherries, tar and blue meat, this has good structure and depth and the tasty savoury flavours unfold well in the mouth. The better of Bonny Doon's two French wines and the only one I would recommend.
Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volante Red Wine 2000
Congratulations to Glengarry for taking the punt on these wines and bringing them into the country. Now I suggest people here in New Zealand go and buy a few bottles and prepare for your July 4 parties - Hamburgers and Zin for example, or just a couple of Big House - a white and a red will set you swinging to a bit of American rock and roll.
But if you're coming to my place, be sure to bring the Le Cigare Volant.
A medium to deep rich red that smells of musk, violets, fruitcake and earth - the aromas could be smelt for ages but the sweet vanillin oak on the nose leads well into the palate where there is a lovely balance of fruit, oak and tannins. It's dark and leathery with tar, cherries, blueberries and a hint of cocoa powder. Harmonious, succulent, moreish and easily the best wine in the Bonny Doon range tasted tonight. Delicious!
This wine comes in 6 pack boxes fashioned to look like a cigar box.
The prices listed above are in New Zealand dollars. The first price is the full retail and the second price is Glengarry's 'special' price.