Le Cigare Blanc 2015 – a pairing, a look back and a look forward

Le Cigare Blanc & Turmeric-mojo shrimp with roasted carrots and poblano

This wasn’t meant to be a post. It was supposed to be a quick dinner and a bottle of wine. We didn’t even really plan the pairing, we just knew it would be a white wine.

I’ve been thinking about Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm quite a bit lately. I had just seen his tweet about writing his last DEWN club letter and being a bit emotional. So, I was a bit nostalgic when Michael brought up the 2015 Le Cigare Blanc.

Randall sold Bonny Doon back in January of 2020 to WarRoom Ventures. So the tasting room is gone…the beautiful one across from Bonny Doon beach in Davenport California. All of those amazing wines, some made in carboys, the festive and clever labels and art… The club shipment, going out next month, would be the last.

The new owners will continue with just 4 wines, the most popular of course. the flagship red Rhône blend Le Cigare Volant; Le Cigare Blanc (the later version based on Vermentino); Vin Gris de Cigare (a Rhône varietal rosé); and a 100% Picpoul. They will just make a lot more of each of these wines.

It feels like the end of an era. Randall, the original Rhône Ranger, has been making beautiful, quirky wines with Bonny Doon since he founded it in 1983. It’s the playful while scientific exploration that I will miss most. Interesting varieties, made in interesting ways. I discovered it all too late in my wine exploration and was not able to sample nearly enough of these wines.

But let’s get to the…

Le Cigare Blanc 2015

Le Cigare Volant Blanc 2015 from Bonny Doon
Le Cigare Blanc 2015 from Bonny Doon

This wine is 55% Grenache Blanc, 39% Roussanne and 9% Picpoul. The grapes hail from the Beeswax Vineyard on the Central Coast, in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County.

This wine was a full yellow/gold color and when first opening the bottle and pouring, I got notes of Petrol, or lanolin. It came off a little like a Semillon, quite honestly. As it opened, I got notes of Asian Pear, Lime Pith and citrus fruit. It was dry, full and had a long finish.

While I enjoyed the wine, I felt it was missing something. I sincerely feel that we opened it in a closed phase. The tropical notes from original tasting notes I read, had all disappeared and that Roussanne had yet to blossom into the wonderousness that it will eventually become. So… more sadness. It’s the only bottle I had. I will not have the opportunity to taste this again when it has matured a bit, and I missed the chance to taste it when it was younger. That’s the thing, wines change…the world changes. So, I will just sit and, like Randall writing his newsletter, be a little emotional about the fact that this bottle is now gone.

Turmeric-mojo Shrimp with roasted carrots and poblano
Turmeric-mojo Shrimp with roasted carrots and poblano from Sun Basket to pair with the Le Cigar Blanc 2015

Pairing with Tumeric shrimp & poblanos

I had already started our dinner from Sun Basket, which was Turmeric-mojo shrimp with roasted carrots and poblano. I was a bit skeptical of this dish as I prepared it, but it came together and was really good!

How was the pairing? It was fine. The food was good, the wine was good. Sometimes that has to be enough. I have a feeling I will be pretty stingy about pulling out bottles of Bonny Doon from the cellar to drink from now on. It’s okay, I will sit patiently and wait, while Randall works away at Popelouchum, his new (well new as in started in 2011) project in San Juan Bautista, building a vineyard from scratch. At Popelouchum he is propagating new vines and putting together a New World Grand Cru. I know it will be worth the wait.

More on Bonny Doon

We’ve written about Randall and Bonny Doon before. Here’s a list of some of our other pieces you might want to peruse.

Sources & resources

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Robin Renken CSW (photo credit RuBen Permel)

Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.

When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.

A tale of two syrahs

2013 Descendants Liegeois Dupont Red Mountain Syrah from Hedges Family Estate and Bonny Doon 2013 Le Pousseur syrah, mostly from Bien Nacido with bbq, peas and roasted herbed potatoes

It’s no secret that I am a syrah lover. I love it’s wild side, it’s unpredictablility. Winemakers find it to be a malleable grape, one that can take off on tangents. Soil, climate and winemaking technique can affect this grape, making syrah from different regions dramatically different in the glass.

I listened to winemakers across the Santa Barbara region talk about their Syrah’s a few years ago. The difference in climate there can be a bit more dramatic than in other regions their size. The temperature increases by a degree each mile inland you go, making syrah grown in the Santa Rita Hills climatically different than that grown in Ballard Canyon or even further into Happy Canyon. We tasted these wines as they spoke with us about them and the differences were interesting to note.

Since then we have traveled further in California falling in love with the Rhônes at Tablas Creek, and discovering one of our favorite Rhône Rangers, Randall Grahm. We ventured further north into Washington and tasted syrah’s from Yakima Valley, including Red Mountain, which, while primarily known for Cabernet Sauvignon is turning out to be an exceptional place to grow syrah.

2013 Descendants Liegeois Dupont Red Mountain Syrah from Hedges Family Estate.

On a chili evening a while back, we pulled out a bottle of Syrah . This was the 2013 Descendants Liegeois Dupont Red Mountain Syrah from Hedges Family Estate.

2013 Descendants Liegeois Dupont Red Mountain Syrah

We had picked this bottle up when we visited Red Mountain this last year and spoke with Sarah Hedges Goedhart.

I posted about this wine on Instagram that evening…

The geeky bits…

These grapes are from their Les Grosses Vineyard on Red Mountain. Destemmed, partial crush, stainless steel fermenters…pressed to barrel, malo-lactic fermentation, racked off lees. Barrel aged 11 month in 40% new American and French Oak.

14.5% abv $29.00 srp

My notes

It opens with great Syrah funk that I adore! Earth smoke barnyard leather cocoa….my nose was in heaven! The fruit on the palate is blueberries, blackberries and figs, with dark cherries and chocolate and then a bit of lovely baking spice on the end.

Intense without being overpowering, we sipped this for a while (working on videos) before pairing (you’ll have to watch for the pairings)

Crushedgrapechron on Instagram January 15, 2020

At the time I promised to share the pairings. Well, as we started with the pairings, Michael got up, he came back with a bottle of 2013 Le Pousseur Syrah from Bonny Doon. There is a little sadness as I write this. I went to the website to check some of the production notes on this wine…they are gone. Bonny Doon, a legendary California winery helmed by Randall Grahm was sold to Lapis Luna Wines on January 1st. Randall will still be involved, but he will be able to spend more time focusing on his Popelouchum project in San Juan Bautista. (You should read about that, because it’s really fascinating)

None the less…on to the wine.

2013 Le Pousseur Syrah from Bonny Doon

2013 Le Pousseur Syrah from Bonny Doon

Here’s a snipet I found on the web about this wine

If the ’12 Pousseur bore an uncanny resemblance to Crozes Hermitage, our ’13 Syrah definitely shades slightly in the direction of a St. Joseph. With a (gulp) substantial (63%) percentage of Bien Nacido Syrah in the mix, we certainly recognize the contribution of the mostly coolish (global climate change adjusted) Santa Maria climate to the natural acidity and freshness of this wine, as well as to the correctness of varietal expression. Wild plums, blackberries, Griotte cherries and licorice (of course). The tannins are soft and supple, but the wine has so much persistence, there is every indication that it will greatly benefit from cellaring. But for now, the Pousseur will enormously benefit from decantation and the investment in large balloon Burgundy glasses. Excuse me, a lamb chop with a bit of a minty chimichurri is calling my name.

Winemaker notes from (from Randall Grahm) Wine.com

Let it be known that I am indeed a sucker for Bien Nacido. I have waxed poetic before about wines from this vineyard. Recently, I listened to a wonderful interview (from a while back) with Bob Lindquist about the planting of Syrah in this vineyard. (I highly recommend diving into the “I’ll drink to that” podcasts with Levi Dalton). The Bien Nacido Vineyard imparts something to a wine, the nose…I can put my nose in a glass and if it is from Bien Nacido I can tell. So..to begin I knew I was in love with this wine.

Pairings

  • 2013 Descendants Liegeois Dupont Red Mountain Syrah from Hedges Family Estate with gouda, bleu cheese, prosciutto and seaweed snacks
  • 2013 Descendants Liegeois Dupont Red Mountain Syrah from Hedges Family Estate and Bonny Doon 2013 Le Pousseur syrah, mostly from Bien Nacido with bbq, peas and roasted herbed potatoes

We paired these wines with bleu cheese, gouda, proscuitto and some dried seaweed snacks. Then we did a simple dinner of peas, potatoes in herbs de provençe and bbq beef. Why peas and seaweed? The umami in these pulls up the umami in the wine.

Comparing the two…

So the Le Pousseur gave me barn, wet hay, leather and smoke on the nose, followed by Eucalyptus and mint. Red and black fruits and barbeque spices. This wine as compared to the Red Mountain was more red fruit, less smoky. It was brighter and a little less brooding.

Both wines were delicious, but the differences were noticeable. While the both had barnyard, earth, smoke and leather, there were nuances between the two even in those notes. The Hedges gave me darker fruit; blackberries, blueberries, dried fig, dark cherries while the Bonny Doon was red and black currents, brighter fruit. The Hedges finished with notes of chocolate and baking spice, while the Bonny Doon pulled in notes of eucalyptus and mint and finished with bbq spices.

It’s something I love about syrah, the nuances. These were great wines that both checked in at under $30 a bottle. The Bonny Doon runs between $20 and $27, depending on where you pick it up. I recommend getting your hands on both of these bottles if you can. Try a side by side, like we did and share with us your thoughts!

Want more on Syrah?

Well we can help you out with that. Here are just a few of the other pieces we have done on this grape!

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A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

Malvasia Bianca…does it sound exotic? A little Italian right? This is not a wine you come across very often, but, it is gaining ground, at least with a couple of my favorite winemakers.

I first had Malvasia Bianca at a winemaker dinner. Actually the very first Larner winemaker dinner, held at Ballard Inn with Larner wines and delicious food by Chef Budi Kazali. (read about it here) It was served with the dessert course.

Michael Larner grows mostly Rhône varieties on his Ballard Canyon Vineyard. The Malvasia is his exception, a nod to the time spent growing up in Rome while his father was filming there. Obviously, by the name, this is an Italian variety, but lets dig a little deeper.

Malvasia Bianca

Malvasia does not make the list of the top 15 grapes in Italy. It is thought to come from Greece, but became very popular with the Venetian Merchants. It was so popular it became synonymous with Venetian wines, with Venetian wine merchants naming their stores Malavasie. Malvasia Bianca is the sub-variety that is white. It is often likened to Muscat with it’s sweet nose.

In Italy you find it in Lazio (the area around Rome), among other places, where it is blended with Trebbiano into the famous Est! Est!! Est!!! (which has it’s own fabulous story which you can read here as told by the Bubbly Professor)

Map of Italy
Map of Italy

California’s Central Coast is now home to a considerable amount of Malvasia and I happened to have 2 bottles in my cellar. One from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon and another from Bonny Doon Vineyards with grapes from Monterey. Strangely enough, both wines are from winemakers known for Rhône varieties and this is not a Rhône. So when you have 2 bottles of Malvasia, why not do a comparative tasting?

Larner 2017 Malvasia Bianca

Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon
Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon

This wine is from Larner Vineyard in the southern part of Ballard Canyon. It was destemmed, crushed and got a 24 hour cold soak before it was pressed.

Fruit was destemmed and crushed for a 24-hour cold soak on the skins before pressing. Fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete egg around 62 degrees for 4 weeks. The wine spent 2 months of ageing sur lees in Stainless steel and concrete, before bottling, followed by a minimum of 4 months in bottle before release.

http://www.larnerwine.com

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca
Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

These grapes hail from Monterey County from the Loma del Rio Vineyard. Bonny Doon only made 182 cases of this lovely wine.

I found a bit of details on this charming label, from a speech that Randall Grahm gave last year on labeling. The wine was originally under the Ca’ del Solo label.

Chuck House and I came up with the idea of using a kind of cartoonish illustration on a series of wines we made under the Ca’ del Solo label. This is a picture of little Malvasia Bianca on her first day of school, letting go of her mother’s hand, going “solo” (get it?) and of course, stepping on every crack in the sidewalk she comes across.

https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/keynote-speech-wines-vines-packaging-conference-august-9th-2018-yountville-ca/

Evidently the label cause a stir in Washington where they took offense to a depiction of a child on the label. Luckily, all ended well and this sweet girl who is a little bit of a renegade still appropriately graces this wine’s label.

The battle!

Really…I have overplayed this. It’s not a battle. These wines are apples and oranges…both of which I love. Similar but different, from different vineyards, soils and winemakers.

We paired with crab rangoons, crab cakes, lo mein and teriyaki salmon.

Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein
Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein

The Bonny Doon Malvasia Bianca from Monterey

This wine was lush with honeysuckle on the nose (I wanted to dab it behind my ears!). It was sweet with lychee like a Gewurztraminer on the nose and florals and perfumes on the palate. There was a little waxiness (the tasting notes say “a slightly waxy, lanolin finish.”, but it was subtle. This was medium weight with light acid as you would expect with this variety. I found that I liked this best with the rangoons and teriyaki salmon, as it tending to lend itself to the sweetness of these dishes.

Larner Malvasia Bianca from Ballard Canyon

This wine is a year older, a different vintage, a different winemaker. Remember I said that the first time I had Malvasia Bianca was a dessert pairing with a Larner Malvasia. I remember it being sweet. This wine was not. It had more white florals with the honeysuckle on the nose as well as a little mineral or chalk note. It was tarter on the palate with soft citrus, like meyer lemon. This was a clean fresh wine and it seemed higher in acid than the Bonny Doon. I enjoyed it more with the crab cakes and the lo mein, the bit of minerality working with the umami and red pepper flavors making them explode in my mouth.

The takeaway

  • Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country
  • Bonny Doon beach

So as you can see, it’s best that I opened both of these bottles to best enjoy all of my meal! Both are delicious and made by two of my favorite winemakers. Of course you won’t find either of these wines made in large quantities. I suggest that you take a road trip, stop by Larner’s tasting room in Los Olivos and then head up the coast and visit Bonny Doon in Davenport! (Or hell jump on a plane and head to Rome!) Mostly, you should pick up a bottle of a type of wine you have never tried before. Explore and taste and travel through the bottle.

  • Find Larner Wine’s tasting room in Los Olivos at 2900 Grand Ave.
  • Bonny Doon’s tasting room can be found on the California Coast in Davenport at 450 Hwy 1

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Sparkling Vermentino – “tears of laughter and joy”

As I went looking for a bottle to open for a simple evening dinner, a small celebration of the end of a work week, I came across a bottle of sparkling vermentino in the wine fridge.

I love vermentino and today was one of the first really hot days this summer, with temps hitting triple digits. Those kind of temps call for something bright and vermentino certainly fits the bill. On top of it, it was a sparkling vermentino. Well I am always down for bubbles!

It was from Bonny Doon and I flipped it over to read the back label. Randall Grahm always has enchanting lengthy back labels. The description ended with ” -tears of joy and laughter”. Well…now of course I was going to pop this bottle! I really needed that at the end of this week!

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

This wine is a blend, 77% Vermentino and 23% Grenache Blanc from Beeswax and Cedar Lane Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA within Monterey County. This AVA sits in the Santa Lucia mountain range.

Soils are Arroyo Seco gravelly loam, with river stones that absorb the heat during the day and radiate in the evening. The vineyards are nearby to each other and closer to the valley floor between 300-500 ft. The valley has a cool climate with Pacific ocean breezes every afternoon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

The label on this wine is deep green and yellow which inspired the bottle shot, out back on the grass with the fallen blossoms from our desert museum palo verde, Dulcinea-Sophia (yes, I name my trees).

A bit of Dulcinea-Sophia in bloom, our Desert Museum Palo Verde

The back label entertainment

I mentioned that Randall’s back labels (and really anything he writes) are enchanting. He is a thoughtful writer, and while often the words are many, they are all entertaining. This is actually one of his shorter back labels.

Back label of the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

Pairings

While not included on the label, a quick visit to the Bonny Doon site, set me up with options for pairings. Sometimes, I go off the rails with pairings from what is suggested, but Bonny Doon’s suggestions are always tried and tested. The suggestions were

Oysters on the half shell, Dungeness crab, fish tacos, prosciutto-wrapped melon.

https://shop.bonnydoonvineyard.com/product/2017-Sparkling-Vermentino

So we did some prosciutto-wrapped canteloupe and I whipped up some fish tacos.

Fish Tacos

Fish tacos to pair with the Bonny Doon Sparkling Vermentino

The description of the wine on the site mentioned citrus, lemon balm, lemon-lime, and an herbal note of possibly rosemary…so my fish tacos riffed on this.

Fish taco w/ cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary

Ingredients

  • 4.5 lbs of Atlantic Cod bits defrosted
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • medium to small tortillas (I used flour tortillas)
  • guacamole
  • 1 lime
  • spring greens (or cabbage)
  • rice
  • salsa (I like green salsa)
  • salt
  • pepper

The fish

Cod bits en papillote with lemon & rosemary
  • Preheat the oven to 425
  • Cut two large squares of parchment
  • place 6-8 thin lemon slices to one side of center on one sheet of the parchment
  • arrange half the cod on top of the lemon slices
  • sprinkle with salt (I used pink himalayan salt)
  • add a grind of pepper
  • top with 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • zest a bit of the lemon on top
  • repeat with the other sheet and the rest of the fish
  • fold up the edges (here’s a video from @Cooksmarts)
  • place both packets on a cookie sheet
  • pop into the oven for about 20 minutes (or less)

The rest

I typically get a plate and a damp dishtowel and wrap my tortillas in the towel and pop them in the oven to warm for 5 minutes. This steams them so that they stay soft.

Then I gather all the other stuff I want on the tacos. Today it was guacamole, jasmine rice, lime wedges to squeeze, spring greens and I had Herdez guacamole salsa, which is medium heat.

Fish tacos and the Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino

All in all a pretty delicious evening! Light-hearted and delicious. That Sparkling Vermentino? Well, they only made 210 cases of it, so if it sounds good to you, you’d best go grab a bottle from their site. It’s set you back $36 a bottle, but the “tears of joy and laughter” make it all worth it.

You can find Bonny Doon online or drive out to their tasting room on the coast in Davenport. The views are spectacular, and the people and the wines in their tasting room will make you want to stay all day.

  • Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret
  • Bonny Doon beach

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Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing with #Winophiles

Picpoul de Pinet and Bonny Doon Vineyard Picpoul

Picpoul or Piquepoul is a grape of the South of France. While it is used as a blending grape in the Rhône, when you travel to Occitanie on the Mediterranean Sea you find it made as a single varietal wine. It is a wine of place, pairing perfectly with the briny oysters and other seafood of the coast. Picpoul translates to “lip stinger”, is named for it’s bright and tingly acid.  It is one of the oldest grape varieties in the Occitanie Region of France.

Languedoc-Rousillon in Occitanie

Occitanie Region of France map

Occitanie Region of France

While we have been diving into Rhone grapes lately, and picpoul is a grape of the Southern Rhone, it is more well know in Languedoc-Roussillon, a wine region in the south of France that is west of the French Riviera and runs around the Mediterranean Sea to the border with Spain.

Until 2016 the Occitanie region was referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon, and Midi-Pyrénées. The new name for the region comes from the Occitan cross which was the coat of arms used by the Counts of Toulouse and used in the 12th and 13th centuries. This new larger region encompasses the area they ruled.

Map of the Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

The Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

Within this region you find Picpoul-de-Pinet. This area around the Étang de Thau has moderate daytime temperatures due to the sea breezes and being close to the lagoon keeps the night time temps from dropping too much.

Étang de Thau

Photo of Oyster beds on the Thau Lagoon

The oyster beds on the Etang du Thau

The lagoon (étang) itself is 7,500 hectares and spans an area along the Mediterranean that runs 21 km along the coast and is 8 km wide. It is one of the largest lagoons off of the Mediterranean Sea. It is also a spectacular place to see flamingos, who stop in to eat in the lagoon around the village of Frontignan. You will also find many oyster and mussel farms in the region.

Picpoul-de-Pinet

Pinet is a commune in the Héralt department in the Occitanie region of Southern France. The small community gives it’s name to Picpoul-de-Pinet.  The vineyards here are among the oldest on the Mediterranean and grow on the edge of the Thau Lagoon.

The Grape

Picpoul vines grow well and are early to bud out in the spring, which does make it a little susceptible to frost. It also ripens late and it has a tendency toward mildew. The grapes themselves are oval and tend to drop off easily. I have heard that vineyards used to lay pans out under the vines to catch the grapes as they fell.

Picpoul comes to America

I first discovered this variety at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, the winery noted for bringing this variety to the US. This is one of the 13 varieties of grape allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Tablas Creek did not bring this grape in initially with the first 8 varieties that they brought from the Rhône, but after seeing how well suited the land and climate were to this grape imported it and planted an acre in 2000. Since then they have added another acre, grafting some roussanne vines over to picpoul blanc. As in the Southern Rhone, they use picpoul as a blending grape in their Esprit de Tablas Blanc. About every other year they do a varietal bottling. Sadly, I did not have a bottle for this tasting.

Bonny Doon’s Picpoul

When we were traveling and tasting last year and stopped by Bonny Doon, we found that they also had a picpoul. Randall Grahm, the winemaker, sources the grapes from Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. We  shared a little about this area and vineyard last year in our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)

Arroyo Seco

Arroyo Seco is an AVA in Monterey County. The AVA covers two towns, Soledad and Greenfield. The area sits in the Salinas Valley 40 miles from Monterey Bay, which brings dense fog and howling winds during the growing season in the Eastern and Central Portions of the AVA. Named for the “Arroyo Seco” a seasonal waterway that brings in water from the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The Western portion of the AVA runs east to west in a narrow gorge that is sheltered from the Monterey Bay fog and winds and has higher daytime temperatures. The AVA covers over 18,000 acres and is one of the smallest AVAs in California and has about 7,000 planted acres. Find out more about this region at http://www.arroyosecowinegrowers.com/

Beeswax Vineyards

Beeswax Vineyard was established in 2000 and has 24 acres of organically farmed wine grapes with blocks of pinot noir, grenache blanc, roussanne and picpoul blanc. This tiny vineyard is in the Salinas Valley toward the southern end of the AVA and is nestled into the Santa Lucia foothills.

Arroyo Seco Appellation map courtesy the Arroyo Seco Winegrowers

A conversation with Randall Grahm on picpoul blanc

I had an opportunity to speak with Randall Grahm the infamous winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards about picpoul.  He was gracious enough to take a few moments out of his busy morning for a chat on the phone.

Randall told me they originally brought picpoul in to add to their Cigare Blanc which is a white Rhône blend. The blend for the Cigare Blanc with the roussanne and grenache blanc was becoming more alcoholic and the acid was dropping. They grafted over some of the roussanne to picpoul hoping to add some of the acid that picpoul is known for, to the blend. “It seemed like a good idea, and we used it for one vintage, but found it did not play well with the roussanne and grenache blanc”, Randall said. It did, however make a great wine on it’s own, and has been well received. 2017 makes their 6th bottling of this variety.

We spoke about Beeswax Vineyard, the vineyard in Arroyo Seco where they source the grapes for this wine. They have had a good relationship with this grower and were involved in the layout and planning for the vineyard 14 years ago.  As I mentioned, they grafted over some of the original roussanne in this vineyard to picpoul which is where we get this wine. Randall also mentioned to me when we spoke that they have recently grafted some of the Beeswax vineyard roussanne over to clairette blanche, so watch for that from Bonny Doon in the future.

As to the wine making behind the Bonny Doon Picpoul,  “It’s a pretty low tech wine, whole cluster pressed with no skin contact and batonnage post fermentation for texture”.  Randall says the 2017 Vintage is a bit of an anomaly, in that it has riper aromatics and is more articulated. In this vintage you get floral notes where you normally find only flinty minerality. Randall only made 1500 cases of the 2017 Picpoul, so you should hurry and get some.

Picpoul in California

It is estimated (and only estimated because there is so little of it) that as of 2016 there were only 30 acres of picpoul in California. In addition to Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon, I found a few other California wineries that have produced picpoul blanc including Forlorn Hope (Napa), Broc Cellars (Berkley), TH Estates, Adelaida (Paso Robles), and Acquiesce (Lodi). If you are aware of other US wineries producing picpoul, let us know in the comments!

The Wines

Mouline de Gassac Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

The Mouline de Gassac Picpoul-de-Pinet we chose, grows in limestone soils on a 5 hectare vineyard that is organically farmed. The soil here is clay and limestone close to the Thau Lagoon.  This is an unoaked picpoul.  40,000 bottles were made and the alcohol sits at 12.5%.

Bonny Doon 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

We had two bottles of this wine.  The first we indulged in last September when we did our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)” post.  As I posted then..

“This wine was mouthwatering and bright, with a light straw yellow color. You get minerals, ocean and a floral note when you stick your nose in the glass and then tart green apple and stone fruit pits in your mouth. There is in the background this little bit of beeswax. It is a lovely and subtle wine.”

This wine comes in at 12.7% alcohol

It is worth mentioning the beautiful art on the label of the Bonny Doon Picpoul.  The artist is by Wendy Cook a calligrapher in San Francisco.  She has also done the labels for the Bonny Doon Viognier and roussanne and you can see more of her work at www.bellocchio.com

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul from Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

We did our initial tasting with the 2016 Bonny Doon Picpoul and had a bottle of the 2017 in route.  While it didn’t arrive in time for our pairing.  We did taste it after to see if we could pick up on the differences in the vintage that Randall mentioned.

This wine opened with sweet honeysuckle on the nose with lighter minerals in the back that grew to slate as it opened.  The nose was enchanting.  As with the other picpoul we found notes of beeswax also, but the sweet floral notes were the star.  We ended up pairing this will some linguine and clam sauce for dinner which was a great pairing.

This 6th vintage of Picpoul has an alcohol level a little lower than it’s predecessor, coming in at 12%

We have to thank Bonny Doon for including us in their food pairing notes for this wine! I went to check suggested pairings on their site and this is what I found.

“This wine is utterly brilliant with the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab. Other ideas include Grilled Octopus with Lemon, Moussaka, Sardines a la Plancha, Grilled Sardines with Frisée & Whole-Grain Mustard Dressing. We also love these more doon-to-earth ideas from our friends over at CrushedGrapeChronicles.com: Iberico or Manchego cheese, herbed goat cheese, smoked oysters, anchovies, capers, olive tapenade, calamari.”

 

The Pairing

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

The last time we tried a pairing, we didn’t prepare very well, although it did lead to some amazing discoveries that were noted in the pairing notes above. This time, I planned ahead. We found briney oysters and Dungeness crab as Randall suggested and made Croquettes de brandade, which is a popular pairing in Provence and Languedoc. The croquettes are made with potatoes and salt cod.  We rounded things out with a salad of frisee with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

If you are interested in making Croquettes de brandade (they were delicious), we did a separate post on how to make them along with a little video.

The Experience

Picpoul comparison

Picpoul comparison

Michael poured a glass of each of the wines and the first thing you noticed was the difference in color.  The Picpoul-de-Pinet was a deeper golden color and on pouring, produced tiny bubbles on the bottom of the glass.  The effervescence dissipated when you swirled the glass.  The Bonny Doon Picpoul was much lighter in color, just tinted with a bit of light straw that had a touch of green.

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On the nose the  Picpoul-de-Pinet smelled instantly of the sea, followed by citrus and lemon.  The Bonny Doon opened with slate and was a bit more mouth filling, and I never know if it is just my brain playing tricks on me, since I know that this wine comes from Beeswax vineyard, but I get beeswax on the nose.

Picpoul is a wine of place.  Sip it on it’s own and it’s fine, but it is truly meant to pair with food.  With the oysters, Dungeness crab and the croquettes, it paired perfectly.  Close your eyes and picture the Etang de Thau, or the California coast in Davenport, across the street from the Bonny Doon tasting room.  Smell the sea, taste the oysters, sip the wine.  That is the experience.

Bonny Doon beach

Bonny Doon beach

You can find more information on all things wine, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The #Winophiles

On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. Today we are focusing on the Picpoul varietal hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures.

If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, April 21st at 8am Pacific time. Search for the hashtag #Winophiles to follow along or peruse the tweets later. And be sure to check out the following articles prepared by these amazing writers on their take on picpoul!

The Picpoul Posts

You can find more information on all things Grapes, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (speed dating for food and wine)

Picpoul Blanc Pairing Bonny Doon 2016 Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

While on the Central Coast we made the pilgrimage to Bonny Doon Vineyard’s tasting room on the Pacific Coast Highway in Davenport, CA. We left with a couple bottles of their 2016 Picpoul. The grapes for this 100% Picpoul Wine come from Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco.

Picpoul

So this grape is from the Southern Rhone and often is used as a blending grape. The label by Wendy Cook steers you toward the meaning of the name.

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard Label Art by Wendy Cook

“Pique-poule” means lip stinger in French (or pecking hens depending on your translation, either way…you can picture the hens pecking your lips) It’s one of those 13 varieties of grape that are allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Picpoul does come in red (Picpoul Noir), white (Picpoul Blanc) and pink (Picpoul Gris), but the white variety is most prevalent, which is why Bonny Doon refers to their Picpoul Blanc as simply Picpoul.

In France it is best known today as Picpoul de Pinet from the Pinet Region of Languedoc.

Arroyo Seco

Arroyo Seco is an AVA in Monterey County. The AVA covers two towns, Soledad and Greenfield. The area sits in the Salinas Valley 40 miles from Monterey Bay, which brings dense fog and howling winds during the growing season in the Eastern and Central Portions of the AVA. Named for the “Arroyo Seco” a seasonal waterway that brings in water from the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The Western portion of the AVA runs east to west in a narrow gorge that is sheltered from the Monterey Bay fog and winds and has higher daytime temperatures. The AVA covers over 18,000 acres and is one of the smallest AVAs in California and has about 7,000 planted acres.

Beeswax Vineyards

Beeswax Vineyard is owned by the Silva family who also runs Poppy Wines. It was established in 2000 and has 24 acres of organically farmed wine grapes with blocks of Pinot Noir, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Picpoul Blanc. This tiny vineyard is in the Salinas Valley toward the southern end of the AVA and is nestled into the Santa Lucia foothills.

Bonny Doon 2016 Picpoul – Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

This wine was mouthwatering and bright, with a light straw yellow color. You get minerals, ocean and a floral note when you stick your nose in the glass and then tart green apple and stone fruit pits in your mouth. There is in the background this little bit of beeswax. It is a lovely and subtle wine.

What to Pair with it?

I spent a little time in the afternoon researching what to pair with this wine. I started with the Bonny Doon site, which gave me “the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab.” Well, sadly, finding either of those for the evening dinner was not really a possibility, so I searched further.

Tablas Creek Vineyards also does a Picpoul (there are not many wineries in the country that do), and they suggested; Fried Calamari, Thai dishes with lemongrass and ginger, Dover sole, Cerviche, Braised tuna or Swordfish. Well, that I could work with and Calamari and some Thai lemongrass sticks were added to the shopping list.

Digging deeper The Wine Cellar Insider suggested “salmon, swordfish, scallops, clams, oysters and rich cream or butter sauces.” And Picpoul de Pinet suggestion “not only….seafood and shellfish as well as other traditional Mediterranean dishes, but also with cheese and chocolate.” And finally Wine & Good Food suggested “oysters, Mahi Mahi or a salad topped with strawberries and goat cheese”

Okay…so now we had a list to work with. We headed to TJ’s, to see what we could find that might fit the bill and give us a wide variety of things to try.

Pairing a Picpoul

Picpoul Blanc Pairing Bonny Doon 2016 Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

A Picpoul Blanc Pairing

So we ended up with a big platter with a variety of things to try with this wine. We included;  smoked oysters, herbed goat cheese, anchovies,  smoked gouda, sardines, olive tapenade, capers and a couple Spanish Cheeses; Manchego and Iberico . We later dinned on the Calamari with a mayo, greek yogurt dip with thyme, lemon juice and lemon zest and the Thai Lemongrass chicken sticks.

As I tasted an allegory took hold in my mind, so indulge me as it carries me through my tasting notes.

The tasting hook up

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Smoked Oysters

Smoked oysters are not my favorite thing, but paired with the Picpoul they mellow and created a lighter tone for both the oyster and the wines and pulling up a floral note in the wine. This couple I really didn’t think would get along and they ended up having a great conversation.

Iberco

This is a fine pairing (remember when your date told you that you looked “fine”). The Spanish cheese pulls out the body in the wine and the saltiness in the cheese. These two might date for a while.

Anchovies

Anchovies are a little loud and unruly in your mouth. A sip of the Picpoul mellows and soothes the flavor and makes those anchovies much more likeable.

Olive Tapenade

These two change when they are together and continue changing in my mouth, like a couple lovingly pushing each other to take another step.

Manchego

They meet and compliment each other. The compliments make them smile and their smile makes each more beautiful.

Sardines

This is a blending that just makes you happy. Neither the Spanish cheese or the wine stand out, but together they are just right, snuggling in my mouth like an adorable quiet couple.

Capers

The picpoul just flatters the capers here, brightening them, while toning the acid in both and giving a little floral note to the bite. I think Picpoul might get Capers number.

Herbed Goat Cheese

Alright these two are the life of the party. Each are good but together they are a party in my mouth and are tearing up the dance floor!

Calamari

I’m out of allegory here. This was a great pairing, and while I think it would have been good with just Calamari and Picpoul the addition of the dip with the greek yogurt, thyme and lemon zest really kicked it up a notch.

Thai lemongrass chicken sticks

This was good. Mellow not a stand out, but certainly a good meld.

Last notes

Just before finishing this post, I was doing some additional research on Picpoul and came across this description on Appellationamerica.com. http://wine.appellationamerica.com/grape-varietal/Picpoul.html

Maybe my allegory wasn’t so far off.

Hopefully, this will inspire you in a couple of ways. To search out some Picpoul to start with and then to try some pairings. Take a moment with a wine and a food and think about them. What do you taste, what does it make you think of. Taste and explore! Then come back and share with us!

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Flash tour Central Coast – Day 4 – Santa Cruz to Paso Robles on the Pacific Coast Highway

Bonny Doon beach

More of the Flash Tour!  We are back on the Central Coast for Day 4.  Today is about the call of the ocean, and we spend much of the day on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Day 4 Santa Cruz to Paso Robles to Solvang

To the Pacific Coast Highway

Day 4 we were up early and heading to the coast again. This time through San Jose then onto Rt. 17 to Santa Cruz. This glorious stretch of road is notoriously dangerous, but is tree lined and beautiful running through Scotts Valley with Redwoods to the North. This drive takes you to Santa Cruz and then Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. We drove to just before Davenport and enjoyed the scenic drive up Bonny Doon Road for a bit. Then it was back to enjoy the coast on Bonny Doon Beach. It was still early, so we hopped back on the 1 heading north and took in some more of the coast. We came upon Theodore J. Hoover Natural Preserve in the Rancho del Osos- Big Basin Redwoods State Park. As you drive up the coast looking at the ocean suddenly this burst of mountainous beauty catches your eye from the other side. We stopped and took in a little of the view before heading back down to Davenport and the Bonny Doon Tasting Room.

Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room

Bonny Doon…there is so much to say here.  The first of the Rhone Rangers, Randall Grahm has been a winemaking pioneer in California.  I will treat you to a full post on Bonny Doon, Randall Grahm and all of the really great and interesting stuff, but for now…visit the Bonny Doon Vineyards Website and have a quick read.  We had an amazing tasting in their tasting room which sits right on the Pacific Coast Highway, then went across the street to enjoy the view and have a picnic lunch.

Paso Robles – Tablas Creek Vineyard

We hit the 101 and proceeded to Paso Robles heading straight for Tablas Creek Vineyard, where we did a tasting and took a look at where the vines were in veraison.  They were pouring two interesting wines, Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir. Tablas Creek imported Clairette Blanche to the United States in 2003, it was released to them in 2009 and planted in 2010.  The half acre block of Clairette Blanche at Tablas Creek is one of the only plantings in California.  The Terret Noir is a blending grape from Chateauneuf du Pape.  This vine was brought in from the Beaucastel Estate in Chateauneuf du Pape, as part of Tablas Creek’s goal to have all the Chateauneuf du Pape varieties.  Watch for tastings and pairings with these two rather unique wines.  And if you are a wine geek, get yourself to Tablas Creek Vineyard.  If you can’t make it there, visit the website, you will find a ton of fascinating educational information on Rhone wines.  Of course you will also find loads of information here on our website.  We were lucky enough to do an interview and tour with Jason Haas their General Manager and had fascinating discussions on a wide range of topics including the Rhone Varieties, the Adelaida AVA and using Foudres, dry farming and more.

A little more PCH

Then it was back on the road to Solvang in Santa Barbara County where we would stay for the next 2 nights. Luckily were were not in a hurry, so we drove SR 46 to the Beach and up a little to Cambria and then took the Pacific Coast Highway to Morro Bay and SLO before getting back on the 101 to see sunset out the back window and moon rise out the front as we drove into Buellton.

Morro Bay and Morro Rock on The Pacific Coast Highway

Morro Bay and Morro Rock on The Pacific Coast Highway

 

Day 5 takes us back to Santa Barbara!  Come back for more of the trip!

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