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02.08.2004

1997 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant

I was first introduced to Le Cigare Volant by the 1995 vintage, and while I enjoyed the wine, it became a favorite of mine more for its charming name, and the story behind it. For those unfamiliar with the story, Randall Grahm, a young upstart winemaker with some family money and a lot of spirit, bought a property he called Bonny Doon and set out to make Rhone style wines in California -- much to the derision of the French establishment. His name for his inaugural wine is a playful middle finger extended across the Atlantic in thanks for the support and assistance he received at the hands of the Chateaus du Rhone.

Le Cigare Volant means "Flying Saucer (Cigar)." According to the label, the concerned masters of French estates in the middle part of the century, thinking that perhaps their wines were in danger, passed a law forbidding flying saucers and threatening the immediate impound of any caught landing in the vineyards. According to Grahm, this law clearly worked as none have ever landed in or near Chateau Neuf-du-Pape. The label playfully shows a woodcut of a farmer in his wagon being beamed up by an alien spacecraft.

From the first time I saw the label, I've loved Grahm's anti-establishment, self-effacing humor and how he extends it to his wines, many of which are good to above average. Le Cigare is by far my favorite of his, and I've cellared a few years of it, including this 1997, which I pulled out the other night for a visit to a French bistro.

Tasting Notes:
This wine has always had one particular aromatic theme for me, which some friends swear I am crazy to insist on, but gurdummit, the stuff smells like Red Vines to me. The more it sits in my glass, the more I get of the childhood licorice whips. Of course, there's lots of cherries and chocolate in the nose as well, but I like to wallow in my licorice. On the tongue, the wine has mellowed in the bottle to super smoothy velvet fruit that is incredibly drinkable. You can taste the grenache as a little tartness in the finish.

Food Pairing:
Oh the loveliness of stuffed, roasted squab with Rhone reds. Anything with a little fatty skin roasted to perfection. Maybe a little (big) porkchop? This is truly a food friendly wine -- I'd drink it with anything except indian food or B-B-Q.

Overall Score: 9

How much?: I think I paid $24 for this when I bought it.

These days its pretty tough to track down in past vintages. Wine Searcher turned up a couple of shops in Europe selling it for $42 US.

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