an array of wines that forces us to question a human habit
From the above five-bottle lineup, the typical consumer would only pick the wine on the far right as a rosé. The rest range from onion skin to yellow to ruby in color (my photo is a little washed out), and could pass themselves off as anything from a Sherry to a Beaujolais Villages in a black-glass taste test.
I couldn't help but think of the human need to categorize as I tasted through this divergent array of wines from a single producer. Consider the 19th-century "passing" narratives from writers like Charles Chestnutt or the current politics of sexual identity. We have an instinctual need to put things, and people, into boxes.
But we should resist this urge. In society, the act of pigeonholing can be hurtful and dangerous. In the realm of oeno-appreciation, we miss opportunities by passing over wines that don't fit our preconceptions.
And now for a short preamble to the wines: Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm did some soul-searching a decade ago, sold off his largest and most lucrative brands, and went all artisanal on us. Today, Grahm farms biodynamically, allows fermentations to happen naturally, and is dabbling in self-rooted vines (which is one of the most awkward phrases ever, and "own-rooted vines" isn't any better), among other projects.
The focus on quality is evident in Bonny Doon's flagship pink, "Vin Gris de Cigare" ($18), which is better than ever with the 2015 vintage. Grahm is farming and pressing the fruit specifically for rosé, meaning it actually is a vin gris rather than a saignée pretending to be one. It even has a new tagline, "Pink Wine of the Earth," which sounds, well, downright earthy.
If you're not familiar with "Vin Gris de Cigare," it's the rosé version of "Le Cigare Volant,” a wine made in the style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where flying cigars, aka flying saucers, are outlawed. It's grown so popular over the past year that production was up to 14,000 cases annually last time I checked, inching Bonny Doon back into the commercial zone.
A winemaker can't claim to be authentic if he isn't losing money on something, so Grahm is regaining his street cred by redirecting his artisanal efforts toward four far quirkier pinkish wines, all of which you should check out if you are a serious rosé enthusiast.
The 2012 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Vin Gris de Cigare: Pink Wine of the Earth Réserve” Central Coast Pink Wine ($35) is a yeasty little number that spent 18 months on the lees in airtight glass demijohns. All that time sur lie makes for a wine that smells like rising dough and slides across the palate like a bow on violin strings.
The 2013 “Vin Gris Tuilé: Brick Pink Wine of the Sun & Earth” Central Coast Pink Wine ($26) pushes the envelope further. This time the glass demijohns sat in direct sunlight for nine months, which is apparently how a vin tuilé, or “brick wine,” is made in Provence. My tasting notes look like a dinner menu from British Raj days (not that I'm a supporter of colonialism, but how else does one group chamomile tea, cinnamon cookies, turmeric, curry, and Sherry together?).
Speaking of jolly old England, Grahm has also trotted out the 2015 "A Proper Pink" Tannat-Cabernet Franc California Pink Wine ($18), with a facetious Grahm-esque back label purportedly written by one "Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite." It's made in the style of a Bordeaux Clairet, or if you've ever tried a Rose des Riceys, that might be another point of comparison. It's less a pink wine than a it is a translucent red with the tannins dialed back a bit.
Last but not least, Grahm turns his attention to the obscure Ciliegiolo grape, which grows in Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria, and, apparently, San Joaquin County, California. The 2015 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Il Ciliegiolo” Tracy Hills Rosato ($24) is a juicy pleasure that, again, teeters at the brink of red-ness. A few more hours of maceration and it couldn't honestly call itself a rosato.
Wait—did you notice what I did in those last couple of paragraphs? I fell down the pigeon hole. That is, I pigeonholed. Not OK in the realm of rosé. Not OK ever.
One of the reasons I'm so moved by the rosé category is its boundlessness. Rosé can be whatever hue the grapes and the winemaker wish it to be. It may be the ultimate form of vinous self-expression. So open your mind to the five rosés of Bonny Doon, and resist the urge to put wines, or people, in boxes.