Have a Cigare

Ladies and gentlemen, here we go. Tonight, a fair number of friends are coming by to (hopefully) enjoy the Leonid meteor shower; given that we’re in the middle of the city, I’m not sure we’ll see anything (and staying up ’til 1 am is hardly a given), but I figured that tonight was a good night to bust out a vertical of Le Cigare Volant and share it with friends. I’ve got eleven different variations of this lined up and ready to go. Without further ado, my tasting notes:1. Le Cigare Volant 1998 (14.5%, mostly grenache-syrah). I haven’t seen one of these synthetic corks since the Clinton administration, I think. The winemaker has since expressed regret for using these on his flagship wine; thankfully, the wine doesn’t smell as bad as I was expecting. Light and dusty on the nose, it seems sweet and inoffensive, bordering on Luden’s cough drops. Strangely gritty, the wine is shot through with iron-fisted cloves; most of the interest here it textural rather than anything else. Frankly not too bad at this point, I suppose I should be lucky that the Supremecorq (I think) didn’t leave me with an oxidized mess.2. LCV 1999 (14.5%, GSM in roughly equal propotions). And now we’re back in cork territory here, presumably after the Supremecorq experience didn’t quite work out as planned. Immediately, this wine seems fresher and more vibrant, smelling rather like a Christmas fruitcake awash in sweet spice and rich, dark fruits – think plum pudding in a room with a cedar log fire. Relatively light on the palate at first, it seems a bit thin at first, slowly building to a firm base of fine tannins with restrained smoky-cherry meat mixed with elegant cherry fruit. Absolutely lovely and a delight for anyone who prefers their wines with some elegance and finesse, it seems that this has years of life left yet in it.3. LCV 2000 (13.5%, tripartite GSM again, this time with 1% viognier). Did I mention that there are URLs on the corks? Dude! Remember when those were still novel? Anyhow! Stylistically similar again to the 1999, bright cherries and spice lead the way, all treble notes… but this time there’s also a lurking sense of gravitas, surprisingly. Much more tannic at this stage than the ’99, the mouthfeel is denser, drier than you’d expect and somehow strangely joyless. Even so: the finish is longer, richer, more complex, with a core of meaty cherry fruit framed by those humorless tannins. Frankly, this wine tastes like a bid for respectability, something less Californian that before, and yet very good for whatever it thinks it is. An odd duck, but a good wine.4. LCV 2001 (13.5%, GSM sort of but with very small doses of viognier, cinsault, and carignane) was the first Cigare to be released under Stelvin, leading to a subtle and frankly rather lovely redesign of the packaging, finally hitting that perfect balance of absolutely serious in the best French tradition while subtly being absolutely ridiculous in the Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp tradition. My only beef is the alien head on the top of the screwcap: was that really necessary? More annoyingly, the screwcap doesn’t snap the way you’d expect, so you wind up with a fairly ugly ripped-up cigar band. Still, this blog isn’t Brand New, so I suppose I should STFU about the packaging and get on with the wine itself. How’s the wine smell? Fresh and clean, very different and perceptibly younger than the cork-sealed variants. As someone prone to buying more wine than he can drink, I am greatly cheered by this. Do screwcapped wines offer the promise of greater longevity? God, I hope so: whenenever I find an old cork-sealed bottle I bought eight years ago and forgot about, I feel sad that I probably just threw out twenty somewhat hard-earned dollars.On the downside, this wine seems to mark the beginnings of excessive experimentation with micro-oxygenation at Bonny Doon. It seems to me – and I can’t say for sure, this is strictly speculation on my part – that the early 2000s were marked by an obsession with changing the structure and mouthfeel of their wines to be, well, much more velvety. I for one never really cared for the effect; it seems unnatural and decidedly idiosyncratic (and yes, I wonder what the sales figures showed here). There’s a sort of slipperiness you sense on the nose, even, that tends towards the vinyl-ly cosmetic; years ago, upon tasting a Bonny Doon mataro vintned in similar fashion, I mentioned that it tasted like the smell of a Tijuana reupholstery shop. This isn’t quite so far out there; still, it just doesn’t seem right. It’s the difference between prosciutto di Parma and the “meat topping” you get at Domino’s.The wine doesn’t taste like it’s properly balanced to me either; it’s strangely high pitched, slightly too acidic, without the lovely supporting tannins or richer, meatier mataro that did so well in the ’00. All in all, a letdown.5. Cigare Alternative A (13%, mostly grenache, some cinsault, less syrah, and 1% viognier; cork, not screwcap) arose out of the 2001 harvest as a wine club only offering that purported to ask a simple question: What would Cigare be like if it weren’t Cigare? First of all, we’re treated to a beautiful Gary Taxali label (more of these, please!). Sadly, though, we’re firmly back in super sibilant slippery softness territory here, with that same oddly smoothed out feel reminiscent of Sylvia Plath just back from electroshock therapy: there’s still poetry here, but it’s reflected against a lime-green wall. Strange.The oak influence seems to be a bit more prominent here as well; the nose suggests more new oak, perhaps, with a woody-spicy element working fairly well with the pretty cherry-red grenache. Tannins, however, are firm and unattractive, sitting leadenly underneath an airheaded bubblegum-cherry-red veneer of candy apple fruit. The overall effect seems cheap and more than just a little bit slutty; is this the Bonny Doon version of Harajuku Lovers? I’ll never know.6. LCV 2002 (13.5%, mataro-shiraz with some grenache, a little bit of cinsault, and some counoise thrown in as well for good measure) is – to me, at least – a return to form. One whiff of this bad boy and hell yeah, you’re back in strictly believable California territory. At this point in the evening, it’s like listening to tortuous prog rock that suddenly jettisons the Zorniana and just goes for beauty without cruelty: at first, this smells like good, honest, New World wine made with careful attention to detail, nothing fancy. Wonderfully subtle and shifting slightly, the nose seems to offer up darker red fruits than before – we’re almost back to that plum pudding territory – but this time overlaid with a fine suggestion of graphite, minerals, and reasonable wood. Sweet.Strangely, the wine morphs again upon actually ingesting some, suggesting extreme youthful exuberance, again with a tendency more towards treble than bass, and yet with a lovely, finely knit texture of fine tannins propping up the relatively straightforward flavors of the thing. It all pans out well on the finish, lingering with notes of smoky sweet tomato chutney and a real savoriness I don’t normally associate with red wines. Strange (in the best possible sense of the word), this is probably best drunk shortly after reaching Solaris, reminding you both of your home as well as the oddness of being alive at all.7. Cigare Alternative B (tripartite grenache, carignane, syrah with a tiny amount of mataro, wine club only, 13.5%, even more awesome Taxali label, 2002 vintage). God knows why, but the fake cork is back with this one, and this time it’s generic. Ugh. Remember those Necco wafers you ate as a kid? Correction: those Necco wafers you either accidentally bought or wound up with trick-or-treating and which tasted so bad that they immediately brought your childhood to a screeching end, suddenly causing an epiphanal realization that life is short, you don’t always get what you want, and that there are no guarantees at all in life? Welcome to my nightmare.This h
as an appalling cod-Smucker’s nose that smells like a Britney Spears or Paris Hilton perfume idea that was discarded because, well, overly vulgar. This grenache smells like something you’d expect in low-end Mexican candy, albeit without the interest and kick of chili powder. It smells like cheap soap in the motel you check in to when you’ve just made parole in Big Tuna, Texas. It smells like a Chinese shower curtain that will slowly give you cancer (but with unicorns printed on it, of course). It does not smell good.Thin and strangely full-bodied, one mouthful of this and I’m done; it’s like I accidentally took a mouthful of the kiddie wading pool in Brawley California on an overlong Labor Day weekend. This is emphatically not good. Still: awesome label.8. LCV Reserva Triperfecto (God only knows what or how alcoholic, this wine en screwcap was produced with wine from 2001, 2002, and 2003). I’ve long since lost the wine club insert that explained what’s in this bottle, but Google led me to the San Francisco Chronicle, which suggests that this is a straightfoward blend of the previous three vintages of Le Cigare Volant.What we have here is an interesting experiment, no more, no less. The nose seems strangely dumb, muted; I don’t sense much here at all, strangely enough. Texturally, there’s some interest here, with tannins and what seems like relatively low acidity leading to an overall relatively mellow sense of calm. Other than that, though, I’m at a loss for words here. This is good wine, but honestly? It seems like the sum of the parts has incurred a tragic rounding error. This could have been Big House Red Reserve and I would’ve been happy; as a Cigare reserve, though, it seems somehow lacking.9. LCV 2003 (13.5%, GSM again but with 7% cinsault). Screwcap. My first thought: French, albeit with a soup├žon of the veterinary waiting room. I keed! As with the ’02, we’re heading into stranger, more refined territory here, with something like pink peppercorns, damask roses, and our old friend the Christmas pudding jostling for attention. Tannins here again provide much of the interest, this time monolithic and yet strangely friendly, giving way to a savory berry-cherry fruit character that sails on at great length. The line here is phenomal: first, alien roses from unpronounceably fashionable planets, then delicate fruit with a savory edge, and the finally that firm whoosh the exit of firm, wonderfully supple tannins and a finish of finely edged macaron and frankincense. Incredibly good stuff and very, very much itself, it seems to me like this is the Cigare to beat so far.10. LCV 2004 (grenache-syrah with some mataro and even less carignane-cinsault). Screwcap. Although I’m tempted just to refer to my most recent review of this, I’ll be good and talk about the glass in front of me. Surprisingly charming, this wine really seems to be hitting its stride in terms of being uniquely itself, definitely Californian, simultaneously different enough to be interesting and familiar enough not to be alienating. There’s a dark-floral, pretty-yet-threatening smoked tea effect here, setting off fully ripe California fruit to great effect against well-judged new oak (not too much, just enough for contrast). Bright acidity teams up with the heft of the wine (and, thank God, relatively restrained alcohols), resulting in something simultaneously pretty, serious, and elegant without, well, being foppish. Again: damn good. More like this one, please. 11. Cigare Alternative C (half mataro, with grenache-syrah making up the other half plus a tiny amount of cinsault), screwcap. This seems to me to have a fairly masculine cracked-peppercorn nose; in short, it’s tranny Cigare. It also seems to have a more forward, assertive sense to it, striving less for elegance than for chummy sports bar affinity. Surprisingly complex, we have well-judged tannins backed up against meaty, plush, decadent fruit that repeatedly fades into a mouthfilling, firm yet somehow gentle tannic background. This is damned good and I frankly hope to see more wines like this from Bonny Doon in the future.If you’ll excuse me, my guests are arriving. More on this later, but in short? I sense progress here. Delicious progress. Keep up the good work, RG.Bonny Doon Vineyard
Price: $24-$40
Closure: Other
Source: Retail

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