Refreshingly, this is probably the first bottle of wine I’ve ever seen with a complete ingredients list, ranging from the unsurprising (grapes) to very surprising (untoasted wood chips!). I’ve been thinking a lot about Bonny Doon lately, especially in terms of the sudden economic crash last year: for most of my adult life, companies I’ve worked for have been obsessing over growing the business, increasing market share, and simply getting bigger rather than working hard to create better products, improve people’s lives, and realize long term benefits from their investments (as opposed to quickie returns by way of gains in share price).
Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon seemed to have done much the same thing for most of the 1990s: they went from small to huge, growing into six digit production ever year, worrying about SKUs at big box retailers and all of that other fun stuff. And then suddenly, four or so years ago, he sold off all of the big brand stuff, spun off the medium brand stuff, and pledge to concentrate instead on a different mission: don’t make a lot of things, but make it well, make it deeply.
Especially now, as I watch companies implode when they realize that their businesses are unsunstainable because they don’t create things people want or need, just endless marketing plans and blueprints for mergers and takeovers, I marvel at Mr. Grahm’s decision. I’ve made similar decisions in my own life over the past few years, opting to own a cheap car instead of lease a fancy one, live in a reasonably sized house instead of one that could host a sleepover party for all of the Dallas Cowboys (or their cheerleaders); it’s always seemed a little crazy but suddenly it seems sensible.
Anyhow: on to the wine. I’m no fan of Italianate anything save for moscato d’Asti, so I figured I owed my friends John and Mark this bottle. They’re no fans of California anything, especially Zinfandel, but found themselves drinking a Ridge zin tonight – so here I am with a bottle of quasi-Italian wine.
Upon smelling it I was briefly reminded of biscuit dough, but that passed quickly. Upon reflecting, it smells more like nondescript rich red wine, not particularly varietal (at least not that I notice: I’m not particularly edumacated when it comes to Italian grapes at all). Color-wise it’s a lovely rich, inky purple that is immensely appetizing, staining the sides of the glass when swirled. It’s hard to pin down the smells, though, other than faint French oak (and that could be imagined; that was on the label as well) and some kind of linear, pure fruit… something like dusty blueberries.
The shock is in the mouth; after so many Californian and Australian reds, I’ve grown accustomed to that sort of hulking flavor profile. Instead, the first thing you notice here is bright acidity, thankfully very well tempered by a smooth tannic spine overlaid with spicy red fruits. The tannins are fairly mouth coating but pleasant; the fruit seems to again hover on its own level, not explaining anything about what it is. There’s a sort of metallic-mineral effect as well, and a very dense fruitiness that reasserts itself before the slow fade-out of the finish; it’s moderately complex and fairly idiosyncratic.
If you like Italian wines, would you like this? I don’t know. I can say, however, that it’s far less Californian than simply something else: much like the Marlborough Montepulciano I tasted last week, this is a wine that is appealing on its own terms and unlike much of anything else planted nearby. Still, I’d be fascinated to know how “properly Italian” this tastes – I’m afraid I just don’t have the background to say.
Bonny Doon Vineyard