The Panda-Cam at the National Zoo has gone black. The New York Football Giants start the season 0-6. The McRib sandwich is available for a limited time only.
All temporary aberrations for sure. But then it came—a sure sign the world has spun off its axis. A man dressed in brown handed me a non-descript, cardboard box just big enough to hold one bottle of wine. I closed my front door and the room was quiet except for the slitting of packing tape. As I freed the bottle from its gray packing material, I felt a chill. My eyes couldn’t—or refused—to focus. A bird chirped.
Randall Grahm—champion of Rhône Valley varieties, winemaker for the underdog grape, friend to the screwtop—has made a cabernet sauvignon wine.
Some four years ago, I sat in a swank Atlanta restaurant with the traitorous Grahm and we exchanged salacious comments about overly alcoholic, highly extracted and woefully overpriced California cabernet sauvignons, most with well-known names. Now, he has joined their ranks.
Well, he may not have entirely gone to the dark side. His newest wine is called A Proper Claret. It is comprised of 62 percent cabernet sauvignon with the remaining blend consisting of petit verdot, tannat and petite sirah (varietals that are much more Grahm-like).
In case you were wondering (and even if you’re not), Grahm is the proprietor-winemaker for Bonny Doon Vineyard and has held that position for some decades now. He created the oh-so-popular Big House and Cardinal Zin labels and sold them in 2006 for, what I’m told, a profit. He now focuses on biodynamic winemaking, buying nice things for his daughter Amelie and turning his back on 30 years of making anything but chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon.
Well, that might not be entirely true, either. About 28 years ago, he made a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and malbec. While described as “damn good” by Grahm, the project was scrapped. He fully cast his die with the grapes of France’s Rhône Valley and a multitude of lesser-known Italian varieties.
Until now, that is.
In one of the silliest exchanges with anyone I’ve ever interviewed, Grahm disavows his affiliation with A Proper Claret. He says: “It appears that there is a certain individual—Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite he calls himself—who appears to be spearheading this effort, nominally under the putative aegis of Bonny Doon Vineyard. But everybonny [sic] knows I wouldn’t touch cab with a barge-pole.”
I’m a longtime fan of many wines made by Grahm. He certainly has a magical touch with all things syrah. More than anything, I endorse and sometimes emulate his whimsical view of the wine business, which often as not takes itself a little too seriously.
Putative barge-poles aside, what Grahm has shot for and bagged with “his” A Proper Claret is just that, a cabernet sauvignon-based blend that is fresh, not overly tannic and quite drinkable. It is 47 times more food friendly than most mega-Cali-cabs because, I believe, it weighs in at only 13.2 percent alcohol (“If it were any more proper, it would be 12.5 percent,” Grahm said, referring to a time when Bordeaux wines, often referred to as “clarets” by the British, were in the mid-12 percent range.)
Whether this is another one-hit wonder, time will tell. But if you’d like to see what Bordeaux-style wines used to taste like, Grahm…er… ffrench-Postalthwaite has made a modern version for you.
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up, Two Thumbs Way Up and Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog