California Wine: Contra-diction


Can a word be a triple entendre? If so then the man who could best wield it would have to be Bonny Doon Vineyard's Randall Grahm. An innovative winemaker with a love of language, Randall has long been a proponent of acting against the norm. Not simply to relish in the rapture of being rebellious, but because most people were simply going the wrong way.

Graham began his career with the other "Rhone Rangers," planting grape varietals that were formerly unknown in California, not to mention to most Californians. From changing the face of wine labels -- both paying homage and poking fun at the French -- to championing the stelvin closure -- effectively screwing with people's attachment to cork -- Randall set sail on a rocking boat.

Long a proponent of the possibility of the terroir here in the States, Graham has helped make the idea of biodynamics seem less like witchcraft and more like what it is: a beautifully balanced way of growing grapes. Seeing as he's constantly fighting the flock of fearful formalists that dominate the wine world, it's appropriate that he chose to name a wine Contra. The name comes from the location of the vineyards in Contra Costa County, but the layers of meaning were by no means an accident.

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Unlike the abundance of wines from California that attack one's palate like an overstuffed sausage, Contra aims to assuage our abundance of sunlight by providing poise. It is comprised primarily of old vine Carignane followed by Grenache, Mourvedre, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel and Syrah. Contra is a field blend that is steered rather than strong-armed by the winemaker's hand, providing an unexpected gestalt assault on the senses. Tipping the alcohol scales at a blissfully balanced bantamweight of 13.5%, it packs a flavor punch without knocking you out.

In the glass, dark brooding berries huddle in the corner plotting their attack while a recently unearthed spice cabinet with poorly-hinged doors allows it contents to spill forth onto the soil covered floor. On the nose, wild-haired herbs wander out of the thick woods hungrily commanding that food to be put on the table. And it should. This is a wine that would pair perfectly with anything from lamb tagine to Memphis barbeque to wood fired pizza. The only challenge to face is managing to save some for dinner.

Boony Doon Vineyards' Contra retails for about $16 a bottle.

Photo of sunset in the Boony Doon area of Santa Cruz by Flickr user navratil.

Los Angeles resident Michael Newsome, a wine buyer for Whole Foods and a Certified Italian Wine Specialist, joins us every Tuesday for an exploration of California wine. See his previous posts here.

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