Doon to earth - Uva di Troia
If you're a wine lover with a sense of humor, it's hard not to get a laugh out of the wild and wacky portfolio of wines, wit and wonder that pour out the doors at California's Bonny Doon Vineyard, where one occasionally wonders just what the irrepressible winemaker-and-proprietor Randall Grahm might be drinking. Or smoking. Whatever.
There's something for just about everyone in Bonny Doon's strange and diverse selection, which includes wines made in California and wines imported from France, Italy, Germany and beyond. To be honest, some of the items aren't for everyone, and a few push the limits for value. The wine that started it all, for instance, Le Cigare Volant - a Chateauneuf-du-Pape look-alike that was perhaps the first California "Rhone Ranger" - is hard for me to justify at the Chateauneuf-level price of $32 for the 2002 at the winery.
But I'm rarely if ever disappointed by his Italian wines imported under the colorful "Il Circo" ("the Circus") label, or his California Italian-style "Ca' del Solo" wines, which are generally affordable and boast mirth-provoking cartoon labels at no extra charge.
One of my "Il Circo" favorites is the Uva di Troia, a very obscure grape variety from Puglia, the "boot heel" of Southern Italy, a region better known for Primitivo and Salice Salentino. The name is sometimes translated "Grape of Troy" for a fancied association with ancient Greece, but Grahm claims that "Troia" actually means "lady of the night" in the sailors' slang of Bari, Puglia's seaport city.
I rated the 2000 vintage favorably in a 2003 tasting; the 2002 vintage, reviewed below, is a bit lighter and more tannic as might be expected of the cooler vintage, but is perhaps a better food wine as a result. Expect the hot-weather 2003, now coming into the market, to be a big boy, powerful and alcoholic. Year in and year out, Uva di Troia boasts a characteristic scent of violets that inspires the label subtitle "La Violetta."
Bonny Doon 2002 "Il Circo" Castel del Monte Uva di Troia "La Violetta" ($14.99)
This is a dark ruby wine with a reddish-violet edge. Smoky black fruit adds a floral note, and doesn't take much mental prodding to assume that it's the characteristic violets of Uva di Troia. Ripe and fresh, black fruit and appealing earthiness on the palate; snappy acidity and soft tannins provide ample structure. Rustic and food-friendly, there's no "international-style" manipulation here. U.S. importer: Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, Calif. (May 6, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: You couldn't ask for a better pairing with fennel-scented, lightly spicy Italian sausages and fresh, home-baked foccacia.
VALUE: Fairly priced in the middle teens. (My local shop matched the winery retail price; you may be able to find it for less.)
WHEN TO DRINK: A "lighter" vintage and four years old now, it's probably best to enjoy it over the next year or so.
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Friday, June 23, 2006