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18th April 2020

Time to drink the good stuff like there’s no tomorrow* #16

Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant 1991
California. 13%

I have to be honest and say that I thought this wine - or at least this particular much-travelled bottle - might be a bit over by now, but in a glorious antidote to the earlier-this-week premox Burgundy, I am delightfully wrong. Not that I’d recommend keeping it for further decades or anything, but it is definitely still drinking just hoopily at 29 years old.

“Cigare Volant”? You may be thinking. “Flying Cigar”? Quoi-le-F?

In the 1950s, the people of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near Avignon, in the Rhône Valley, thought very seriously, and with obvious absence of hubris or sense of their self-importance, that when (as opposed to ‘if’ one cannot help but imagine) the Earth was invaded by itinerant Aliens, it would be their vineyards which would be the obvious target. So - with complete success thus far it has to be acknowledged - they decided to make such impudence ‘interdit’.

Forget Area 51 and Agent Orange and think more Departement 84 and près d’Orange. And onto the statutes of this highly celebrated wine region slipped the most bizarre law in all of wine. Spacecraft are expressly forbidden from landing in the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, under threat of impoundment. Obviously the little green men are just as wary of French Bureaucracy as the rest of us are, and flying cigar/saucer free the vineyards (and planet) remain. As far as we know.

This charming, but with potential-for-amusement, story had been somewhat brushed under the carpet by the presumably rather embarrassed locals, but was uncovered by Californian winemaking supremo, Randall Grahm, one of the original “Rhône Rangers” (a group of people who believed that perhaps - just perhaps - California was more suited to the grape varieties that grew successfully in regions with the same climate as they had, as opposed to places whose wines Thomas Jefferson happened once to enjoy drinking. And you have to concede, they had a point). With a label featuring a depiction of a fictional spaceship being even more daring than any real one has so far (or maybe not), thus ‘Cigare Volant’ was born. A blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault, mirroring that of a representative Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

And so it tasted, then, as now. My fear was that as none of these varieties is especially high in acidity, the wine might have lost its vibrancy by now. But the alcohol level of 13% is a testament to either a not-especially hot vintage, or a restraint in the harvest and winery which has kept the wine alive and fresh, even until today.

But it is rich and spicy, as it should be, with the liquorice and damson of Mourvèdre, the violets and pepper of Syrah and the lush baked plums, cooked strawberries and jam of Grenache and the savoury, meaty, varnishy patina of age. I drank it with a ‘parmentier de boeuf’ and enjoyed both enormously. And each more for having the other to play with. Delicious. May the force live long and prosper.

*There might be no tomorrow.


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