Chow Town

Randall Grahm continues to craft wines that are far more than tasty

With thousands of wineries all jostling for a space on the public stage, media types like me probably have no greater purpose than to help steer the bright lights onto a few of the most interesting among them.

All too often though, the media simply points out the newest — trained as we are to find the news.

But that’s one of the keen differences between those who are journalists and those, like me, who are simply opinionated know-it-all’s — er those who write columns.

A column allows for opinion and, perhaps even more purposefully, for context. Context is, at least to some degree, quite the opposite of “new.” A columnist ought to explain how the “new” got to be here, and what might make it worthwhile aside from novelty.

Maybe it’s my advancing age. I am, as the Spanish say, closer to the harp than the guitar. I respect those who have helped build our current wine market and would often rather write about those founders than their gimcracked offspring.

I know I’m not alone in this. One of those great builders, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Winery, wrote a

recent blog post

of his own about Frank Zappa, the long departed, brilliant composer, guitarist and slightly crazy/cranky Freak of Southern California.

Zappa’s earliest work remains utterly vital to me today; his later work less so if still hilarious or at least funny in a drunk freshman kinda way. Those minor sins are whisked away by every mind blowing guitar solo, by the rich musicality of his compositions — if not his lyrics — and every musician around him. Without him, a lot of punk might never have found its vicious and principled irreverence.

And Randall Grahm is far more than one of the progenitors of the Rhone Ranger movement, though he looked pretty good on the cover of the Wine Spectator in hat and mask so many decades ago. He has done lots since and works with other grapes to as good or better effect.

Zappa never got his magazine cover (at least not to the cover of the Rolling Stone), but Grahm has not garnered the attention he deserves of late either. It’s a shame. He continues to craft wines that are far more than merely tasty, and far more interesting to this palate than the hundreds of tiny, cultish con jobs hurled at the gentle and unsuspecting wine lover.

Grahm continues to make his most famous wine, Le Cigare Volant, in both red and white versions. Both are delightful, and there are voluptuous but balanced “reserve” bottlings of each as well. He crafts solid Nebbiolo, artful Albarino, fruity Moscato, several excellent roses and a number of great dessert wines.

None of them are quite like anyone else’s wines though he has inspired and influenced many other winemakers. His past has been significant. But today, drinking his wine makes me think better of California’s vinous future.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. He contributes a monthly wine column for The Star’s Food section.