Houseguests and Flying Saucers - Or, Just Another Week of Good Times

We're entertaining a deluge of houseguests this week -- winery interns and rogue brothers -- so I thought it might be fun to share my Houseguest story. Ah, Houseguest: the 1995 Sinbad/Phil Hartman cinematic extravaganza that just may have instigated my career as a wine aficionada. Sadly, YouTube's version of the classic wine-tasting scene muffles the audio/video. Just get the movie on Netflix and skip to the scene. Sinbad's character is a scam artist, a grown orphan whose excellent hustling skills have landed him at the head of the table at Phil's wine tasting. A hilariously repressed wine critic describes his ideal wine in lascivious fashion; Sinbad encourages everyone to drink Lafite out of the bottle; and then "Brick House" starts playing. 

Wine critic cuts loose on some Lafite

Who wouldn't want to learn more about wine after that?

I first saw this movie as an impressionable college student. These many years later, I've been to more than my share of wine parties, in homes, vineyards and crush pads, but this one still takes the cake. Watch it and enjoy! 

The Double-Double

Each week, Jody and I trade blind pairings. One of us makes a secret dish for dinner; the other picks out a secret wine. We pair the two no matter what, and share the results with you. Lately, we've been rocking some pretty good synchronicity. 

Jody put on the chef's apron this week, and I picked up the wine. I had a few hours alone, and spent some quality time at The Wine Loft in Carlsbad. The perfect secret bottle revealed itself way up high; the clerk was nice enough to reach it for little ol' me. Bottle in hand (and in brown-bag), I set off home to discover what was for dinner.

The Food

Jody stayed busy while I was gone, shopping and preparing.

It's not the worst thing to come home and find!

The Menu:

  • Grilled sockeye salmon
  • Salt-baked potatoes with sour cream
  • Sauteed Swiss chard with slivered garlic, caramelized onions, lardons and balsamic vinegar

Sockeye salmon, flaky and sweet

If only the photo could capture the flavor - Swiss chard, bacon, balsamic, caramelization ... mmmmmm!

The Wine, Part I

For years I've been intrigued by the career of Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm, whose name in print usually is followed by the words "maverick" and/or "iconoclast." (For an insightful profile, check out Meg Houston Maker's article for Palate Press.) Randall has a passion for terroir; a seriously deft way with words; and a new Dylanesque video to promote his book "Been Doon So Long." He was one of the first people I followed when I joined Twitter. While I've tasted (and enjoyed) a few sweet Bonny Doon wines, I'd never tried the flagship: Le Cigare Volant.

Randall visited The Wine Loft a few months ago, and one of his signed bottles of 2004 Le Cigare Volant remained on the shelf. That's the one that called me from on high.

The Cigare is bottled under screwcap, as are all Bonny Doon wines. I opened it downstairs behind closed doors, so Jody wouldn't have any clues, and poured it into the decanter. It decanted for an hour before we poured it.

The Wine, Part II

If we pour a blended brown-bag wine, we reveal that the wine is a blend. I told Jody we were drinking a blended wine, and set to the fun of evaluating. (The only downside to this is that sometimes, I forget there's food on the table!)

The nose was full of nutmeg, violets, blackberry, black pepper. It was richly aromatic, without being "hot." On the palate, I tasted velvety red plum and rhubarb. 

Jody guessed: 2005 Napa Cabernet Franc/Cabernet.

(My brother Chris joined us again for the dinner, and he thought it was a 2004 California cool-climate Zinfandel.)

It was: 2004 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant Red Wine, Santa Cruz.
38 percent Grenache, 35 percent Syrah, 12 percent Mourvedre, 8 percent Carignane, 7 percent Cinsault.
13.5% alcohol. $24.95, Wine Loft Carlsbad.

Chris was surprised, as he's tasted Le Cigare before and remembered it to be more earth than fruit. This one had a lovely fruit core. The blend changes each year, so the wine is a true reflection of the growing season and the impact it has on the fruit. According to The Wine Institute, 2004 was an early harvest with a light, high-quality crop.

The Pairing

Remember the sauteed Swiss chard? Caramelized onions, lardons, balsamic vinegar? One bite and a sip of wine, and there came the earth we were looking for. Sweet, rich earth. I pictured a forest -- I've never been to the Santa Cruz Mountains, but I think I'll recognize them when I go.

The sockeye salmon was grilled perfectly. It flaked so beautifully, I found myself eating with my fingers (!), peeling layers and placing them in my mouth, following with a sip of briary Cigare. As the wine evolved in the glass over the course of an hour, a tangled complexity seemed to dance around the blackberry fruit. It was a lovely experience.

The Children

Talia, age 10: "It smells of cranberries."

Elijah, age 6: "Kinda pomegranate-ish. I think the year 2004."

Once again, the kids are alright on this one.

Until next week, my friends ... thanks for reading!