Usually I'm all about beer and homebrewing, but there was a time when wine ruled my taste buds, and my wallet. Drinking wine is nice, though it's better with a meal you can drink it alone. I was slowly becoming a fanatic, discovering clever stories to share with each bottle. A bottle of wine with a story?
A group of customers would gather in the back of the store around folding chairs and tables. The Tuesday Wine Shootout consisted of a dozen bottles of wine in brown paper bags. This was to disguise their name during sampling, and be free of any preconceived notions or price points. The store managers would pick a style and pull bottles from a range of prices. Sometimes they would throw in a cheap-ass bottle or an expensive bottle, just to see how well we'd score them. It all worked out well for the store, they'd save the empties and turn them in to the distributor for reimbursement. The distributor was grateful for additional marketing.
I brought my cousin Jeff, a rookie wine drinker, who liked sweet wines. The category this week was Rhone Rangers, styles that mimic those of the Rhone Valley region in France. I had my best tasting night ever, scoring very close to the late Michael Jackson (the one who rated wines, beers, and scotches not the one who fondled little boys). Not only were my scores solid, but my descriptors of flavors were coming along nicely. I was holding out that someday I could become a sommelier.
After the flight of Rhone Rangers was over my cousin went home, as did the freeloaders who never really patronized the store. We kept talking as folks left. Soon we were down to a core cadre of people who really wanted to learn and educate themselves about wine. Somebody in the group ordered a pizza. My first lesson learned was how well pizza goes very well with red wines. Sausage and cheese with red sauce, think about it.
Most Tuesdays would end after all the chosen wines were sampled and scored. The manager would pour all the wines together into a cuveé, unless there was something outstanding. This particular night worked out a little different. The freeloaders who came for the free wine left as soon as the official tasting was complete. Those left seemed to each gravitate toward a different bottle of wine during judging. We grabbed and savored the rest in our favorite bottles. Wine talk kept us well past the normal/legal operation of the store. One of the store managers went to the front of the store to grab a bottle for us, something with a story. It was another Rhone Ranger from California - Le Cigare Volant by Bonny Doon Vineyards. The bottle has an interesting label and a fantastic story.
The label has a picture of a cigar with a "beam" of red light shining down on a farmer in his wagon who is about to be beamed up to an alien spacecraft. Literally translated, "Le Cigare Volant" is French for The Flying Cigar. From the US perspective we've called UFOs flying saucers, but the French called them flying cigars. This was Bonny Doon's homage to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, while at the same time making fun of silly French people.
Well this story is actually rooted in truth. A few goofy Frenchmen started to see flying cigars after drinking far too much wine. As time went on, more and more of them started to see funny things in the sky. They got scared (and most likely tried to surrender). They felt those flying cigars would be interested in their wine/grapes, and might steal them. Rather than cut back on their wine consumption they complained to their politicians and local governments. The local governments knew those who worried about flying cigars were crazy, they also knew wine was a large part of their culture and the local economy. So they passed ordinances against flying cigars and threatened the immediate impound of any flying cigars caught landing in the vineyards. The law was considered a success as no flying cigars ever landed in or near Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Bonny Doon's irreverent owner, Randall Graham, was an original California Rhone Ranger. One of those pioneer winemakers to bring the wines of France's Rhone Valley stateside. Le Cigare Volant's maiden vintage was 1984. This particular wine is Graham's tribute to Rhone Valley's Châteauneuf-du-Pape. A blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre, viognier, cinsault and carignane.
The label on bottles of Le Cigare Volant is yet another way to make fun of those damn silly French.
Before the night was over, a patron went to the storefront and grabbed a $40 bottle of wine from the lower Rhone area for discussion. While passing it around somebody tore the foil off and started uncorking it faster than any of the managers could stop him. It was too late to pay for the wine with state mandated timed electronic cash registers. The customer offered to stop in the next day to pay. The manager approved it as another weekly shootout wine. We consumed that fantastic bottle with a delicious sausage and pepperoni pizza. Pizza and wine go very well, the cheese and dark spicy meats complemented the wine well. That bottle had a life expectancy of a box of chocolates at a Weightwatchers meeting!
Buy a bottle, read the story on the label, and impress your friends!
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