If you’re looking for chardonnay or other California wine workhorses, skip past Bonny Doon Vineyard. But if you’re searching for the surprising, the exotic or the innovative — more often than not turned into downright good wine — the kingdom of Bonny Doon is a worthy and entertaining destination.
I’ve talked here before about Bonny Doon’s economical and satisfying Big House Red, a blend of a dozen or so varieties that takes its name and its label art from the maximum-security state prison down the road (as do Big House White and the relatively new Big House Pink). I liked the nicely done riesling called, in characteristic Bonny Doon fashion, The Heart Has Its Rieslings. And I gave Bonny Doon an A for effort for its twist on sangiovese, the Tuscan favorite. (Every B-D bottle, by the way, now comes, “en screwcap,” as founder Randall Grahm likes to put it — that is, with a metal screw cap closure.)
In recent weeks, as I began to taste some of Bonny Doon’s latest releases, another wine stood out, the 2004 Malvasia Bianca, part of B-D’s so-called Ca’ del Solo line, which finds its inspiration in Italy but, with its vivid fruit is unmistakably Californian. This is, in fact, one of the more original American whites that I’ve tasted recently. (Bonny Doon’s Scottish moniker, by the way, comes from a 19th-century settler, John Burns, who named the area near Santa Cruz after a line from the great poet Robert Burns [no relation].)
With its floral, herbal and pretty fruit aromas, it brings to mind both gewürztraminer (gentle hints) and riesling. In the mouth, pineapple, peach, strawberry and touches of honey and lime emerge before the wine finishes dryly and crisply. With a suggested price of just $13, it also delivers excellent value.
Malvasia bianca is thought to have come from Greece a couple thousand years ago and is widely planted in Italy, where it is used to make wines in a variety of styles, including, unfortunately, countless bottles of insipid Frascati that flood the environs of Rome and well beyond.
Bonny Doon’s rendition, made from grapes sourced from a vineyard in Monterey County, is far more inspired and, well, serious, despite all the winery’s marketing stagecraft. The winery made 9,500 cases of the Malvasia, probably just enough to quench what I suspect will be a considerable thirst once people sample it.
It will go well with grilled chicken and shrimp, lighter Asian foods and will become a conversation piece when served as a summer aperitif. It’s also a perfect metaphor for Bonny Doon itself, a big winery (almost five million bottles a year) that, with a clever and idiosyncratic approach and downright good wines, makes it itself seem much smaller. It’s worth visiting the Web site at www.bonnydoonvineyard.com.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. Write to him at EdwardDeitch