The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine de Fondreche Persia 2012 (Ventoux), for #Winophiles

I love cool-climate syrah. I’m always searching for the earthy flavors and sensual experience of Cote Rotie… for less than $80 a bottle, and preferably with at least 14% ABV.

Enter Domaine de Fondreche Persia 2012, from Ventoux, France. Persia is the vineyard; Ventoux is an area east of the southern Rhone where the local climate and weather are influenced by a single mountain.

Notably, while summer days are very hot, nights are cooled by air coming down from Mont Ventoux. Hence, northern Rhone-like cool climate syrah, from a region much farther south, where land is much cheaper.

When I was done with my first bottle, I rushed back to buy a case. I should have bought two.

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Sonoma’s Where My Heart Is – The Fires

The fires got to me.

Sonoma and wine generally are — were — my respite from worldly woes: hurricane after hurricane after hurricane and mass shootings, politics, family health matters, terrorism, and all the rest.

And then the fires.

I was safe. A continent away. But obsessed and traumatized.

I had a pleasant Sunday. Woke up Monday to wildfires blown across my ‘happy place’ by 70 mph winds.

Willi’s burned.

“Do you have a favorite winebar in Sonoma?”

“Not any more.”

A neighborhood like where Willi’s Winebar was should not burn down. A residential neighborhood — like dozens strewn across Sonoma and ‘wine country’ — should not burn… not in northern California… not like that.

I don’t want to even try to imagine the trauma of being there. Fires on the ridges, smell of smoke at midnight. Evacuations, burned neighborhoods. Everyone knows someone who… and the blanks you fill in aren’t happy.

I wish everyone there a speedy recovery, and that you always remember to be gentle with yourselves and others.

People are people, do what they do. Chefs started cooking free meals. Photographers started taking pictures. Firefighters raced to the flames. Etc.

It’s less pretty to think that there were people looting and even setting fires.

Nobody needs anyone driving through burnt-out neighborhoods, gawking, either.

But it’s bad enough to drive along a road and see what used to be a neighborhood, now reduced to rubble and chimneys and burned cars and tree trunks.

Chimneys, rubble, and tree trunks where a neighborhood used to be.

The people who lived in those houses with their families and pets… that’s a lot of lives interrupted, with the accessories of a comfortable life burned away.

Sonoma Strong

They seem to mean it. People who lost their homes… are out helping others. Lots of people pitching in. I suppose when you say “Sonoma Strong”, it reminds you to be strong, that you are strong.

What can you — we — do?

There are plenty of charities to donate to.

There’s plenty of wine. Buy some. Enjoy it. Think of all the people who helped make it. Cheers!

Visit! Wineries and tasting rooms are open for business. Go team!

In fact, almost all vineyards and wine makers suffered very little or no direct damage. Turns out, vineyards are excellent firebreaks. I saw more than one that was a little toasty along one edge, but 99.9+% undamaged… at least to see from the road. Grape leaves are lovely in the fall.

This is a wonderful time of year to visit Sonoma. Actually, every season is a wonderful time of year to visit Sonoma.

I was…

I was already planning to visit Sonoma for the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC17).

There were a couple of sessions on the fires and dealing with fires. Oof.

I was glad after the conference to do a wine tour. We visited Iron Horse, Teldeschi in Dry Creek Valley, Loxton north of Glen Ellen, and MacLaren and Enkidu in Sonoma.

A bunch of wine bottles lined up, with more behind... from various Sonoma wine makers.


Campana Ranch and Winery

As you approach the Campana Ranch Winery you know it is going to be an unusual experience. You confront the gate: fresh eggs, keep the gate closed for loose horses, and the name. It is a ranch and winery. The wife does the ranch and Steve Baker does the winery. He retired from corporate wine and started his own. The first wine was 2012. So it is not a winery that has been around for a long time. The afternoon I was there they were hauling hay, which he left to talk about wines.

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Zeni Amarone della Valpolicella docg Classico 2013

Amarone blends deserve their place among the Great Big Reds. We enjoyed this one very much.

For those who haven’t come across amarone: it’s a north Italian blend of light red grapes, but they dry the grapes before fermenting (!!?). It’s wine made from raisins, so a lot of the water is gone but the sugar remains. This gives them high alcohol, 15% in this case, but frequently even more.

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Bonny Doon: Care for some Aliens with your Wine?

Note: this article is about visiting Bonny Doon’s Tasting Room. We’ll review some of the wines in the near future.

Not your grandmother’s tasting room (Though Grandma may enjoy it!)


Bonny Doon’s wine tasting room offers up hearty notes of extraterrestrials, with hints of Banana slug, spaceships, and a lingering aftertaste of philosophy and fishnets. This fantastical winery is the brainchild of Randall Grahm, a philosophy major turned winemaker, on a quest for the perfect Pinot Noir.

As the designated ‘Millenial’ of Great Big Reds, Bonny Doon was my favorite tasting room I visited on our most recent trip, and well, really, my life.

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Pino Doncel Black Changed My (Wine) Life

Dark flavors for dark times

Pino Doncel Black — monastrell/mourvedre, syrah, and 20% petit verdot — was there for me when I needed a dark, earthy wine in the under $15 range. ($12 on sale at Calvert Woodley in Washington, DC.)


Yes, 20% petit verdot won me straight away. My first bottle I was struck by the tannin, but now I hardly notice. I get the lush, rich feeling that I like (14.5% alcohol) and this strong darkness.


It takes a lot to get me to postpone drinking my hot-climate shiraz favorites. Pino Doncel Black is a lot.


The winery is in Jumilla. It’s a family-run bodega, founded in 1914.

To me, this seems like an upgrade over pure Monastrell. And if you’re going to blend, blending with petite verdot beats blending with grenache any day.

Canals Canals 2012 Brut Cava

Great Big Cava

This is a brut rose cava made from 60% monastrell (!!) and 40% garnacha. Some people we know are prejudiced against rose because it seems like watered-down red. But if you think of it as flavored-up white… that sounds better! (‘Cava’ is the Spanish term for sparkling wine made with the same process that the ‘Champagne’ region of France uses.)


We think of champagne and champagne-oise as honorary Great Big Reds. The bubbles stand in for richness, and the acidity distracts less when the wine is cold and the mood is celebratory. Also, rose champagne-oise is colorful because the grape skins were left in the mix longer, and that results — all other things being equal — in more flavor than white. In this case, 60% monastrell probably adds a lot more flavor than they would have gotten from another grape.

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