Off the Vine: Don't let wine be a mystery

August 29, 2012 

Being overwhelmed by the constant political rhetoric on both television and radio as the Republican National Convention was about to get underway just 45 minutes to the north; and in addition to preparing for Tropical Storm Isaac, I couldn't help but think of a favorite quote from a much more famous Isaac -- one with the last name of Newton -- "We build too many walls and not enough bridges."

Until recent years, wine was a mystery to most people in this country with many believing that true oenophiles are nothing more than "wine snobs." It used to seem quite obvious as one perused a shelf at the local wine shop that there existed a real barrier, or in other words a wall, between all those bottles with archaic-looking labels and the novice who is attempting to choose that perfect bottle to experiment with over that night's dinner. But, in today's market, there are numerous selections available in consumer-friendly packaging.

In reality, wine doesn't always have to be a mystery; one only needs to look to Randall Grahm, the founder of Bonny Doon Vineyards, to find a very artistic and eclectic winemaker. All you have to do is take a look at the unconventional labels that Grahm places on his bottles to begin to understand that Bonny Doon is unlike most other wineries.

Bonny Doon Vineyard was founded in 1983 and is known for producing Rhone-style wines. The Rhone wine region is in the south of France and produces red wines using the Grenache and Syrah varietals blended with other grapes,

including the white varietals roussanne and marsanne. The white wines are produced from the Viognier grape. Bonny Doon produces a number of wines, including the red blends Le Cigare Volant and Syrah Le Pousseur, and a white blend named Le Cigare Blanc.

If you desire more traditional varietals, you don't have to look much further than the Robert Mondavi Private Selection wines. Mondavi introduced this label in 1994 to highlight wines that were produced from grapes grown in the North and Central Coast regions of California. Each of these wines should be easy to find, with a price tag of about $10 a bottle.

Cupcake Vineyards also produces value-minded wines, costing less than a dozen of their fancy namesakes -- gourmet cupcakes which made a huge comeback nationwide. The initial release of wines from Cupcake Vineyards only took place in 2008.

Interestingly enough, Cupcake produces the typical varietals but with grapes from different parts of the world, with Sauvignon Blanc that hails from New Zealand, a Riesling from Washington State, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from the Central Coast region of California, as well as a Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina.

It's much easier to step over the barriers that make for a daunting task to pick a bottle of wine to have with dinner on any given night, especially with the value-minded labels that are readily available on the market. Although wine may still remain as a mystery, the advent of consumer friendly labels are at least opening small foot bridges for some.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at

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