Finally Making it Back to the Winner’s Circle

Even before I started this blog over a decade ago, I fancied myself a storyteller. At any given time, I would have a dozen or so stories ready to tell, polished over time, just waiting for the perfect time to spring them into action.

Chatting with the manager of the Yankees in the visiting locker room in Baltimore, having a Kalashnikov pressed against my temple on the Yugoslavian border, selling Robin Williams several bicycles, being interrogated by a KGB operative in a hotel room in Budapest, or proposing to my wife atop the Empire State Building on Christmas Eve, I have always had a bevy of stories ready for just about any occasion.

Since starting this blog, the stories have continued to multiply (although few involve the KGB), providing fodder for this space and ample opportunity for me to continually explore the written word.

While I would never consider myself all that “important” or “well-known” there have been a few interactions that have caused me to pause and consider that my musings in this space have reached a broader audience than I could have ever imagined.

One such instance was a few years ago when I was out in California attending Winesong, the premier wine auction in Mendocino County, to benefit the Mendocino Coast Health Care Foundation. On Friday, there was a walk around Pinot Noir tasting at the Little River Inn on Highway One, in Little River, California (click on the link, I dare you).

I sidled up to one of the folks pouring there (Foursight Wines) and introduced myself (it had been over three years since my visit). The words “Drunken Cyclist” had only been out of my mouth for a heartbeat when a gentleman standing next to me inquired: “Oh, you’re the Drunken Cyclist? A buddy of mine told me you would be here.”

Well, I can assure you that despite the enormous fame and fortune that this blog has afforded me, that does not happen all that often. In fact, I think this was the second time in eight-plus years.

It turns out that said gentleman was Clayt Daley, a former executive at Proctor & Gamble, now a vineyard owner, and life-long Buckeye (that’s a fan of The Ohio State University for those college football philistines out there). It was on that last point that Clayt and I immediately bonded.

We subsequently met up in Columbus for a football game the following year, and last year, I bought his tickets for a couple of games to attend with my sons. He also sent me another bevy of wines to review and we thought it might be a good idea to taste these together on Zoom with the winemaker, Fred Scherrer, but given his busy schedule (he consults for a variety of brands), that never happened.

So I have been holding these wines for a year and a half and finally, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to pop them at home with a few of my tasting pals. As anticipated, this new(ish) slate of wines was remarkable.

The most recent vintages are available on the Bon Pari website.

The 2017 was an incredible Chardonnay, and the 2018 was every bit as delicious (and maybe even better).

2018 Winner’s Circle Winery Chardonnay Bon Pari Estate, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $75. It has been a few years now since I first tasted the Bon Pari Estate and this is now the third Chardonnay. While all the wines have been stellar (understatement), this might be the best Chard thus far. Once again, like the 2017, this wine screams “Meursault” to me: rich, luscious, but perfectly balanced with fruit (lemon curd, white peach, pineapple) that melds perfectly with the zingy tartness, creaminess, and subtle oak influence. While this is a bit pricey at $75, it shows like a wine easily twice (or more) its tariff. Easily one of the best Chardonnays I have tasted in a while. Extraordinary. 97 Points.

2016 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $70. This is now the third vintage of this wine I have sampled and while I loved the previous two vintages of this wine, this one? OK, I love this one as well. Big. Fruity. Big and fruity. This might just be the perfect example of “California Pinot” with big fruit, intense acidity, depth, and well, power. Black cherry with a rather distinct meatiness that compliments that fruit, eucalyptus, rich. While this is close, it is not over-the-top, it is big, bold, busty, and bodacious, but it is also beautiful and balanced. Fantastic. Outstanding. 95 Points.

2017 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari, Sonoma Coast, CA: Retail $70. Yet another vintage of the wine that I consider among the best Pinot Noirs in the U.S. Like the previous vintages I have tried, this is a fruit-forward wine, showcasing all of that red berry fruit for which Sonoma is known. Great tartness, as well, that serves to balance all of that fruit. It is clear that the wine has spent some time in wood, too, with vanilla and an oaky presence, with a depth of character that is fairly rare, at least these days. A fantastic, amazing wine. Outstanding. 96 Points.

2016 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $80. I imagine that there are not many who know of Bon Pari as the production is quite small, but over the last few years, the brand has rushed to the forefront of my consciousness. Why? While the wines might not be in my wheelhouse as they are big, bombastic, and even boisterous–they are also extremely well-made, well-balanced, and on the verge of iconic. Example. This Russian River Valley gem flexes its power from the jump: big, juicy fruit, lip-smacking tartness, just a few jars short of a full spice rack (with clove at the forefront), and a lengthy, layered finish. Yowza. And a whoa or three. Lovers of Pinot should either start or end their quest with Bon Pari as it is certainly a defining wine. Extraordinary. 97 Points.

2017 Winner’s Circle Winery Pinot Noir Bon Pari, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $80. Under cork. This is my last bottle of a series of wines that I received from Bon Pari (hopefully, I will get a few more!). While the labeling has changed slightly, the essence of this wine has remained steadfast. This is a big, powerful Pinot, with oodles of depth, multiple layers, and an encompassing tartness that unifies the wine, rendering it one of the best RRV Pinots that I have tried. Rich, intense fruit, incredible spice, vanilla, oak. The palate is perhaps more worthy of remark with all that fruit, the balancing tartness, and the lengthy, lingering finish. It is becoming cliché with this producer, but “Yowza” and “Whoa.” Outstanding. 96 Points.

From top to bottom, the Bon Pari wines were incredible.


About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

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