"Mother of mercy, is this the end of Vino?"*
Once, the term “big house” conjured ghosts of Paul Muni, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood scheming to shed their prison grays. For those longest in their cups, the term might bring up memories of Chester Morris, pardoned for saving the guards in the great 1930 prison flicker, “The Big House.”
Now, at the Alehouse at least, “Big House” means just one thing: Ca' del Solo California Big House Red, a dense, richly erubescent vino from Bonny-Doon, the somewhat pixilated vintner from Santa Cruz. Ca' del Solo is what Bonny-Doon calls Italian-style wines; Big House is a blend faintly remindful of Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy, celebrated in less cosmopolitan days as the vessel on which many Americans traveled to vineland.
There is no escape from this Big House, a thick, fragrant, rustic libation that envelops the palate like honey. Despite its heft, this is a beverage with balance and grace, an elephant poised on one leg, gorgeous crimson in color, redolent of esoteric spices and ripe sugarplums, hints of rosemary and black raspberries persisting from its Piedmontese heritage.
Bonny-Doon Vineyard, which insists that “wine should be as much fun as government regulations allow,” is a pleasure to visit on line, with delightful visuals and cheerful prose, and such assets as wine clubs, 30-second Python-meets-South Park promos, and relentless advocacy on behalf of bottles with screw tops.
Befitting a winery that believes that “we should champion the strange, esoteric, ugly-duckling grape varieties of the world,” the current online-special is a naughty Framboisified Syrah Port called "Bouteille Call."
* With apologies to James Cagney.