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Flying Cigars and Great Wine

The story behind the name of California white wine Le Cigare Blanc is absurd—but its value is anything but

In 1954 the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in France's Rhone valley passed a decree that must rank as one of the world's greatest all-time absurdist legislative efforts and, when you think about it, the competition is pretty tough. It forbade "les cigars volants"— literally flying cigars but more accurately flying saucers—from landing anywhere within the village precincts.

One hesitates to speculate on what might have provoked the honest peasants—and vignerons too, for it is a famous wine village—to enact this wonderfully bizarre government initiative, but one only hopes it wasn't a surfeit of their excellent wine. Whatever the motivation though, the decree—unlike many such well-intentioned government initiatives—seems to have had its desired affect: CNP has mercifully remained a flying-saucer-free zone ever since.

We must now fast-forward to Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1986 where maverick winemaker, passionate exponent of Rhone Valley wines, founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard, and all-round absurdist himself, Randall Grahm, released his first wine, a red Rhone blend named Le Cigare Volant.

Think Peaches and Cantaloupes

A few years later he followed it up with a white version, Le Cigare Blanc, and it remains one of my favorite California whites. I opened a bottle, Le Cigare Blanc 2007 ($22), the other day and was once again amazed by the overwhelming explosion of lush, ripe fruit flavors this wine displays—think peaches and cantaloupes in summer, or comice pears in the fall. But it's not just a fruity, sweet dessert wine. Far from it. There's also a fine backbone of citrusy acidity that leads to a long, completely dry, and hugely satisfying finish.

And don't miss the discreet cigare volant looming like a malevolent insect in the upper left corner of the label. Absurd? Indeed, but a delectable wine nonetheless.

WOW Rating:

When to Drink: Now, and for the next couple of years.

Breathing/Decanting: An hour's breathing will help but not essential.

Food Pairing: Richer fish dishes, lobster and crab, and anything in a cream sauce.

Grapes: 64% roussanne, 36% grenache blanc.

Appellation: White Wine of the Earth

Region: California

Country: U.S.

Price: $22

Availability: Good

Web Site:

See more wines at

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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