I want, and don’t want, to read Jon Bonné’s recently published book, “The New California Wine.” Want to read because Bonné, wine columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, knows a lot about a part of the wine world that I don’t – California – and brings to it an attitude I share: Wines can be great without being huge; soil and climate matter more than the cellar; delicacy and precision have more lasting value than intensity and potency.

Bonné’s book emphasizes a younger generation of California winemakers, who are bringing a perspective I admire – curious, Europhile, well-informed, humble – to a variety of terroirs in desperate need of it. For too long Californian vintners have emphasized glycerine, over-amped, over-alcoholic, over-fruity, over-everything wines; appropriateness, place, and food be damned.

I don’t want to read the book, though, because many of the wines by the major players in “The New California Wine” are not yet available in Maine, and armchair drinking (without a drink) only goes so far.

Drinkers in this state with an interest in California wine usually want something rather brawny or buxom, from the Big Three: Cab, Pinot, Chard. Certainly there are exceptions out there, among both drinkers and wines, but it’s going to take us a few years to gain awareness of and access to the smaller-scale, quieter, less immediately recognizable wines that the new generation of Californians is working so creatively to produce.

But here’s Jon Grant, with his Couloir and Straight Line wines. Grant, a winemaker who learned his trade at Napa’s Corison, Plumpjack, Mondavi and Turley, started his ski-mountaineering-named lines out of a desire to develop exceptionally pure Pinot Noir that is all the riskier for its emphasis on minimalism, directness, grace. A Utah powder lover myself, I wish I’d skied with Grant when he managed wine programs at Snowbird, if only to see if he takes as sheer and clarified a line down a narrow chute as he does with such tenderly grown and handled fruit.

Couloir is the single-vineyard line. Each wine is from one of several Anderson Valley sites that Grant has selected. It’s illuminating to taste all three available here next to each other, to gain an undeniable sense of how differences among nearby locations can translate into remarkably independent profiles, from flinty to floral to darkly rich, from spicy to muscular to magisterially calm.

Straight Line wines draw grapes from a wider swath, and what they lack in the Couloirs’ hair-trigger terroir-meters they make up for with immediacy and transmission of the essence of a varietal. The Pinot Noir is crystal clear, as it should be, and to my palate almost perfectly (and rarely) normal: a benchmark for what should happen when Burgundy’s delicate flower comes to a warmer part of the globe. The Syrah is a bit nuts, refusing to be contained. And that’s what Syrah should be.

As distinct as the vineyards are, they all receive similar treatment once the grapes are picked, toward a final product that tries to keep the wine as wine. That might sound silly, but so much Californian wine is doctored and overdressed, with natural components removed and unnatural ones added. Couloir and Straight Line grapes are crushed whole-cluster, rather than with stems removed. For this to work, the grapes need to be coaxed to a fuller (“physiological,” or “phenolic”) ripeness than grapes that are crushed stemless. This takes skill and experience (and money).

The juice is then spontaneously fermented with native yeasts; not racked off the lees (the dead yeast cells that impart so much to a wine’s texture and secondary flavor characteristics); neither fined nor filtered; and elevated with far less new oak than most California winemakers implement.

This commitment to minimal handling results in wines of similar comportment in the glass. They show distinctive balance. They taste complicated but well-integrated. They are shockingly low in alcohol, cool in comportment, at home at table. They cost more than we’re used to but less than they should. (Bonné has written and spoken informatively and eloquently on the frustratingly exclusivist condition of California wine economics.)

I’m grateful to Mariner Beverages for bringing to Maine these Eastern-tempered West-coast wines, produced in such small amounts. (I’ll have even more to be grateful for soon, when Mariner brings Arnot-Roberts to the state.) For now, Couloir and Straight Line are on the lists at Fore Street and Hugo’s, and for sale at Browne Trading. Here’s hoping there will be additional outlets in the near future.

Straight Line Pinot Noir 2011, Mendocino ($35). Pinot Noir should be either incredibly complex or Zen-level spare; at any price point, it’s usually somewhere in the muddled middle. The Straight Line is so as-it-should-be, so Saint-Exupéry, I shed almost-real tears of appreciation.

Straight Line Syrah 2011, Santa Barbara ($32). OK, all of us who like red wines that taste like mussels, throw ya hands in the air like you just don’t care. This is a big wine, a handful of dried black figs, a rich briny broth. It’s not going to bring California Syrah back into the mainstream, the way so many people have been hoping, for some time, because it’s slightly mad. Mad exotic, mad unctuous, mad bad, mad good. It all comes together, though, which is what counts.

Couloir Monument Tree Pinot Noir 2011 ($46). For those who like their domestic Pinot Noir with a lot of primary red fruit, this is the one. Of Grant’s wines, it’s also the most fine and mineral-expressive, with a core of rock right down the middle. There’s an almost mulled quality to it, as if fresh thyme sprigs and the ripest of plums were steeped in the wine for days.

Couloir Roma’s Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($42). This was my favorite. The spice and flint traits are paramount, but it’s nothing like a spicy/flinty Burgundy that you can’t cozy up to for 15 years. At 12.7% alcohol, it’s supremely unhurried and loose-limbed, and its journey from first tongue contact until a good while later as it departs is one steady dissolve. This wine also seems like the one with the most life ahead of it, given the bony angles you sense inside the enveloping flesh. It would be a fascinating six-bottle buy, for you to dip into semiannually for three years.

Couloir Londer Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 ($46). The biggest, darkest, most muscular of the wines I tasted, it’s deep and savory, basso, vibrating in the lower registers. Its tannins stand out, partially because the other wines display so few. Despite its size, the wine holds just 13.7% alcohol, and is an ideal one to try (starting a year or two from now) for anyone looking to gently wean himself off the super-concentrated California Pinots he’s been riding with for a while.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. He can be reached at:

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