Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"B" is for Blend

This posting is a special request for, quite possibly, my only reader at this point.

Peace out, mom!

Just kidding, but that’s about the truth. Actually, my girlfriend suggested this one, and since it’s a topic that I love—it’s an easy request to fill.

Blended wines are certainly not a novelty for lots of people. But for a surprising number of wine drinkers, meritage and other funky blends are a bit of a mystery. It might surprise these folks to know that the vast majority of all California wines are blends.

This is because, legally, all you need is 80% or so of cabernet sauvignon grapes to call your wine cabernet. Sometimes you can get away with less. Depending on the appellation or designation you put on the label, the amount of a certain type of grape needed to bottle wine under that grape name varies widely.

The good news is that this isn’t really a bad thing. Adding other grapes often gives wine complexity and balance. Some producers add lesser-quality grapes to bulk up a wine, but that’s only one of the many tricks winemakers use to lower costs at the expense of quality.

Don’t even get me started about “essence of oak.” That’s a topic for another day.

Blending wines is a vary common winemaking technique employed worldwide. U.S. winemakers are largely responsible for the trend toward varietal wines—wines labeled under a specific type of grape. This is also how lots of people shop for wines. They go looking for chardonnay, merlot or shiraz. If something is labeled any other way, like red table wine or meritage, they're afraid of not knowing what they’re getting.

It’s a shame, because some really great wines are made in this style. Blended wines cover everything from shiraz/cabernet blends from Australia to the wines of Bordeaux to funky California blends like Bonny Doon Ca’del Solo Big House Red and everything in between.

Not only that, but there are countless blended white wines also, like d’Arenberg Stump Jump White, Sokol Blosser Evolution, killer wines from the Rhone Valley, white Bordeaux and so on and so forth. The list could go on forever.

A good blend is all about harmony: taming big, bad cabernet sauvignon with smooth merlot, adding the spice of cabernet franc and the deep color of petite verdot. Some wineries are nice enough to list the grapes on the label, others leave you in the dark. If they do, that's great. If not, have fun trying to guess what went in.

Once you learn a little about what each grape brings to the table, it gets really exciting to read wine labels. One winery that’s really great about listing what grapes went in and how much of each is Ridge Vineyards. Just reading their labels makes me salivate.

So for anyone other than my girlfriend (or my mom) who reads this, I have one request—drink something funky tonight.

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