WINE BLENDS AS METAPHOR: THEY ILLUSTRATE THE BENEFITS OF DIVERSITY

Blended wines are hot. I’m not sure why but consumer surveys have identified a growing trend, especially for red wine blends. So, more and more producers are proudly proclaiming their blended status in ever more prominent marketing efforts. Whether you realize it or not most wines you drink are blends – of multiple grapes from different vineyards – even the wines varietally labeled.

 

For many, the Bordeaux formula of blending various percentages of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot is the template. For others, the “Super Tuscans” of Italy are the benchmark, though usually substituting zinfandel for sangiovese. Still others take southern France as their inspiration, blending grapes like syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and petite sirah. Finally, some mix and match various grapes to achieve a desired style.

 

Yes, certain grapes are popular for a reason, usually something to do with distinctive aromas, flavors or overall character. But just as cultural diversity be a societal strength, so winemakers of all stripes have found varietal diversity to have unique benefits. Try any of the wines below (reviewed in order of preference within each category) and you will taste the synergy in a product that embodies the classic sentiment of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

 

Excellent

 

All these are variations on the classic Bordeaux-style blend. Each should improve and drink well for the next ten to fifteen years

 

2012 Duckhorn Howell Mountain ($95). Blending two high elevation vineyards and four of the five traditional Bordeaux varieties (dominated by cabernet sauvignon, with merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot)this wine has it all: Deep, intense, bold, ripe, dusty, firm tannins, power and richness.

 

2013 J. Lohr Cuvée St. E ($50). This Paso Robles beauty emulates Saint-Émilion with a majority cabernet franc, buttressed with merlot, cabernet sauvignon and malbec. It achieves layers of complexity built on a well-structured wine but soft palate.

 

2013 Dry Creek Vineyard The Mariner ($45). Navigating prime Dry Creek vineyards and the five Bordeaux varieties (mostly cabernet sauvignon, though), this is a really big wine with intense, dusty tannins but a lush texture.

 

2013 Rodney Strong Symmetry ($55). The name clues us in on this one’s goal of balancing those five Bordeaux varieties (again mostly cabernet sauvignon) creating a harmonious wine, supple yet firm, with concentrated fruit, yet elegant tannins.

 

Very Good

 

2014 Bootleg “Prequel” ($35). This one is an exception to my Bordeaux statement above in that it’s formula is 92 percent syrah and 8 percent petite sirah. From Kendall-Jackson’s Sonoma County vineyards, it is complex, spicy, silky, plush, and broad, with deep, nicely focused fruit.

 

2013 J. Lohr Cuvée Pau ($50). Fashioned after Pauillac, with cabernet sauvignon dominating, its inviting savory character and tight but smooth tannins are impressive.

 

2013 Duckhorn “The Discussion” ($135). This conversation among a majority cabernet sauvignon with merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot from the best lots of Duckhorn’s six best vineyards is rich and concentrated, with inviting oak and savory accents, though it needs time for this dialogue to resolve into a balanced conclusion. Time in the bottle will further resolve this discussion.

 

2013 Leviathan ($45). How about some syrah with your cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc? The addition makes for a bold, savory, earthy, brambly, tannic wine that needs a couple of years to come together.

 

Fine Values

 

These wines emphasize fresh fruit and approachable tannins making for immediate enjoyment.

 

2014 Purple Heart ($20). Made by a Vietnam War veteran and an Iraq War veteran and dedicated to the men and women in the military. Mostly merlot, it also happens to be a very good wine.

 

2013 Hess Select “Treo” Winemaker’s Red Blend ($19). At three-fifths petite sirah, syrah, and zinfandel (the rest cabernet franc and merlot) you get a ready to drink, fresh, spicy quaffer.

 

2015 Jamieson Ranch Whiplash ($15). With this one, petite sirah and sangiovese join malbec and cabernet sauvignon to deliver a surprisingly multifaceted, pleasantly juicy drink.

 

2015 Decoy Sonoma County ($25). Quite a hodgepodge here as zinfandel and petit sirah join those five Bordeaux varieties. But it works to yield an approachable but firmly structured wine.

 

Finally, a unique blend for your consideration. Right now, there are only a handful of bourbon-aged wines on the market. That’s right, the wine is aged in barrels once used to age whiskey. I guess if brewers can do it and if whiskey makers can use pre-owned wine barrels… Luckily, this doesn’t taste too much like whiskey, though it adds that layer to the flavor profile. The 2014 Cooper & Thief Cellarmaster Select($28) – three-fourths merlot and syrah, the rest other red blenders – offers up a deep jammy wine that, at 17 percent alcohol is assertive, big and bold but still drinks with a velvety texture, though with noticeable heat. While some critics think these wines are a stunt for the U.S. millennial market, I found this one to have a lot of appeal.

 

About Rich

I first became interested in wine while I worked in numerous liquor stores during college in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In the years following college, I researched, tasted, traveled to vineyards in California and Europe, participated in countless tastings. I began writing about wine in 1995 with a column in Out Front Colorado. For me, wine is more than a drink. It is food. It is a connection to the earth. It is culture. There is just something amazing, even magical, about the transformation of grapes into wine. It is also remarkable how drinking wine with food enhances the taste and enjoyment of both. Appreciation of wine has become an integral part of my approach to life, which emphasizes balance, respect for nature, physical and emotional health, and an appreciation of our nature as social beings. In 2006, I was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.