WINE BLENDS DEMONSTRATE HWY WHOLE IS GREATER THAN SUM OF PARTS

Whether you realize it or not most wines you drink are blends of multiple grapes (even those varietally labeled) from different vineyards. And industry sales data reveal more wineries these days are featuring wines specifically as blends.

 

Yes, certain grapes are popular for a reason and make fine wine flying solo, usually something to do with distinctive aromas, flavors or overall character. But just as cultural diversity is 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.

 

For many, the Bordeaux formula blending various percentages of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot is the template.  For a winery that produces over 1.6 million cases of wine a year, J. Lohr maintains impressive quality at all price points. For our purposes here, a case in point is the Cuvée Series, which takes the exploration of Bordeaux blends so seriously theiy explore three of the main regions of Bordeaux. I’ve recommended these before and the current vintage (2014, $50) continues to impress.

 

Cuvée POM (Pomerol) 82% merlot + 18% malbec; my favorite of the trio; rich, succulent black cherry and plum, savory chocolate and spices, aroma of fresh soil, full-bodied; drinks supple and juicy, with refined tannins, seamlessly balanced

Cuvée PAU (Pauillac) 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec; 11% petit verdot + 7% merlot; rich, luscious dark berries; intriguing interplay of savory, sweet and oak elements;  quite full with a velvety texture

Cuvée ST. E (Saint-Émilion) 59% cabernet franc, 33% cabernet sauvignon, 7% malbec + 1% petit verdot; juicy plum and blackberry; with roasted notes and hints of oak; fleshy mouthfeel

 

The wines below are variations on the classic Bordeaux-style blend. Listed in order of preference, each should improve and drink well for the next ten years.

 

2014 Charles Krug “Generations” Family Reserve  ($60) 84% cabernet sauvignon, 9% petit verdot, 4% merlot + 3% malbec; herbal, earthy notes frame lively fruit, wrapped in rustic tannins

2014 50 Harvests “Meritage” Napa Valley Oak Knoll District ($50) 75% cabernet sauvignon + 25% petit verdot; deep, forward fruit, herbal, fresh textured; a fine collaboration of Napa winemaker Mitch Cosentino and Lodi winemaker Paul Scotto

2014 Acumen “Mountainside” Napa Valley ($45) 42% cabernet sauvignon, 19% malbec, 19% merlot, 14% cabernet franc + 6% petit verdot; minty, herbaceous, earthy, intense, spicy finish, needs time to come together

2016 Chappellet “Mountain Cuvee” Napa Valley ($34) 51 cabernet sauvignon, 13 malbec, 24 merlot, 3 cabernet franc + 9 petit verdot; lively, concentrated, sweet fruit, savory, herbal

2013 Dry Creek Meritage Dry Creek Valley ($26) all five Bordeaux varieties but mostly 40% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Sauvignon; restrained but  juicy berries, touch of  dried herb and spice, drying tannins needs time to resolve

 

For others, the “Super Tuscans” of Italy are the benchmark, showcasing sangiovese, though often substituting zinfandel and sometimes syrah.

 

2015 Ferrari-Carano “Siena” Sonoma County Red Wine ($21) sangiovese, malbec, cabernet sauvignon + petite sirah; zesty, fruit-forward red berries, lush, anise and cocoa tinged

2014 Treana “Red” ($45) 75% cabernet sauvignon + 25% syrah; from one of Paso Robles pioneer wineries; intense fruit, tobacco, mocha and woodsy notes add complexity, lush, powerful

 

Duckhorn Winery’s Paraduxx winery is exemplary here. It is a winery devoted to making only blends. Each of these will benefit from a few years development.

 

2014 Atlas Peak ($80) 55% cabernet sauvignon + 45% sangiovese; firm, full, oaky, earthy, smooth structure, spicy finish

2014 Howell Mountain ($80) 65% cabernet sauvignon + 35% syrah; dense dark fruit, herbal, leathery, tannic finish

2015 Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine ($50) 54% cabernet sauvignon, 19% merlot, 16% zinfandel + 11% petit verdot; intense, bright fruit, forest and tobacco notes, smooth

 

Still others take southern France as inspiration, blending grapes like syrah, grenache, mourvedre, and petite sirah. The ones in this report, though, also mix in Bordeaux and Italian grapes. This is California, after all.

 

2013 Ancient Peaks “Oyster Ridge” Paso Robles Maragarita Ranch ($60) 75% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah, 5% petite sirah + 5% malbec; my favorite of the whole tasting; massive, complex, packed with intense dark fruits, herbs, licorice, mocha, spice, and rich polished texture; will age well

2015 Rodney Strong “Upshot” Sonoma County ($28) 44% zinfandel, 29% merlot, 15% malbec, 7% petit verdot + 5% Riesling (?!); don’t ask me about the resiling because I don’t know how or why that got in there; I just know this offers user friendly, zesty fruit, with hints of tobacco and toast ; it has a lush, slightly dusty texture

2016 Lucas & Lewellen “Hidden Asset” Santa Barbara County ($29) 32% malbec, 30% merlot, 26% syrah, 9% petite sirah + 3% cabernet franc; oaky, menthol, fruity dark berries, light spice, smooth

2016 Pedroncelli “Sonoma Classico” Barrel Select Dry Creek Valley ($19) merlot, zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah; bright fruit, baking spices, dried herbs, smoky notes, rustic texture; good value

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.