By Steve Jacobson –
Wine blends have become a very exciting thing in winemaking today all across the world. I’m not talking about just the “Bordeaux” blends that France has made so famous. Winemakers are taking a chance on blending lots of different varietals and coming up with some interesting and delicious wines.
Since I mentioned Bordeaux blends, let’s start there. In the region of Bordeaux, the only varietals allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Many winemakers blend Cabernet Sauv., Cabernet Franc and Merlot as a classic combination. California decided to jump on board in 1988 and came up with “Meritage” – a combination of the words merit and heritage – and avoid infringing on France’s legally protected destination of origin, Bordeaux. There are a lot of great California Meritage wines with a wide range of price.
• Trefethen Double T – $20
• Decoy Red – $23
• Rodney Strong Symmetry – $45
• Chateau Margene Meritage – $56
• Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) Tapestry – $60
• Quintessa Meritage – $130
Another popular blend is Zinfandel and other varietals. The oft-mentioned PRISONER ($38) is a blend of primarily Zindandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. JC Cellars makes a Zin blend with Syrah, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo and Carignan called THE IMPOSTOR for $26. I highly recommend that one if you don’t want to spend $38 on THE PRISONER. It’s not the same as the varietals are quite different, but the wine is a great value. The other Zin Cab blend that I have previously mentioned is from Tres Sabores Winery in Napa. ¿POR QUÉ NO? is a blend of half Zinfandel, almost equal amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Sirah, with a touch of Petit Verdot. It’s another great wine for $25. This one may need to be purchased online through the winery as they only make 2000 cases.
Heading back to the Rhône Valley in France, there are some great Rhône varietals that make for great blends. And California has jumped on that as well. “GSM” – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre – make for a great combination of varietals for blending. Nadia (owned by Laetitia) makes a nice GSM Blend ($25) from the Santa Barbara County area – 56% Grenache/29% Syrah/15% Mourvèdre. Orin Swift makes a great blend called Abstract ($29) – blending Grenache, Petit Sirah and Syrah. Another great Orin Swift blend is D66 ($38) – Grenache, Syrah and Carignan. Of course what makes each of these wines different is the process that they are made. D66 sits in 30% new French oak for 18 months and then aged 5 months in bottles before the release. Abstract is aged 10 months in new and seasoned French oak. (Now you see the difference in the price. Time is money…)
I have mentioned Conundrum in other posts – and I find both the red and white blends to be great values for $22. The White Conundrum is a California table wine that is blended with five white grape varietals – Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc/Muscat Canelli/Viognier/Semillon. The grapes are sourced from Monterey, Napa, Santa Barbara and Tulare counties. Stainless steel tanks are used as well as seasoned and new French oak barrels. The Red Conundrum according to winemaker Charlie Wagner II – “Conundrum Red is a non-traditional blend of California red grapes. What are the varietals used? It’s proprietary and we believe the fun is exploring this intriguing wine. This truly is a Conundrum in style which is unlike any other red blended wine.” Once you taste it, you will know that it is a really nice blend.
I was recently at a wine tasting where the theme was very unusual blends. I can’t say that I loved the wines I tasted, but I did love the experience. The winemakers gambled on how this was going to come out. And perhaps the names of the wines showed some of that as well.
The winery was Odisea, based in Napa Valley. But they source from all over – Napa, Sonoma County, Mendocino County, and Lodi. Their inspiration comes from wines the winemakers love from the south of France and into Spain (the Iberian Peninsula). Their production is small and they focus on these very unusual blends. And some of these varietals are not all that common in California wines.
• Devil’s Share – Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Petite Sirah, & Viognier
• Unusual Suspects – Carignane, Tempranillo, Grenache, & Cinsault
• Temporary Insanity – Tempranillo, Carignan, & Petite Sirah
• Veritable Quandary Red – Syrah, Grenache, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Alvarelhao, & Carignane
• Veritable Quandary White – Verdelho, Torrontes, Albarino, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Vermentino, & Viognier
After tasting both the white and red blends called “Veritable Quandary”, it struck me that perhaps they are going after the CONUNDRUM blends? QUANDARY? CONUNDRUM? Hmmm…