Taste of Wine: Mixing it up with wine blending

Taste of Wine: Mixing it up with wine blending
Blended wines are rising quickly in popularity in the U.S. Cabernet, shown above, is the leading grape in most blends. Photo courtesy Daou Vineyard

In my many years of interviewing winemakers on their favorite winemaking experience, it’s almost always blending.

Blending is the art of winemaking, an exclusive work for the world of wine to judge. Several finished wine varietals are brought together with the final creation more than the sum of the parts.

Three of the more sought-after blending styles are Bordeaux France (all their wines are blends, with Cabernet Sauvignon the lead grape); Rhone Valley France with mostly Syrah; and Super Tuscan where blends are mostly built around Tuscany’s Sangiovese grape.

I have talked to many wine sommeliers and thumbed through the national wine sales reports, and blends are one of the fastest growing wine categories in the U.S.

The historic, traditional guide for blenders is the Bordeaux model.

This famous district in France long ago developed production methods that wove Cabernet, Merlot and Cab Franc grapes from the finest vineyard sites, with aging in small oak barrels. Wineries were classified by the government as premier “first growth” or “grand cru” wines.

What evolved was a model for the world’s wineries that ventured into blended brands.  Other Bordeaux style grapes included:  Malbec, Petite Verdot and Carmenere.

Fast-forward to the Napa Valley in the late ‘70s when rising wine star Robert Mondavi caught the attention of French Grand Cru baron Phillippe de Rothschild.  The two wine heavyweights combined their genius to create Opus One, the first big-brand blend in NapaValley, with Cabernet from the legendary Oakville To Kalon Vineyard.

To this day, Opus One is viewed as a masterpiece in fine wine blending. Others followed with their own creations, applying their own brush strokes to their own canvas.

In Napa Valley in the year 2000, the harvest was difficult for Dave Phinney, so he took small amounts of Zinfandel, Cabernet, Syrah and old vine Charbono and created a big, bold blend the he called The Prisoner.

That year he made 385 cases.

In 2008, he sold the brand, producing some 85,000 cases.  That was considered to be the beginning of the red blend trend.

In the south, Justin Baldwin of Paso Robles fell in love with Bordeaux blends, so much so that he vowed he could do just as well, maybe better, with the unique soil content and coastal breezes of west “Paso.”

Founded in 1981, the turning point for Justin Winery was 2000 when the 1997 ISOSCELES was named one of the top ten wines in the world by Wine Spectator.  Most recently, the 2011 ISOSCELES ($72) was awarded double gold as the Best Bordeaux Blend at the San Francisco International Wine Competition.

The newest release, 2012, consists of:  77 percent Cabernet, 12 percent Merlot and 11 percent Cabernet Franc.

The “Super Tuscans” of Italy are generally a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and occasionally Syrah.

A leader is Piero Antinori and his Tignanello ($89.95).  He adds 15 percent Cabernet to Sangiovese for power and density.

Wine Bytes

Westfield UTC shopping center is the place for Uncorked Wine Walk and Concert May 2 from 4 to 7 p.m.  Temecula Valley’s finest vintages are ready for pouring in this self-guided wine walk to four wine gardens; unlimited chef-crafted bites from UTC restaurants, all complemented by live musicians.  Ticket sales vary from $20 to $50.  Call (760) 774-0030 for details.

Tuscany La Costa is celebrating their 25th Anniversary with a Jazz concert by Jeff Moore & Daryl Johnson May 2 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 advance, $15 day of.  Call (760) 929-8111.

Bottega Americano, downtown San Diego, is hosting a series of wine dinners, starting with Masi Agricola in a five-course wine pairing, May 3 at 8 p.m.  Cost is $120. Famous for their Amorone Valpolicellas from Italy, Masi will have their U.S. director on hand for presentations. For details call (619) 255-7800.

West Steak and Seafood in Carlsbad presents a Silver Oak and Twomey Wine dinner May 7 at 6:30 p.m.  These great Napa Valley wines will be paired with some of Executive Chef Arbella’s best menu achievements in a five-course dinner in the West Room. $150. RSVP at (760) 930-9100.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator.  He is one of the leading wine commentators on the web. View and link up with his columns at tasteofwinetv.com.  Reach him at mangiompc@aol.com, and follow him on Facebook.

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