Wine combinations add flavor, punch
The American wine consumer has become a lover of what sommeliers and growers call, oxymoronically, single variety.
I can’t say that it is a bad buying strategy. It is easier to identify with a grape variety than to learn a region and its producers, climate, and wine-production style to determine your wine of choice.
It is far easier to learn that if you like bigger tannic red wines that are medium in alcohol and are often fruit forward, then Cabernet Sauvignon is for you.
If you can determine that you appreciate buttery flavors in whites that are full-bodied and rich, then you may lean toward Chardonnay. The fact that we lean so heavily toward wines labeled with their grape does have a tendency to steer us away from the great wines out there that are blended from many grapes.
In fact, almost all of the Cabernet Sauvignon wines that you will buy actually are mixed with something else.
A natural characteristic of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is thick skins with relatively harsh tannins. It is therefore a common practice to blend a little bit of Merlot to soften the wine and round out its body. American law, a wine labeled with a variety must only contain 75 percent of that which is printed on the label. That means the other 25 percent can be whatever the winemaker thinks improves the final product.
Many of the world’s finest wine regions have a long tradition of blending regions by style. Bordeaux, Chateauneuf du Pape, Provence, Chianti, and Rioja have all been built on blending and the wines take on a level of balance that few single variety wines can. Grapes like Syrah and Grenache, Cab and Merlot, Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, and Marsanne and Roussane, create symbiotic relationships whose characteristics compliment each other often creating a better wine than either could on its own.
With up to 23 grapes to choose from, the Southern Rhone is a regular source of fine wines at great prices. The 2004 Guigal Cotes du Rhone for $14 is a great example of this with ripe fruit, black pepper, and a nice full finish.
The Spanish wine Solar de Rendez for $10 is a spectacular example of young Rioja packed with jammy fruit of raspberry and spice and it is a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. One of my favorite wines on the Utah shelves is the 2000 Chateau Cantemerle that for $52 will get you one of the finest wines available. It is a blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 percent Merlot, 5 percent Cabernet Franc, and 5 percent Petit Verdot.
Keep your mind open and do not fear the mix.
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