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Wine without Pretense: Blends are becoming mainstream

POSTED: December 7, 2011 1:30 a.m.

With her usual acuity the bride picked up a bottle of wine I had just received, looked over the label and declared, "I think we’re seeing a lot more blended red wines than in the past."

But, of course. We all have had the experience of looking at something and not really seeing it. I plead guilty. Hence, this column.

Going over my records and tasting notes I realized we are, indeed, seeing a lot more blended wines than, say, 10 years ago. Even five years ago. And I think that’s a good thing.

Blending, or mixing the juice of two or more wine grapes together, is nothing new. The busy folks in Bordeaux have been doing it for centuries. At harvest a Bordelaise winemaker might find himself with a crop of cabernet sauvignon grapes that are a bit harsh, astringent.

So to rid the wine of those sharp edges he/she might heave in a tad of merlot, cabernet franc, malbec or petit verdot to create a richer, friendlier wine.

Making a wine better, softer, richer, etc., is one reason for blending. Each grape has its own characteristics of aroma, flavor, texture and ageability. Savvy winemakers know how to boost the virtues of various kinds of wines by combining them with others.

Other reasons are not so noble. OMG, there’s a problem with the merlot! Let’s cover that up with some zinfandel. Or, we can get a real deal on some surplus syrah, but it needs some work. We’ll add some malbec.

People who make wine are at the mercy of nature. But they have learned that sometimes you can fight back with Ma Nature and come up with a tasty little wine that tickles the taste buds ... simply by blending.

Here are four I’ve encountered in recent months. All are in general distribution in Georgia.

Bodega Elena de Mendoza Red Blend 2010: Here’s a beauty from the Mendoza region of Argentina, home to a huge array of very good reds. It’s a blend of 62 percent malbec, 21 percent syrah and 17 percent bonarda, a grape that originated in the Piedmont region of Italy, but thrives in Argentina. It’s a soft red, with just-right tannins. I detected a hint of spice, from the syrah, reminiscent of cloves. I think it would be an ideal match with a steaming plate of beef short ribs. It’s priced about $12.

Clif Family Winery The Climber 2010: This one is a genuine value wine. I am fond of The Climber because it’s 50 percent zinfandel — just about my favorite red wine grape. The rest is 36 percent cabernet franc (becoming the new trend wine of this decade), 6 percent petite sirah, 5 percent cabernet sauvignon and 3 percent merlot.

The source designation is "California," so who knows where the grapes came from. But quality, not source name, is the standard by which such wines should be judged. And I judge this one a tasty treat. Hamburgers or steaks will be this red’s best friends. About $15.

Kenwood Vineyards Vintage Red 2009: This is just flat-out a fun wine to drink. It comes with a screwtop for absolute convenience, and I think of it as the perfect picnic wine. Now unless you’re reading this in Key West, picnic time for most of my readers is kaput.

But I like the Kenwood philosophy of throwing together unspecified amounts of zinfandel, sangiovese, syrah and the often-overlooked barbera, resting them in French and American oak barrels and then letting the wine out to play. Great with chicken done on the grill, or a spicy, crusted oven-roasted chicken — or turkey breast with lots of herbs. About $11.

Gnarly Head Authentic Red 2010: Once again zinfandel dominates this blend. But not just any zin; we’re talking about intense fruit from vines anywhere from 35-80 years old. And that bright, zesty juice is blended with merlot, cabernet sauvignon and a touch of syrah to produce a full-bodied red wine.

It comes from the Lodi area in California, which in the past decade has become a legitimate heavyweight producer — especially zinfandels. This wine demands hearty beef dishes ... maybe even a lamb roast. About $13.

So there you have it. Blended wines can be just as good as or, in some cases, better than those made from one dominant grape ... merlot, zinfandel, etc. Just remember to chill them slightly — about 20 minutes in the fridge — before serving.

Enjoy!

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.



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