I am always surprised at how often I have the conversation described in this blog post. To recap, it goes like this: I recommend a favorite wine that happens to be a blend, and the customer corrects me, saying they’d rather have the name of a grape on the label, just to be safe. Which I am completely fine with. We always find some other great wine. I just don’t want people to miss out on something special because of the misconception that blended wine is somehow less serious, or of lesser quality, or anything but the standard.
Nobody talks about it much, but wine making involves a lot more science (and a lot less magic) than we like to imagine. A lot of modern wine making is chemistry; it’s just one reason why wine is better than ever right now. And perhaps the most fundamental tool at the winemaker’s disposal is blending, broadening the palette by adding varietals. Excuse me if I, ahem, mix metaphors.
Blending allows a winemaker to create something original and special, often outside the confines of a single varietal. Beyond wines labeled as blends, blending is used extensively in varietally labeled wines too, adding layers of subtlety and complexity that a single varietal can’t achieve so easily. For example, a wine may be labeled as a varietal in the U.S. if it includes 75% of that grape, leaving plenty of room for other varietals without mention of them on the label.
So how about some examples of blended wines that also just happen to be notable new releases of old favorites here at Binny’s?
The new 2009 vintage of Amalaya just hit our shelves. The blend this year includes 75% malbec 5% below the 80% required by Argentine regulations for varietal labeling. The remainder of the blend is cabernet, syrah and tannat, bolstering the malbec at the heart of this wine. Amalaya is always an easy recommendation; it consistently overdelivers for the fifteen dollar price tag.
The new 2009 Ridge Three Valleys is a blend in more than one sense: the 70% zinfandel mingles with petite sirah, carignane, grenache and mouvedre. As the name suggests, Three Valleys is also a geographic blend, a mix from subregions across Sonoma County, fermented separately and then blended to taste.
Though Three Valleys is technically a blend, you’ll find it in the zinfandel aisle at most Binny’s stores. It is the most affordable red from Ridge Vineyards, and a great representation of the famous producer’s signature zin style: bright and fresh berry fruit up front with touches of barrel spice and light grip that add complexity.
Another perennial favorite, the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville is the prototypical Napa Valley Cabernet and a miniature version of the ubiquitous producer’s increasingly underappreciated Reserve Cabernet. Robert Parker likes the 2007 Oakville for its deep black currant fruit as well as notes of lead pencil shavings, camphor, and spice. That’s cabernet! So why include the Oakville in this list of blends?
Because the 2007 includes 6% cabernet franc, a traditional Bordeaux varietal and a very common addition to Californian cabernet. In fact, when it comes to cabernet from California, I am hard pressed to come up with examples that don’t include other varietals.
This is the part where I usually say that the Oakville is a great everyday value at $35.99, but as I grabbed a bottle from the shelf to take a bottle shot, I saw that Binny’s has it on sale for $22.99 all this month. So I think I’m going to buy a couple for myself.