Years ago a California winemaker came to Miami touting his latest creation – a single, complex, expensive wine made by blending four or five well-known individual red grapes.
For fun, he set up a tasting in a restaurant and invited local wine and food writers and other journalists to try to duplicate his new wine from bottles of its constituent wines.
The winning blender: an out-of-town gossip writer who confessed she knew little about wine.
We wine geeks were humiliated, of course, and put it down to blind luck.
The real lesson that day, however, was how much a wine could be changed by the addition of just a percent or so of wine from a different grape.
The other lesson: It must be great fun to be a fiddling, tinkering winemaker.
Blending of wines, both red and white, has gone on for centuries, usually using one wine to compensate the weaknesses of another. Adding, say, a muscular, tannic wine to a wimpy one to create a well-balanced whole. This trial-and-error method can be painstaking, involving tasting hundreds of lots of wine.
Other times, I suspect, they toss in everything but the kitchen sink just to see how it turns out.
Here are some examples of blending:
Barefoot Cellars, of Modesto, Calif., is blending four red grapes – grenache from Spain, shiraz from Australia, malbec from Argentina and tempranillo from California – to make a nonvintage red blend called “Impression.”
• Nonvintage “Impression,” by Barefoot Cellars: deep red hue, very fruity, with aromas and flavors of blueberry pie, spice and milk chocolate, rich and sweet and soft; $7.
Alamos Winery in Argentina’s Mendoza Region is blending malbec, bonarda, tempranillo and syrah to create a user-friendly, approachable wine it calls simply “Red Blend.”
• 2012 Alamos Red Blend, Mendoza: dark hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and black pepper, rich and hearty and very slightly sweet; $13.
In Italy, Bella Sera has created a red blend from merlot, syrah, bonarda, lambrusco, sangiovese, montepulciano and other grapes it also calls “Red Blend.”
• Nonvintage Bella Sera Red Blend, Italy: soft and slightly sweet, with aromas and flavors of black raspberries and mocha, very fruity; $8.
In California’s Central Coast, Bridlewood Estate Winery is blending cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite sirah and viognier to make its “Central Coast Blend 175.” This is unusual because viognier is a white grape noted for its aromas and flavors of peaches and vanilla and for its seeming sweetness even when it’s dry.
• 2011 Bridlewood Central Coast Blend 175: very dark hue, hint of oak, crisp and fruity, with flavors of black raspberries and black coffee; $15.
In Santa Rosa, Northern California, Adler Fels Winery is creating a “National Parks Wine Collection,” with both white and red blends, with $2 per bottle donated to America’s parks system. Its white blend is viognier, moscato, symphony, semillon and sauvignon blanc. Its red blend is zinfandel, syrah, merlot and petite sirah.
• Nonvintage Adler Fels “Yosemite” Artisan White Wine, Sonoma Valley: intensely fruity, with aromas and flavors of ripe peaches and oranges and a hint of minerals; $16.
• Nonvintage Adler Fels “Yosemite” Artisan Red Wine, Sonoma Valley: intensely fruity, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and spice; $16.
Biltmore Wines, based at the North Carolina estate created by George Vanderbilt, is creating blends not only of different grapes, but in some cases of grapes from California and North Carolina. Such wines must be labeled “nonvintage” by law, even though the winery says they’re both from grapes harvested in 2011.
The white is a blend of muscat canelli, riesling, gewurztraminer and malvsia, with 99 percent from California’s Mendocino and Monterey counties and 1 percent from North Carolina. Grapes in the red blend are all from California’s Cienega Valley, Sonoma and Lake County.
• Nonvintage Biltmore Century White, American: floral aromas, quite sweet flavors of mangoes and citrus, crisp; $16.
• Nonvintage Biltmore Century Red, American: hint of oak, flavors of black plums and spice, very lightly sweet, full body; $16.
Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at email@example.com.)