April 2012

Percents of Interest

Ben Weinberg

Ben Weinberg plays detective to eke out more than the usual suspects in blended wines.

Terroir alone does not equate to quality. Small plots, whose grapes experience relatively homogenous conditions, are hugely influenced by local weather. Wines of this type may be better in some years. Then again, they may be worse, and lack of scale will often make them more expensive. That’s why blends are often a better bet, both for the vintner and for the consumer.

In addition to blending for consistency, vintners blend grapes and vineyards in order to add complexity to the flavor and texture of wine. My search for the elusive blend has illuminated a plethora of methods for accomplishing this end. Certain amalgams, particularly sparklers and port, combine vintages. There are also vintage mergers comprised of different grapes grown in the same year. Some combinations are composed of the same varietal, usually of a single vintage, from various vineyards.

Ultimately, any successful blend must form a balanced picture in the drinker’s mind. Many of the best are classic recipes handed down through the generations. Others are newly created, attempts to produce innovative and exciting wine with flavor characteristics like nothing else on the market. Regardless of origin, some of the world’s greatest bottles contain intermingled juice.

Parducci Wine Cellars

Mendocino County, California

Family-owned Parducci in California’s Mendocino County is committed to sustainable winegrowing that yields top quality grapes and wines. The winery uses only locally farmed grapes and employs certified sustainable farming practices. Tractors and much other equipment run on either locally purchased biodiesel or other clean energy, and Parducci utilizes 100% green power while also employing earth-friendly packaging. A solar array even powers the upper portion of the winery, while a natural wetland habitat aids in the filtration and reuse of all winery waste water. All of these initiatives combine to better protect the environment and support the local community.

Just as with Parducci’s focus on sustainability, assistant winemaker Mark Beaman believes that the enchantment of blended wines lies in synergy, in this case among varieties. “It’s fascinating how distinctly different grapes meld into something greater than the simple sum of their parts.” The Parducci 2009 Sustainable Red from Mendocino County ($11) is a robust red wine with berry flavors and spicy complexities. The Parducci 2010 Sustainable White ($11) is medium-bodied with crisp, clean aromas and flavors of citrus and melon.

As for the future of blends, Beaman says that the sky is the limit. “As people continue to explore wine they are naturally going to be attracted by innovation and originality. Blends will be an exciting option in the consumer’s search for something new. Two years ago we only bottled two blends; now we have six. This wouldn’t be happening in the absence of demand.”


Flora Springs

Napa Valley, California

Flora Springs, founded in 1978 (although its winemaking roots go back to the 19th century), lies at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains in the far northwest corner of Napa’s Rutherford appellation. Ninety percent of this family estate’s red wines are sourced from 650 acres of organically farmed estate vineyards and crafted in a solar-powered, 19th-century stone winery and caves. The winery also owns a fully automated grape sorting system which has the ability to remove shot or dehydrated berries, stems and leaves, all of which otherwise subtract from quality.

While Aristotle may have not been referring to the grape when he said the whole is more than the sum of its parts, winemaker Paul Steinauer believes that this sentiment could not be truer than in the blending of wines. “Not taking advantage of the possibilities offered by blending would be like a chef limiting himself to only one spice. Mixing enhances any or all of the attributes of wine, including aromatics, mouthfeel and finish.”

The 25th anniversary vintage of Flora Springs Trilogy, vintage 2008 ($65), is 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 2.5% Petit Verdot and 2.5% Malbec. It exhibits a beautiful deep ruby color that leads to blueberry, black raspberry and black currant fruit on the nose. The tongue feels flowers, well-integrated oak and spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with silky tannins, already complex and delicious, enjoyable by itself or with food, today and in the coming decades. Steinauer says his only problem lies in keeping up with demand. “The worldwide market has really blossomed in recent years, particularly in Asia. As some of our new vineyard blocks in Rutherford come into production, we hope to be able to provide more bottles.”

Big House 2011 White Wine, California ($8)
Produced within sight of a California prison, this devilishly good white blends apricot, pineapple and pine resin with lime peel, white flowers and soda ash on a bright yet succulent finish.

Terra d’Oro 2008 Forte, California ($28)

Terra d’Oro’s Forte red blend (60% Amador County Sangiovese and 40% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon) is colored a brick red. The nose bleeds graphite and blackberry liqueur, while the full, fresh finish explodes with cocoa powder, raspberry, cherry and acorn squash.

Churchill’s NV Tawny Porto 10 Years Old, Portugal ($33)
Blended from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Tinta Francisca grapes. Hued a reddish walnut and brings aromas of crushed dates, a hint of mint and milk sugar to a red berry palate that’s high intensity and goes the distance.

Some Major Blended Wine Regions and Styles

Although blends these days can range from two-grape duets to multi-variety mélanges, these historically-defined regions and styles continue to bear the standard for blended wines.

The only grapes allowed for use in true Bordeaux from the region of the same name in France are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Carmenère and Cabernet Franc. Wineries generally choose two to three different grapes from the approved list but rarely use all six. Winemakers all over the world copy this style via blends known generically as “Bordeaux blends” or by the proprietary term Meritage (see below).


The word Meritage is itself a blend of the words merit and heritage and is a trademarked name referring to Bordeaux-style blends made outside Bordeaux. Just as with French counterparts, there are labeling rules. The vintner must produce 25,000 cases or less per vintage of a high-quality wine. The winery must also be a member of the Meritage Alliance (www.meritagealliance.com) in order to use the name on the label. At first limited to American wineries, the Alliance now has members in Israel, Mexico, Argentina, Australia and even France.

Italy has strict wine blending regulations promulgated by Denominazione di Origine Controlla e Garantita (DOCG) legislation. In the 1970s some Tuscan producers broke those rules by using grapes French such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Ironically, DOCG rules put these Super Tuscan wines—some of Italy’s priciest—within the lowest quality category because they did not conform to regulations. Eventually a new designation, the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT), came into being. Today, Super Tuscans can be found in a wide range of prices.


France’s Rhône Valley produces sublime red and white blends. Primary grapes include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Viognier. The Rhône is divided into sub-regions that all have their own blends, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Grenache-based with many other contributors), Côtes du Rhône (reds and whites made from spicy, rustic fruit), and Côte-Rôtie (a blend of fragrant white Viognier and spicy red Syrah). Other regions with similar terroirs also combine these grapes in the same style.

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