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Red wine drinkers embrace the benefits of blends

Time:2017-10-12 16:11wine - Red wine life health Click:

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Wine pros may have been caught by surprise by America's rosé rage (see our May 17 column "Rosé by any other name …"). But regarding the popularity surge in red blends, sommeliers and merchants are saying, "What took you so long?"

Not long ago, as a retailer, I could describe a bottle to an interested customer right up to, "This is a blend of …" only to be cut short: "A blend? No thanks!"



Ross' choice

Name: Sassicaia (sass-sih-KEYE-ah)

Region: D.O.C. Bolgheri Sassicaia, Tuscany, Italy

Producer: Tenuta San Guido

Vintage: 2014

Availability: Wine shops and chains, about $185; at auction, depending on vintage, $500 plus (per bottle)

(Distributed by: Breakthrough Beverage, Cicero)

Of the world's red blends, Sassicaia is Big Daddy. In 1940, Proprietor Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta broke the stony ground in out-of-the-way Bolgheri and in 1968 broke Italian wine law by releasing a Tuscan wine produced of French grapes (specifically cabernets sauvignon and Franc). At first relegated to Vino da Tavola (table wine) status, the wine's epic quality and price tag forced the creation of a new law, the Indicazione Geografica Tipica (everyone says "IGT") -- which in turn inspired Italy's wine renaissance. In 1994, the vineyard was granted its own self-affirming law, D.O.C. Bolgheri Sassicaia. With aromas of ripe, black fruits intertwined with spice and herbs, the dynamic entry transforms into a caress on the palate, with linear drive balanced with finesse and grace. Serve with fine red meats, osso bucco and hard cheeses.


But in fact, Americans have been drinking blends for decades; they just didn't know it.

Italy's Chianti is a blend, based on the Sangiovese grape. Spain's Rioja is a blend, based on Tempranillo.

In France, Cotes du Rhone is a blend with a recipe so famous, it has its own shorthand: "GSM" meaning Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Red Bordeaux blends five grapes, in formulae reproduced in vineyards around the world, dubbed simply "the Bordeaux blend."

America's beef against blends began post-Prohibition, as new winemakers laid the foundation of a fledgling industry by emulating the only guide available -- the Old World.

Wines were named "Moselle" or "Champagne" for white, "Chianti" or "Burgundy" for red, with no drop of the traditional quality control that makes these styles great.

While hugely popular, boom led to bust, as palates tired of familiar flavors and quality dropped with overplanting. (Your favorite malbec or pinot noir will soon meet the same fate.)

The term "varietal" was born, meaning wine made from one grape variety. (Please note: While the terms are often interchanged, "varietal" is a wine; "variety" is a grape.)

Now, with double-digit sales growth, both winemakers and consumers see the benefits of blending.

Value: Poly-culture is agriculture's insurance; if frost destroys early-budding varieties, for instance, late-budding varieties may be spared and the farmer's family will eat that year. Monoculture regions, such as France's Burgundy and Napa, build financial protection into higher bottle costs.

Flavor: Each variety adds its unique flavors to a blend, like a well-seasoned soup. In contrast, how would your favorite recipe taste, seasoned only with salt?

Marketing: Blends build brand consistency. Varietals depend on fickle Mother Nature and may swing widely in flavor. Blends can be tweaked -- some acid-y grapes here, some fruity grapes there -- selling the safety of familiar flavors year after year.

While many red blends emulate the "international style" of jammy fruit and high alcohol, the wines below are balanced, exciting and easy to enjoy, glass after glass.

Cotes du Rhone, "Samorens," Ferraton Pere et Fils (Rhone, France): A true bistro wine, with dynamic dark fruit and pepper flavors, medium-body and appealing texture to enjoy -- as the French do -- delicately chilled, a few glasses before and with steak frites (steak with french fries), coq au vin (chicken stew) or an all-American hamburger. The blend includes Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. ($12.99)

"Le Difese" Toscana, Tenuta San Guido (Bolgheri, Italy): A blast of savory, dark and juicy red fruit flavor, accented with white pepper, silky texture and comfortable tannin, from the standard-bearer of Italy's "Super Tuscan" blends, see Ross' Choice. Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. ($35)

"Le Volte dell'Ornellaia" Toscana, Ornellaia (Bolgheri, Italy): This blend of merlot, Sangiovese and cabernet sauvignon will reward decanting or overnight in the fridge to soften hard tannin and reveal woodland aromas of damp earth and fir, flavors of deeply ripe berries, bittersweet chocolate and licorice. My mouth waters for a filet or mushroom and blue cheese risotto. ($30)

Symposia Red, Feudo Principi di Butera (Sicily, Italy): Even our assembly of trained sommeliers could not associate these fresh flavors and silky texture with Sicily's blazing heat. Cabernet Sauvignon, merlot and Petit Verdot express just-ripe berries accented with leather, vanilla, herbs and tobacco, for a satisfying complement to the richest pasta and poultry, and meaty dishes. ($20)

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