This week we’ll discuss not just one grape, but two that are often blended together. This combination has spread around the world, but it’s surprising to some how the same grape varieties can take on different styles as they reflect local growing conditions.
Joe St. Ana and I will host a wine tasting to benefit the Susan G. Komen Foundation September 10 at Crush Wine Bar in Little Rock. Wine list and other details will be posted soon at my website www.brucecochran.com
Taste something good this week!
Winemakers often increase the complexity of their wines by blending different grape varieties together. Some older vineyards have more than one variety planted together to make what is called a “field blend,” but most vineyards today have each grape variety separate from the others. Juice from each variety is fermented separately and then blended for the finished product either before the wine is put into barrels or just before bottling.
The Bordeaux region of southwestern France has the most famous blend. This traditional home of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and other varieties has long appreciated the benefits of utilizing more than one type of grape in their wines. In warmer parts of Bordeaux, the fuller, more intense wine from cabernet sauvignon grapes is dominant, with a little merlot added. In cooler parts they use a higher percentage of merlot, whose wine tends to be more supple. And if it’s really cool, the heat-loving cabernet sauvignon may be largely replaced with its earlier-ripening cousin, cabernet franc. Malbec and petit verdot are also allowed in Bordeaux.
The California counterpart to this ‘Bordeaux blend’, was given a name: Meritage (rhymes with “heritage” though often pronounced differently). Opus One and Dominus are two of the best known names, though today there are many others, in all price ranges. They tend to differ from their French cousins in style. The longer, warmer growing season of their more southerly location means riper grapes, and fuller, softer wine. A less mineral-laden soil means less earthiness in the wine.
Washington State is on the same latitude as Bordeaux, but most vineyards there located on the warm, dry inland part of the state. Wines from there tend to reflect a combination of California fruit and French-like elegance, without Bordeaux’s earthiness.
One recently arrived Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot blend from Washington’s Columbia River Valley is RiverAerie’s “Fete” (French for “festive”). Made by winemaker Ron Bunnell, with 70 percent Cab Sauv, 25 percent Merlot, and 5 percent Petite Verdot, in a medium full-bodied style with a moderate amount of toasty French oak in the background. Retail approximately $25.