Varietal Blends: Vanilla and chocolate?
Putting together compatible or complementary flavors adds interest and piquancy to just about anything we eat or drink. So think about that, the next time you uncork a bottle of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.
"Single-varietal" wines became popular in the United States a generation or two ago, leading to a perception that wines made entirely from a single grape are somehow better than wines made from blends of more than one variety. But that's not necessarily the case, as a quick look at high-quality blended wines from around the world will reveal.
Two weeks ago, we talked about modern Italian blends. This week, let's go back to the basics for a reminder that the French (and producers of French-style wines around the world) have been merrily mixing-and-matching grapes for several hundred years. The ultimate French blend may be Chateauneuf-du-Pape, in which a bewildering array of up to 13 grapes are permitted. But the classic example remains Bordeaux, where it's a rare thing to see a wine made entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, but where a mixture of both grapes (plus Cabernet Franc and, on occasion, the less-familiar Malbec and Petit Verdot) is commonplace.
On its own, Cabernet Sauvignon can be herbaceous, and it's often astringently tannic. Merlot alone is typically fruity but may seem soft and one-dimensional. Put them together, however, and the whole can be more than the sum of its parts, each variety filling in the other's gaps in a complementary way. Sort of like chocolate sauce on ice cream, now that I mention it.
This week's featured wine, a balanced and flavorful Bordeaux-style blend from South Africa, offers an excellent demonstration of this principle. You'll find my tasting notes below.
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South African red blend
Dark garnet in color, this Bordeaux-style blend of 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Merlot shows some of the characteristics of each grape in a full, balanced wine. Appetizing and complex aromas of black cherry and dark chocolate invite a taste, revealing a ripe, juicy and full flavor with tart black fruit over soft, accessible tannins. The tannic astringency becomes a bit more evident in a very long, clean finish, suggesting that this is a wine worth aging. U.S. importer: Caravelle Wine Selections LLC, Avon, Ct. (Oct. 14, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: Like the Bordeaux on which it is based, this red blend goes well with beef; in this instance, an autumnal Italian-style braised stew of beef, carrots and onions over short pasta.
Oldest wine you own?
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Vol. 3, No. 37, Oct. 1, 2001