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30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
Varietal Blends: Vanilla and chocolate?

Vanilla ice cream is all right on its own, but it definitely benefits from a dollop of chocolate syrup. Lettuce, onion and tomato add interest to a hamburger, and a hot dog really needs mustard.

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.

If you would like to comment on this week's subject, you're welcome to post a message on our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, Or write me at I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.

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30 Second Tasting Notes:
South African red blend
Rupert & Rothschild Rupert & Rothschild 1998 Coastal Region "Classique" ($19.99)
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.

WEB LINKS: The winery's Website is at You'll find the importer's sheet on Rupert & Rothschild at

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
Oldest wine you own?

You don't have to own a wine cellar or collect wine to participate in this week's survey, in which we seek to build a profile of the age of the oldest wines that wine lovers keep around.

So, whether you own a dusty library of ancient wines with vintages going back to the 17th century, or if your "collection" is limited to a few bottles on a wine rack intended for near-term consumption, we still want to hear from you as we ask, "What is the vintage of the oldest wine you own?" To take part, please click to the Voting Booth,, and cast your virtual ballot.

If you don't keep wine but would like a few pointers on the subject, visit our Wine Lovers' Questionary,, and look down the "A to Z" list on the left for these topics:

  • How long will wine keep on the wine rack?
  • Cellaring Ageworthy Wines
  • Old Wine: Is it still any good?
  • Longevity of Wine

My Friuli reports now online
It took a few days to get it all assembled, but for those who'd like more details about my visit to Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Northeastern Italy last week, I've now published a more complete travel report, with photos, brief descriptions of some of the more memorable meals, and tasting notes on more than 100 local wines. You'll find the overall summary and index at, with each day's detailed report at the following links:

30 Second Administrivia
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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.

More time for wine?
You don't need to wait for Mondays to read about wine! Drop in any time at the Wine Lovers' Page,, where we add new tasting notes several times each week and frequently expand our selection of wine-appreciation articles, tips and tutorials. If you'd like to talk about wine online with fellow wine enthusiasts around the world, click to our interactive, international Wine Lovers' Discussion Group forums,

Vol. 3, No. 37, Oct. 1, 2001

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