With a few classic exceptions - Pinot Noir in Burgundy, for instance, and Riesling wherever it grows - I tend to favor wines blended from compatible grape varieties over single-varietal wines.
Give me a Bordeaux in preference to a 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, for instance; a Chianti Classico in favor of an all-Sangiovese wine, and a Cheateaneuf-du-Pape over a single-varietal Grenache or Syrah. The same goes for whites, from a multi-varietal white Rhone to the tasteful combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon that makes up white Bordeaux. Or a Champagne with a good dose of Pinot Noir to temper the Chardonnay.
More often than not, it seems to me, the added complexity that springs from the marriage of different but compatible varieties trumps the admirable but single-minded precision that a single-varietal wine can show.
But most recognized wine blends are traditional, long-established formulas that have gained popularity through enjoyment by a substantial number of wine drinkers over time.
What about new blends, innovative and even quirky combos that pop into a wine maker's consciousness like a light bulb going on over his head?
Always up for an experiment, I didn't hesitate when I saw a new red wine from Oregon's respected Sokol-Blosser winery at a local retailer the other day. It stood out on the shelf with its bright-red label, a startling Picasso-like sketch highlighted with a script letter "M". (A photo is below in our HTML/Graphics edition; text-only subscribers may view it in the archives at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor1/tswa041006.phtml)
The back label contained more information: It's Sokol-Blosser's new red blend, with the trademark name "Meditrana" (the Roman goddess of health and wine, the producer says, adding that Monday, Oct. 11, is the traditional day of celebration in her honor).
It bears the broadest possible U.S. appellation, "American," a term that under the peculiar federal labeling laws reveals only that it's made from grapes grown in more than one state, a category in which the producer is not permitted to state the year of vintage. It's made from a highly non-traditional vintage of, get this, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel.
Does the combination work? Frankly, I don't get a great deal of varietal character out of it. But it's an appealing, fruit-forward wine with a lot of red-berry fruit, and a very good food wine. It's slightly on the pricey side for what it is at a $16.99 local street price ($18 suggested retail at the winery), but worth a try if you're a fancier of offbeat and non-traditional blends.
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Sokol-Blosser "Meditrina" American Red Wine ($16.99)
This is a dark-garnet wine, with fresh aromas of red fruits, berries and apples, leading into a rather light-bodied flavor that follows the nose, juicy and tart red berries laced up with lemon-squirt acidity. It's a good wine and a good food match, although I don't get much clearly identifiable character from any of its three oddly matched varieties. (Oct. 4, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: I asked a bit much of it as an experimental match with a hot-and-spicy Szechanese prawn dish, although its light body and fruit showed reasonably well against the fiery fare. It would make a more reasonable match with veal at an upscale table or burgers with a budget meal.
VALUE: This upper-teens price is a bit on the spendy side.
WHEN TO DRINK: It's hard to predict an aging profile for an idiosyncratic blend, but light body, crisp fruit and zero tannins suggest that it's best to enjoy it young and fresh.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: Meditrina is available direct from the winery where wine-shipping laws permit. A new product, it is not yet showing up on Wine-Searcher.com, but to locate online vendors carrying Sokol-Blosser wines in general, click:
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Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2004