California red blends
We're studying the fine wines of Northern California's Napa and Sonoma regions as this month's feature in Wine Tasting 101, with old friend and wine expert Jason Brandt Lewis as guest host of this popular wine-education program on WineLoversPage.com, so the idea of pulling the cork from a favorite California red seemed a good way to start the week.
In old times, it wasn't uncommon for producers to plant many different grapes side-by-side in a single vineyard, picking them all together and throwing all the fruit into the crush together to make a wine simply labeled as "red." Modern blends are usually grown and picked separately and blended at some point during the wine-making process.
After World War II, when many of California's more ambitious producers sought to upgrade the image of what was then widely disparaged as mere "domestic wine," they promoted the concept of "single-varietal" wines, made entirely from a single grape variety (Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Pinot Noir, for instance), in favor of blends sold under generic names.
There's nothing wrong with single-varietal wines. Some of the most highly regarded red wines of Europe do the same, from Burgundy (Pinot Noir) to the great Barolo and Barbaresco of Northwestern Italy (Nebbiolo). But just as many great European names favor blends, from Bordeaux (Cabernet, Merlot and more) to Chianti (Sangiovese, Canaiolo and more).
I wouldn't argue that either approach is "better," although each has its advantages. Single-varietal wines appeal to wine enthusiasts who enjoy the clear purity of a wine that expresses the nature of its original fruit; but blends win favor with those (and I'm among them) who enjoy the complex depth that can emerge when the wine maker does a good job of orchestrating a rowdy cast of varietal characters.
Today's tasting offers a fairly quick revisit to a favorite California field-style blend that I last tried this past summer. Old Patch Red from Trentadue Vineyards, a blend of Zinfandel (55.5%), Petite Sirah (21.5%), Carignan (7%), Sangiovese (4%) and Syrah (1%) from vineyards in Sonoma's Dry Creek and Alexander valleys and Lake County, holds its potent 14.5 percent alcohol well in a wine with both balance and elegance, evoking the odd image of a heavyweight boxer dressed up in a tuxedo. It makes a persuasive case for the value of blending grapes. Wednesday, I'll come back with another appealing California red blend at an even more affordable price.
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Trentadue 2003 "0ld Vines Red" Sonoma County Red Wine ($14.99)
This is an inky blackish-purple wine, almost opaque in the glass. Fresh aromas of blackberries, black cherries and plums come together over an attractive "dusty" earthy background. Black-fruit flavors are consistent with the nose, nicely built on fresh acidity, potent (14.5 percent) alcohol and soft but substantial tannins. It's a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignan, Sangiovese and Syrah from Sonoma's Dry Creek and Alexander valleys and Lake County. (Nov. 6, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: The significant Zin component and its forward fruit and power would make it a natural with grilled red meat, but it also fared very well indeed in a more exotic match with Duck breast pan-seared with Japanese flavors.
VALUE: No complaints in the mid-teens, but shop around, as it's widely available for a few dollars less than this local price.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although I'm not a great advocate of aging Zins, this wine's style, its balance of fruit and tannins and its sizable component of ageworthy Petite Sirah all suggest that it should cellar gracefully for at least a few years and maybe more.
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The California Wine Club Signature Series:
Phelps Insignia Finally Released!
The California Wine Club's Signature Series is proud to present the Joseph Phelps 2002 Insignia "Napa Valley" Red Wine as part of this month's extraordinary selections. This legendary Bordeaux-style wine has an interesting twist with each release. This vintage is a blend of 78 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Merlot, 7 percent Petite Verdot and 1 percent Malbec.
With a 96-point rating from both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, this Insignia is described as rich, dense and deeply concentrated with an exotic nose and extravagant fruit. It is included this month with a Century Oak 2002 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a Collier Falls 2002 Zinfandel "Private Reserve."
Don't miss these rare, limited-production gems. Call 800-777-4443 or order online at
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Using this space today to point out a couple of important announcements to those who don't receive or skimmed quickly over Friday's edition:
Dave McIntyre's WineLine:
"A Small Town in France"
QPRwines: 2001, 2002 and 2003 Red Burgundy
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Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Rosso Piceno (Nov. 4, 2005)
Another Anti-Chardonnay (Nov. 2, 2005)
Trick or treat! (Oct. 31, 2005)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Picante (Nov. 3, 2005)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Nov. 7, 2005