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Robin Garr

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WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by Robin Garr » Mon Jul 16, 2007 2:29 pm

Offbeat blends

What's your pleasure, single-varietal wines or blends?

Though it's a frequent topic for discussion, one that kicked off a happy debate on one of our recent Internet Radio TalkShoe programs, this may be one of the wine questions that has no absolute answer.

Lined up on one side of the issue we have such powerful contenders as Burgundy, made from 100 percent Pinot Noir for the reds and 100 percent of Chardonnay for the whites; quality Riesling from Germany's Rhine and Mosel valleys, where blending with other grapes is unheard-of; and the long-standing tradition of 100-percent-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in California's Napa Valley and Sonoma.

On the other side, however, the competitors are just as keen: Just to name a few world-class blended wines with many centuries of heritage we have Bordeaux from France (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and more); Tuscany's Chianti (Sangiovese, Canaiolo and more); the Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blends of the Southern Rhone, and the growing niche of California Bordeaux-style blends sometimes labeled with the registered trademark "Meritage."

Many who love single-varietal wines hail their tendency to display the natural character of the grape, at its best accented by the <i>terroir</i> that's unique to the place where it's grown. Under this line of thinking, blending grapes may "muddy" the wine's flavor, creating a potpourri with diminished individual personality.

Blending advocates, conversely - and there are plenty of them - assert that a savvy wine maker can bring together disparate elements to make a blended wine that exceeds the sum of its parts.

The primacy of both Burgundy and Bordeaux in the world of wine suggests that both sides have a strong point.

But the blends we're talking about here generally boast a long history and many generations of experience; wine blends that have stood the test of time.

How about more offbeat and experimental blends, combinations of varieties that spring from the wine maker's creative spirit rather than tradition?

In my experience, these new blends have to be judged on their own merits. Some succeed and, over time, become accepted because they work. Certainly some Australian Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz blends have become justly popular, and the folks at California's Caymus have found a ready market for their Conundrum, a sweet, full-bodied white blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier, Chardonnay and others.

New white blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Tocai Friulano and other Northeastern Italian whties are becoming popular in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and some of them can be splendid. Perhaps the wackiest blend I've ever tasted came from that region, a blend of more than 500 varieties made in the small city of Cividale as a charitable fund-raising venture; although it's not meant as a serious blend, it's fun, with Muscat seeming to out-shout the rest of its very large chorus.

Most of the classic single-varietal wines, though - particularly Riesling and Pinot Noir - are rarely seen in blends, perhaps testifying to an inherent quality that requires no salt, pepper, herbs or spices to improve them.

Still, I'm a sucker for new blends and rarely loath to try an offbeat combination just to see what it's like.

This open-minded approach paid off over the weekend in one of this month's California Wine Club Connoisseurs' Series bottles, a Napa Valley red wine named "Antaeus" from the respected <b>Storybook Mountain Vineyards</b>, a producer best-known for its excellent, ageworthy Zinfandels.

Antaeus ("Ahn-tay-us"), named after the son of water and earth in Greek mythology, is an odd blend that I don't believe I've ever encountered before: Alost 60 percent is Zinfandel; the remainder is a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a little Petit Verdot. In the glass it's very stylish indeed, no "muddy" blend but a well-balanced if robust representation of Zinfandel on the palate and California Cabernet blend on the nose and in the finish.

It's an offbeat blend, but it works.

<B>SINGLE VARIETALS AND BLENDS ON INTERNET RADIO</B>
Our recent "TalkShoe" Internet Radio hour on "Monocepage" (single-varietal) wines is available in the TalkShoe archives. You can listen to it in streaming audio online at
http://www.wineloverspage.com/talkshoe/latest.htm
(page down to Saturday, June 9, "Single-varietal wines").

If you prefer to download the program to your computer, you can get the MP3 file here:
http://recordings.talkshoe.com/TC-11888/TS-25722.mp3
(Right-click the link and click "Save Link As ... ")

<B>CARRY ON THIS DISCUSSION IN OUR FORUMS</B>
If you have an opinion on this topic or information about a favorite wine you'd like to share, you're invited to post a reply here.

<table border="0" align="right" width="134"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/storybook07.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Storybook Mountain Vineyards 2004 Estate Napa Valley "Antaeus" ($44 retail, $38 per bottle for half or full case orders by Connoisseurs' Series members)

Clear, dark garnet. Lovely mixed fruit aromas are fresh and appealing, cherry-berry and red currant with a hint of chocolate, but the French oak is very nicely integrated, and the wine is so well balanced that a hefty 14.9 percent alcohol doesn't come across as either hot or harsh. A blend of 59 percent Zinfandel with a Bordeaux mix of 21 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Merlot and 5 percent Petit Verdot, it marries Zin and Bordeaux flavors in a surprisingly happy pairing, an offbeat concept that really works. Delicious now, and a fine pairing with the bold flavors of grilled picnic fare from chicken to spicy Italian sausages and bratwurst; expect it to gain more delicate "claret-style" complexity with several years in the cellar. Winery Website: http://www.storybookwines.com (July 14, 2007)

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Brian K Miller

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by Brian K Miller » Mon Jul 16, 2007 6:52 pm

St. Francis Winery offers an off-beat "reverse Bordeaux Blend" called "Anthem" that is something like 75% Petit Verdot and Malbec, with the remaining three Bordeaux varieties making up the rest of the blend.
...(Humans) are unique in our capacity to construct realities at utter odds with reality. Dogs dream and dolphins imagine, but only humans are deluded. –Jacob Bacharach
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by John Treder » Mon Jul 16, 2007 10:48 pm

David Coffaro has started making a wine he calls "Escuro", about 1/3 each Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah.

I opened a bottle in March and here's what I thought:
In a 2-ounce opening pour, the color was purple-ruby, almost amethyst. More spices than a spice cabinet; cinnamon was strong, and there was something herbal, with pungency similar to fresh tarragon or oregano. Not particularly tannic, fairly ripe, lots of mixed fruit flavors, fairly long. It's young and will settle more. With dinner an hour and a half or so later, a glassful was opaque dark royal purple. A tad less aromatic, a tad more cabernet sauvignon taste to it. Petite syrah showed up in the middle, and overall a spicy, almost oriental aroma and taste that I have to associate with the Tannat because it isn't like either of the other varieties. This wine would work with a mild curry, or Vietnamese food.
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Robin Garr

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by Robin Garr » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:07 pm

Brian K Miller wrote:St. Francis Winery offers an off-beat "reverse Bordeaux Blend" called "Anthem" that is something like 75% Petit Verdot and Malbec, with the remaining three Bordeaux varieties making up the rest of the blend.


Brian, thanks for the data point! I wonder if "Anthem" tastes like a Bordeaux blend or if the dominance of the minor varieties changes its character.
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Robin Garr

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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by Robin Garr » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:08 pm

John - Santa Clara wrote:David Coffaro has started making a wine he calls "Escuro", about 1/3 each Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Sirah.

I opened a bottle in March and here's what I thought:


Thanks, John. Sounds like a Coffaro wine all right! I remember fondly some visits to David's shop back in the '90s, and regret I don't get over that way, or have any really good way to sample his wines, much any more.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by Mark Lipton » Tue Jul 17, 2007 1:33 am

Robin,
Thanks for that note. Storybook Mtn is one of my favorite Napa wineries to visit. The Seps family make some great Zins and I feel as if I've entered a time warp taking me back 30 years when I visit them. I've never had the Antaeus blend, but I'd expect a well-made wine, which it sounds like is what you found. Just don't let it hit the ground. :wink: FWIW, Duckhorn makes a similar blend called Paraduxx that was quite good in '97-'99. I don't think that I've had one since then (it's also quite a bit pricier than the Antaeus).

Mark Lipton
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by arnie del rosario » Tue Jul 17, 2007 2:49 am

Robin,

What a coincidence that just last night at a wine dinner with friends I had mentioned that my current favorite wine is the GSM blend or CdP in France.

Anyway, a few contributions to offbeat blends that I have come across:

Traminer Riesling - sold by Rosemount

Pinot Noir - Shiraz blends - somewhat common in Hunter Valley (I spoke to a wine maker there who confided that it was their way of making their shiraz more "lively")

Shiraz - Muscadelle blend - sold by Peter Lehman of barossa as the "Mudflat"

Shiraz - Cavarnet Franc - as in the JSM by Fox Creek and Generation Red of Hitching Post

Gewurztraminer - Sauv Blanc - sold as Sweet Cindy by Selby

I've also tasted a few off-beat blends made by Yalumba but cant recall offhand what combinations of grapes were used.

ARNIE
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by Brian K Miller » Tue Jul 17, 2007 12:18 pm

Robin, I only had a quick sample of the Anthem. I liked it enough to come back and buy a bottle, and I do remember that it still tasted very "Bordeaux" in character.

I expect more floral and "purple" notes from the dominance of Malbec and Petit Verdot, but we'll see. I think I'm going to hold it a couple three years.
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Re: WTN /WineAdvisor: Offbeat blends (Storybook Mountain 04 "Antaeus")

by Roger Carrillo » Thu Jul 19, 2007 7:45 pm

Here an interesting one:

Casa Cuvee, by Rancho Rossa Vineyards in Elgin (Sonoita) Arizona. A proprietary blend of Chardonnay, Marsanne, and Rousanne. Sells for ten bucks a bottle and is worth every penny. It is like a good Rhone white but at 1/3 the price. New winery and it is there house white. Who says they can't make good wine in Arizona.
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