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Robin Garr

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Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 16, 2010 2:20 pm

Should grape varieties touch in your glass?

The other day I was enjoying a leftovers lunch, a mix of doggie-bag leftovers from restaurants and sundry stuff in plastic tubs in the fridge.

A dish of Palestinian babaganoush caught my eye, and so did some cottage cheese. I took a little of each, and suddenly a light bulb went off over my head. How would they taste together?

I picked up a little of each in a single forkload. Pretty good! The earthy eggplant, tahini and garlic in the babaganoush mellowed nicely against the dairy tang of the cottage cheese. I smiled. Then I noticed that my wife was looking on with mixed horror and disgust.

Some people love to mix their foods. Others won't let anything touch on the plate. Each to his or her own, and the world spins on.

It occured to me, though, that this grand division of all humanity might stand as metaphor for those who insist on single-varietal wines and those who love blended grape varieties.

Depending on circumstances, I can go either way: Red Burgundy is 100 percent Pinot Noir, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Pinot is a prima donna, a star who needs to take the stage alone. But 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon? Not so much. Give me a delicious Bordeaux blend of Cabernet mellowed with Merlot and maybe a bit of Cabernet Franc and other players.

Ditto for Tuscan reds, where I'll wash down my pasta and "gravy" with 100 percent Sangiovese but would really rather have a classic Chianti blend of Sangiovese with Canaiolo, a splash of Malvasiz and more.

Those who won't let foods touch on their plate or grape varieties blend in their wine glass argue that mixing varietals yields a "muddy" mutt of a wine without clear definition and personality. I lift my glass of 13-variety Chateauneuf-du-Pape in their general direction and retort, "Taste this."

Today's featured wine, Terlan 2007 Alto Adige Classico Terlaner (to be posted in the Wine Focus July thread) from the Northern Italian Alps might be another good demonstration. A tasty blend of 60 percent Pinot Bianco, 30 percent Chardonnay and 10 percent Sauvignon Blanc, it's hard to identify by the expected character of any of those varieties, yet it's a delicious mix of tropical fruit and heady floral aromas, with rich texture shaped by food-friendly acidity. Well worth the 19 bucks, as long as you don't mind grape varieties touching in your glass.

What do you think? Are you a mixer or a separator at the dinner table, and does this preference carry over to your wine glass? Tell us what you think?
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Keith M

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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Keith M » Fri Jul 16, 2010 2:38 pm

Robin Garr wrote:argue that mixing varietals yields a "muddy" mutt of a wine . . . my glass of 13-varietal Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Tsk, tsk, is this the proper use of varietal, Robin?

Would be interesting to learn if anyone does any home blending of varietal or blended wines . . . that would be akin to your food example.
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Steve Slatcher

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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Steve Slatcher » Fri Jul 16, 2010 3:15 pm

Keith M wrote:
Robin Garr wrote:argue that mixing varietals yields a "muddy" mutt of a wine . . . my glass of 13-varietal Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Tsk, tsk, is this the proper use of varietal, Robin?

You could argue that it is indeed a proper uase - varietal is an adjective applied to CdP. I'm sure Mr Garr knows what is is doing :)
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 16, 2010 3:18 pm

Steve Slatcher wrote:You could argue that it is indeed a proper uase - varietal is an adjective applied to CdP. I'm sure Mr Garr knows what is is doing :)

Yeah, sort of semi-consciously. I am a real bear for "varietal-variety" and ought to set a good example. My mind was thinking that "varietal wine" was understood, but I don't want to encourage that, so I'll correct the Email edition before I send it out. Thanks, folks!
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Jon Peterson

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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Jon Peterson » Fri Jul 16, 2010 3:20 pm

Proper use or not, I have found that it's best to leave the blending to the professionals. I has done what you suggest, Robin, but have nver been thrilled with the results.
I just wanted to inform you that I find you to be very attractive. Thank you and have a nice day.
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Melissa Priestley

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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Melissa Priestley » Fri Jul 16, 2010 3:51 pm

I'm sick of varietal wine. Bring on the blends, I say.

Alright, I definitely still enjoy many varietal wines, but I think that the craze for them has resulted in the unfair suffering and neglect of many good blended wines.

Varietal wines represent a different approach to understanding wine; it seems that the majority of wine drinkers in the New World begin learning about wine through the single varieties, as opposed to the Old World approach of learning the wines by region. I'm not sure that either one is better than the other, but I do know that in my experience, many people completely avoid any wine that doesn't state the grape variety on the front label as it is too unfamiliar and they think that because they don't understand it, they won't like it - or worse, that it must be an inferior wine.

As a strong supporter of Canadian wine, I also think it's sad blends have such a poor reputation because I consider them fundamental to the growing Canadian wine industry: in many of the really marginal growing areas, mixing different varieties together allows for a stronger final wine, as the blending can round out what would otherwise be a very off-putting traits in a single varietal wine. Some of the best Canadian wines I've tasted were blends.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Melissa Priestley » Fri Jul 16, 2010 3:53 pm

I guess I should have also qualified my previous response by first mentioning that I'm with Jon: let's leave blending to the professionals. In most cases, I don't think mixing wines in your glass is a good idea. But mixing them in the winery? Yes please.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 16, 2010 5:30 pm

Melissa Priestley wrote:I guess I should have also qualified my previous response by first mentioning that I'm with Jon: let's leave blending to the professionals. In most cases, I don't think mixing wines in your glass is a good idea. But mixing them in the winery? Yes please.

I didn't actually suggest home-blending, Melissa and Jon, although now that you bring it up, I can see that the headline could be read that way. Note, however, that in the article I declare the kinship metaphorical. ;)
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Howie Hart » Fri Jul 16, 2010 5:58 pm

Robin Garr wrote:...Pinot is a prima donna, a star who needs to take the stage alone...
Last Fall, I wasn't thinking straight. I bought locally grown Pinot Noir and Lemberger grapes, but didn't buy enough to make 10 gallons of each. So, to keep my carboys properly filled, I made 6.5 gallons of each and 5 gallons of a 50/50 blend of the two. It's a decent red wine in it's own right. Also, don't tell the Champagne makers not to blend Pinot Noir. :wink:
Chico - Hey! This Bottle is empty!
Groucho - That's because it's dry Champagne.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 16, 2010 6:14 pm

Howie Hart wrote:
Robin Garr wrote:Also, don't tell the Champagne makers not to blend Pinot Noir. :wink:

An exception worth noting, under carefully controlled circumstances. :)
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Rahsaan » Fri Jul 16, 2010 7:13 pm

Melissa Priestley wrote:Alright, I definitely still enjoy many varietal wines, but I think that the craze for them has resulted in the unfair suffering and neglect of many good blended wines.


Nobody is neglecting Burgundy, Hermitage, or Barolo, last time I checked! (Ok maybe people have been neglecting to shell out lots of cash for high-end Barolo, but still, you get my point). Not sure what craze you're talking about. Maybe for domestic Canadian wines? Not something I really follow.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Jenise » Fri Jul 16, 2010 7:22 pm

Whew! I thought this was going to be about people who wash their glassware between wines or use a dollop of Wine #2 to wash out Wine #1 as if two drops of chardonnay is going to poison three ounces of pinot noir.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by David M. Bueker » Fri Jul 16, 2010 7:24 pm

One of my early on favorite wines was the Thackery Pleiades. It's a total mutt of a wine & tastes great. I still really like it.

Once during a tasting I had 3 kabinetts from the same vintage and vineyard as a flight. After the group tasted all three they started blending the different producers' wines into one another. There were some good results, especially the Loosen/Christoffel blend.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Jeff B » Fri Jul 16, 2010 7:54 pm

I guess I'm opposite with myself when it comes to separating food and separating wine grapes.

I definitely eat one food at a time. With the exception of maybe dragging sausages or bacon through pancake syrup, I always prefer to not mingle and clash foods.

On the other hand, with my favorite wine, its very identity is a blend! Of course, there are blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs. Some amazingly delicious. But if you love champagne, the whole art of it is in the blend! The choice of enjoying mingling grape varieties was made for me long ago... :)

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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Don Appleton » Fri Jul 16, 2010 9:07 pm

For me, one of the fascinating aspects of wine is the large variety of choices available to wine lovers, with the ultimate choice on any day or evening largely determined by the accompanying food. For example, with salmon I generally prefer a single varietal such as pinot noir or chardonnay; with lamb I usually prefer a blended wine like a southern rhone blend or a bordeaux. Many other examples could be given but I think there's a time and a place and a meal where either one option or the other (single varietal or blend) would work best and also examples where either option would be fine - for example strip steak with either 100% cab or 100% syrah or bordeaux blend - no need for hard and fast rules here. I realize that I've focused on the wine/food matching theme but for me, that's the primary consideration.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Steve Slatcher » Sat Jul 17, 2010 2:32 am

Am I alone in not being too concerned about whether a wine is a varietal blend or not? To be controversial...

I would even go so far as to say most people would not even be able to identify blended vs single varietal. Not surprising perhaps when you consider that an unblended wine could be considered merely as a 100/0 blend - at what value is the mixture supposed to taste like a blend? 95/5? 90/10? With EU labelling the point at which varietal labelled bcomes illegal is 85/15, and I bet the 15% is exeeded in many cases. Isn't it still 80/20 in the US?

And for those that think 100% PN Burgundy is the ideal, have you tried it with 10 or 20% Syrah or Grenache? It used to be blended with Rhone varieties in some markets. You can be sure that it would not have been blended if the additions were not judged (by some at least) to be an improvement. I prefer Burgundy to many other wines, but I not convinced that the best tasting wine would always be 100% PN.
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Bernard Roth

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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Bernard Roth » Sat Jul 17, 2010 3:32 am

Who is an example of this strawman you created for this thread?
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Robin Garr

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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Robin Garr » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:21 am

Bernard Roth wrote:Who is an example of this strawman you created for this thread?

:?: :roll:
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Daniel Rogov » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:35 am

I agree that blending is best left to winemakers. If one should, however, care to play a bit at home open two bottles of the same vintage year - one of 100% Syrah/Shiraz and the other of 100% Viognier.

Using any convenient measuring device fill four identical glasses with

150 ml of pure Syrah/Shiraz
148 ml of Syrah/Shiraz and 2 ml Viognier
145 ml of Syrah/Shiraz and 5% Viognier
150 ml of Syrah/Shiraz and 10% Viognier

Filling should be done by pouring in first the Viognier and then the Syrah/Shiraz. After pouring, wait 5 - 10 minutes and then sample each of the glasses. Sample again in 1 and 2 hours, making comparative notes at each tasting. Then cover each glass with a piece of paper, set aside in a cool place in the room in which you usually drink wines and taste again in 24 hours.

Some surprises await.

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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by David M. Bueker » Sat Jul 17, 2010 11:42 am

Overall I know very few people who "insist" on single variety wines. To start with, 99% of the population is concerned abut one question: red or white (if they care about wine at all).

Of the remaining 1%, there are a few fanatics that insist on only drinking things like Burgundy or German/Austrian/Alsatian Riesling, but of the three I know personally, two love Champagne (and make no distinction between blended and mono-variety versions). I think the other one is an illegitimate descendant of a Cistercian monk. :wink:
There behind the glass lies a real blade of grass. Be careful as you pass. Move along. Move along.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Rahsaan » Sat Jul 17, 2010 12:58 pm

Daniel Rogov wrote:Some surprises await


Such as?
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Mark Willstatter » Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:46 pm

Steve Slatcher wrote:Isn't it still 80/20 in the US?


The federal minimum is 75/25. States can be more strict as Oregon is in the case of Pinot Noir.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Bernard Roth » Sun Jul 18, 2010 2:28 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Bernard Roth wrote:Who is an example of this strawman you created for this thread?

:?: :roll:



Well, Robin. You stated this as if there really are people making the claim. I think you built a strawman without any good data to support the hypothesis. So please, name names? Who exactly do you know in the single variety camp?

I've been around this wine world for 30 years, and this post is the first time I ever came across the concept that anyone might be a single varietal purist. Not in the restrictive sense that certain varietals should not be blended, but in the general sense that you posed - no varietals should be blended.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Should grape varieties touch in the glass?

by Salil » Sun Jul 18, 2010 4:09 am

I'm with Bernard here; I've never come across (or heard of) this particular argument before: "Those who won't let foods touch on their plate or grape varieties blend in their wine glass argue that mixing varietals yields a "muddy" mutt of a wine without clear definition and personality.
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