Back to Basics: Premium Blends Around The World

You may have noticed that a lot of my posts have been of the exotic variety of late. Aside from recapping vacation adventures, I have gone into great detail on cocktails, plenty of spirits, and unusual grape varieties. So today, it's time to ease up on the gas a little and get back to basics with some good straight-up wine discussion. In this edition of Flight School, I share with you some classic and interesting red and white blends of which I have really received a high level of enjoyment from.

Franciscan Estate Winery does a blending class on-site, but we were fortunate to get one of their blending kits for our classroom. Image credit:  Franciscan Estate

Franciscan Estate Winery does a blending class on-site, but we were fortunate to get one of their blending kits for our classroom. Image credit: Franciscan Estate

At the store, we once ran a blending session using Franciscan Estate's "Magnificat" as our reference point, a kit that is sold by the winery. It is a lot of fun to take the five grapes from the Magnificat (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec) and create your own wine in the proportions you see fit. Tasting your own "Franken-wine" alongside the Magnificat is a great practical exercise in how the different grape varieties play off of one another.

When it comes to wine blends, remember that there is always a method to the madness. While it used to be that some producers would just throw disorganized grapes into the fermentation vats and make a wine from them, individual grape varieties are bringing something to the party. The goal is for the grapes to work in harmony to achieve a desired style. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, for example, have long been partners in Bordeaux wines; Cabernet's "structure" (acid, tannin, and aromatics) have often been a foil for Merlot's plush texture and ripe fruit flavor. However, one can also amplify a specific characteristic in a blend. In an example like this, A Merlot-Malbec blend in Argentina will feel ultra-soft on your palate with very ripe fruit flavors since the two grapes have some marked similarities.

I have three whites and three reds for you to try that have been recent favorites of mine. None of these break the bank and provide you with casual, yet interesting wines to enjoy.

The White Wine Flight

Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz ($20): You may remember me mentioning "Gentil" blends as a way to get introduced to the grapes of Alsace, France. Gemischter Satz is a similar concept in Austria. This particular blend is mostly Grüner Veltliner, Weissburgunder, Welschriesling, and Chardonnay, but there are smaller proportions of many local varieties like Riesling, Rotgipfler, Zierfandler, Sylvaner, Traminer, Neuberger. The producer refers to this as "All of Vienna in One Wine." This is aromatic and fresh with delicate citrus and stone fruits, along with some minerally/earthy notes. Perfect with lighter seafood dishes or as a counter to Wiener Schnitzel!

Domaine Lafage Côtes Catalanes "Côté Est" ($14): The Côtes Catalanes region of France near the Spanish border is delivering great value with these unique blends of native and international varieties. Côté Est uses Grenache Blanc (popular for its body, alcohol, and tropical fruit), Roussanne (a high-acid aromatic white grape of the Rhône Valley) and the well-known Chardonnay. The end result is a vibrant, yet creamy white wine with pineapple, apricot, and wild herbs.

Castellargo Friuli Grave "Albus" ($16): Friuli is tucked away in the far northeast of Italy, touching the Austrian and Slovenian borders. Native grape Friulano is blended in near equal proportions with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to create a pungent citrus, herbaceous, earthy wine with some texture on the palate and a slightly floral nose. Delicious with a pasta of fresh herbs and green veggies.

The Red Wine Flight

Viberti Langhe "Dolbà" Rosso ($16): The "Dolbà" refers to the blend of Dolcetto (40%) and Barbera (60%). Dolcetto (translates to "the little sweet one") when fully ripened gives you wines with dark berry, almost jammy fruit that has some tannin and strong aromatics. Barbera is the workhorse grape of the Piedmont area, and in this case provides plenty of acid and fresh red cherry fruit to counter the Dolcetto. A wonderful pizza wine!

Domaine de la Solitude Côtes du Rhône ($18): Solitude is a well-regarded producer of the ageworthy Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In some ways, this is the "baby version" of their flagship wine. 50% Grenache (for body and berry fruit flavor), 30% Syrah (for dark, earthy fruit, acid, and tannin), 15% Cinsault (for juicy red raspberry fruit and acid), and 5% Carignan (for additional "structure" such as acid and tannin). What you get is a well-balanced, versatile red blend that goes great with anything from a burger in summertime to a hearty stew in winter.

Graffigna Centenario Elevation San Juan Red Blend ($14): This is a blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec (both well-suited for many Argentine wines), Syrah, Tannat (an old Southwestern French grape that actually thrives in neighboring Uruguay!) and Bonarda (a fruity red grape that gets lost in the shuffle at times). Tannat's structural and dark fruit content are very high, and Bonarda's fruitiness and full body help counter the aggressiveness of Tannat (which takes its name from "tannin"). The Syrah actually adds a touch of smokiness to the finished wine, too. Sear a cut of red meat, pour a glass of the Elevation, and be happy!