All together now, let's Blend in
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This time out I’m looking at three red wine blends. Many wines these days have some percentage of various grapes in the mix. To legally be labeled with a varietal name, Syrah for instance, the bottle must contain a minimum of 75 percent Syrah. If they’re not at least 75 percent of one particular grape, then they are a blend of some sort. In France, of course, Bordeaux is one of the better-known regions for blends. In the New World, wineries that make a Bordeaux style blend sometimes use the name Meritage. However, to label a wine as such requires membership in the Meritage Association. The blends I’m looking at here use a diverse array of different grapes, often within the same blend. The advantage is that the whole is often greater than the sum of the parts. Every grape has its own qualities, and while the purity of expression from a single grape is often terrific, it’s quite interesting to see what bringing diverse components together can achieve.
The first wine is from Cameron Hughes. They’re a négociant, which means they buy wines from other producers and label it with their name. This is a hugely popular practice in Europe, particularly France. With Cameron Hughes, the consumer is a major beneficiary, as they are often purchasing lots of wine that would sell for much more under the original winery’s name. What Cameron Hughes offers is quick cash, for unsold, or unbottled, inventory -- and anonymity. What we get, as consumers, is bang for the buck. A Cameron Hughes Chardonnay I recently reviewed at Gabe’s View, blew me away, encouraging me to taste more of their offerings.
The Cameron Hughes Lot 95 Meritage is made from fruit sourced in Valle Central Chile. The blend is Cabernet Sauvignon (50 percent), Merlot (35 percent), and Carmenere (15 percent). Carmenere, for those unfamiliar with the grape, is most often found in Chile and is starting to emerge there as a stand-alone varietal. The wines it produces are often big and distinct. There are 5,000 cases of this wine and the suggested retail price is $10.
The nose of this South American blend is loaded with black cherries. Toasty oak notes and eucalyptus play a subtler but present role. Once you take the first sip you’re hit with bright, slightly jam-laden, rich, berry fruit characteristics. What really shines brightly is the Carmenere. It adds dark, dank brooding fruit that carries from the mid-palate all the way to the finish, along with vanilla and white pepper. The wine has supple, approachable, yielding tannins and sufficient acidity.
Two things stand out most immediately about Lot 95. First is that for $10 this wine offers a lot of drinking pleasure and more than sufficient complexity. It’s basically a $20 blend with a $10 price tag. Second, it absolutely jumps out of the bottle, and is ready to go the second you pop the cork.
The second wine is from Martin & Weyrich. This Paso Robles-based producer has been in operation since 1981. In terms of the Central Coast of California, that’s a long time. Italian varietals stand at the core of what they do. Producers like Martin & Weyrich, who are regularly putting out fine, interesting wines at fair prices, are the reason I’ve become such a big fan of the Paso Robles region in the last decade. This particular selection blends grapes with an Italian heritage together with some with grapes that have French roots.
The 2005 Martin & Weyrich Insieme (Italian for together) is a blend of Petite Sirah (45 percent), Sangiovese (21 percent), Syrah (21 percent), Cabernet Franc (9 percent), Merlot (2 percent) and Barbera (2 percent). Fruit was sourced from a combination of three estate vineyards. This wine spent 24 months in a combination of new (20 percent) and older (80 percent) French oak. Insieme is finished with a screw top. The suggested retail price is $16, and 1,546 cases were produced.
Cherry, black pepper and plum reference points fill the wine’s nose as soon as you get the glass filled. From the very first sip, the Sangiovese makes its presence known with sour cherry characteristics and bight red fruit. The Petite Sirah really holds down the bottom of this wine with deep, dark flavors. When Petite is blended in with Zinfandel or plays a large role as it does here, I like to think of it as the bass player, kicking out the bottom end while the other grapes take the guitar role with brighter parts. The finish on this wine is lengthy and the black pepper, which came out in the nose, is only more prominent. This blend has excellent acidity and good structure. Quite frankly, this offering practically screams for food. Just about anything with tomato sauce will be a good match, as will meats and bolder foods.
What I like most about Insieme is that the best qualities of each of the main components really shine. Ultimately though, those components come together to form a smooth, delicious wine, built to pair with your favorite flavorful foods.
The third wine is from Courtney Benham; this is a label under the Martin Ray umbrella. While they’re based in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma, they source fruit from various appellations throughout California and produce a broad array of wines at many price levels and designations.
The Courtney Benham 2006 Lucca Red is made from fruit sourced in Paso Robles, Calif. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Mouvedre, Grenache and Barbera are all part of this blend. The suggested retail price is $20, and 1,650 cases of this wine were produced.
The first thing I thought of when I took a whiff of this wine was blackberry and raspberry jam. Both of those intermingle to form a bright nose. Taking the first sip, the palate is lush and full of continued berry fruit. Significant black cherry characteristics emerge as well. A big wallop of vanilla emerges on the finish and rides alongside all the berry fruit; they complement each other quite well.
What I like best about this wine is that its big, rich, bold, mouth-filling style does a fine job of showcasing what can often be typical of Paso Robles. To me, Lucca Red is a classic burger wine.
All three of these blends offer a lot of flavor and they also represent good values. None of them will break the bank and they’re very appealing wines that will work well at large gatherings where people have diverse palates. There is something in each of them that should satisfy both the casual and the serious wine drinker. Each of these will be a safe bet for a summer BBQ, or a lazy weeknight where you get home late from work and order a pizza.