By Tom Marquardt And Patrick Darr
There is a strong reason why many of the finest wines in the world are blends of different grapes. While selecting one grape to star in a particular wine can be appealing, blending two or more varieties allows greater creativity to the winemaker and flexibility to accommodate the vagaries of challenging vintages.
Utilizing a single grape can spotlight the suitability and star potential of a grape from a given region. Blending allows for the winemaker to pursue the elusive goal of harmony. A single-varietal wine only allows for a relatively small number of variables, whereas a blended wine can allow for an almost endless number of inputs to craft the winemaker’s goal.
Virtually all winemaking regions use multiple grape combinations. Bordeaux, Rioja and Tuscany are just a few areas that produce red blends.
Blends are particularly popular in Virginia. A tasting of Virginia’s meritage-style blends showed a stylistic contrast that we found intriguing. All of the wines were made using the classic five red Bordeaux grapes.
Overall, the Virginia efforts seemed to fall somewhere between France and the West Coast and would be a very credible competitor in any comparison. We noted that the meritage blends offered a bit more complexity than single-grape wines and they delivered, an elegant smooth experience for the drinker.
Following are our impressions of the Virginia blends. While not in bargain basket territory, we believe they compared well with similar priced offerings from California or Bordeaux.
Mountain and Vine Delfosse Vineyards and Winery Screaming Hawk Meritage Faber Monticello 2021 ($60). A pleasing blend of 50 percent petite verdot, 30 percent cabernet sauvignon, with the balance equal amounts of cabernet franc and malbec. It was the winner of the 2023 Virginia Governors Cup. Notes of just ripe berries, tobacco and a hint of gaminess create an impressive package for consumers.
Jefferson Vineyards Meritage Charlottesville Monticello AVA 2019 ($50). The blend is 45 percent merlot, 40 percent petite verdot with cabernet franc and malbec rounding out the blend. Very elegant with plum and tobacco elements create a meritage that over-delivers.
Pollak Vineyards Meritage Alton Monticello AVA 2017 ($45). We really liked this effort from Pollak Vineyards. Our first impression was this was a high-quality Pomerol or St. Emilion from Bordeaux. Beautiful cherry and sweet plum notes with a hint of cedar make up a very classy red wine with 60 percent cabernet franc, 24 percent merlot and 16 percent petite verdot.
Trump Winery New World Reserve Charlottesville Monticello AVA 2019 ($54). Love or hate the former president, his winery produces some of Virginia’s finest vinifera wines. Owned by his son Eric, Trump Winery is Virginia’s largest boasting 227 acres of vines. We found this meritage, like the two previous wineries mentioned above, offered a very elegant, easy-to-drink wine that sported plum, cedar and tobacco elements. A very classy wine that earned a gold medal at the Virginia Governors Cup.
As Americans flood the European continent along with everyone else in the world, major tourist sites will bulge with too many people in too little space. Witness the lines at the Louvre in Paris or the mob scene at the Vatican. Tourists return with tales of local delicacies, amazing sites and inevitably wines.
Some of these wines are coming from regions once off the American’s radar. Travelers are discovering wines from Croatia, Santorini and Portugal. Often these wines are not available outside of the country or region where they are made.
So, if you fall in love with a wine experience in a small-out-of-the-way corner during your travels, it may be worthwhile to bring a few bottles home.
What is not worth the effort is to bring back sulfite-free wines from Europe. Many American tourists mistakenly believe that European wines don’t contain sulfites because they don’t have the warning label they see on U.S. wines.
Sulfites occur naturally during fermentation. Most winemakers also add sulfites (sulfur dioxide) to inhibit oxidation and microbiological growth. Without this addition, wines can be unstable and spoil. Sulfites are valuable except for the one percent of the population that are allergic.
Countless references available online document that sulfites both naturally produced and added are ubiquitous in all wine-producing nations. International wine brands sold in both Europe and the U.S. are treated identically with sulfites. The only difference is the labeling.
Anecdotally we have also heard from some tourists visiting vineyards that European winemakers, perhaps to encourage sales, don’t disabuse Americans of this misinformation about sulfites.
Fleur De Prairie Rose Languedoc 2022 ($20). Crafted from mostly grenache and syrah, this wine comes in a stylized curvy bottle. Very pale pink but presents big and rich in the mouth with delicate cherry notes.
Susana Balbo Signature Torrontes Barrel Fermented Valle De Uco Mendoza 2022 ($28). An amazing exposition of the Torrontes grape. Floral notes with herbal grassy elements side with passion fruit and lime. Intense and very intriguing.
La Nerthe Les Cassagnes Rose Cotes-Du-Rhone 2022 ($18). A blend of grenache mourvedre, and cinsault, this wine presents lemon-lime and cherry notes in a smooth, rich mouth filling package. One of the best roses of the season.
Otronia 45 Degrees Pinot Noir Patagonia 2019 ($40-45). This is a very good pinot noir from the cool wilds of Argentina’s Patagonia. Cherry and rhubarb notes are presented in a style that is unique to this area.