Uncorked: Grapes: The more the merrier in white blends
Ask any good cook: When you make a complex dish such as curry chicken, you're blending a dozen or more flavors — cardamom, turmeric, cumin, chilies, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, coriander, mustard, garlic, fennel, black pepper and others. Oh, and chicken.
Winemakers do the same thing. Sure, they make wines that are 100 percent chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier and such. That's their version of grilled chicken or poached salmon.
But when they're sitting around that potbellied stove in midwinter mulling over what nifty new thing to try next season, they often cook up the vinous equivalent of curry. They, too, are seeking the complexity of many flavorful ingredients.
A winemaker's white blend seeks the individual character of each grape. They might add chardonnay for its sweet pineapple flavors, sauvignon blanc for its crisp acids and tart grapefruit flavors, semillon for its sweetness and viscous mouth-feel, grenache blanc for its crisp acids, green apples and minerality, chenin blanc for its melons, minerals and honey, pinot grigio for its floral aromas and ripe pear flavors, gewurztraminer for its powerful lychee flavors, muscat for its sweet oranges, viognier for its vanilla, albarino for its limes and white peaches, riesling for its sweetness, ripe apples and minerals, vermentino for more limes and minerals.
Blending wines is subtle. I was invited to a blending once and learned that adding as little as 1 percent of a contrasting grape can noticeably change the flavor of a wine. Counterintuitive but true.
In any case, it must be fun to be a winemaker. Here are a few of their blended efforts.
2010 Torres Vina Esmeralda, Catalunya, Spain (85 percent moscatel, 15 percent gewurztraminer): floral, crisp and sweet, with flavors of kiwi, lychee and minerals; $15.
2010 Clif Family Winery "The Climber" Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County (80 percent sauvignon blanc, 12 percent riesling, 7 percent viognier, 1 percent muscat blanc): big and rich, with ripe melon and mineral flavors; $14.
2010 Clayhouse Adobe White, Paso Robles (46 percent viognier, 27 percent sauvignon blanc, 16 percent Grenache blanc, 9 percent princess and 2 percent chenin blanc): aromas and flavors of citrus and ripe peaches, crisp, hint of sweetness; $14.
2010 Cliff Lede Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley (99 percent sauvignon blanc, 1 percent Semillon): soft and rich, with flavors of apples and lemons; $23.
2010 Cecchi Family Estates Litorale Vermentino, Maremma, Tuscany, Italy (85 percent vermentino, 15 percent unnamed other white grapes): crisp and full-bodied, with ripe peach and apricot flavors; $15.
2009 Trenza Blanco, Edna Valley (50 percent albariño, 50 percent garnacha blanca): rich and crisp, with aromas and flavors of ripe oranges and minerals; $20.
2010 Shenandoah Vineyards Chenin Blanc/Viognier, Amador County (55 percent chenin blanc, 45 percent viognier): rich and full-bodied, with ripe golden-apple flavors; $14.
2010 Banfi Centine Bianco, Toscano IGT (40 percent sauvignon blanc, 30 percent pinot grigio, 30 percent chardonnay): crisp and dry, light-bodied, with grapefruit and mineral flavors, $11.