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« non sequitur Tuesday | Main | Of Jawas, Merlot and the Hands of Winemakers »

19 April 2007

Varietal in a Haystack

Needlehay Here's something I've been pondering after sampling two wines with 'hidden varietals' lurking somewhere in the bottle.

Wine 1: Chateau St. Michelle Orphelin Red 2004 (Washington) - This wine is a fine, bold-style, soft and juicy red blend.  It's straightforward and simple.  Nothing wrong with that.  Except....  Why oh why does the winery tout the presence of Malbec (0.1%!), Touriga (0.4%!!), Souzao (0.5%!!!) - and even Petit Verdot (3.5%).  I suppose it's intellectually stimulating to consider some odd varietals kicking it in my glass.  However, I'll be blunt:  I can't taste them.  There may as well have been 0.2% Concord and 0.12% Via Niagara.  With this wine's hefty dose of Rhone rag-a-muffins (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre), it really doesn't matter what grape make up that last 4.5%....or does it?

Wine 2: Sexto DOC Terra Alta 2004 (Spain) - Lest you think I'm picking on the exuberantly styled new world wines, try this affordable Spaniard (~$9).  Again, it's a perfectly pleasant pizza wine.  And yet, there, on the label is the Spanish word 'sexto' (= 6th).  Why is this wine named, '6th'?  Well, it contains 6% Lledoner Pelut Noir (also referred to as the 'hairy Grenache' clone!?!).  Now that's a grape very few have ever sipped, let alone heard of.  But honestly, this wine simply tastes like a cheap-n-cheerful Spanish red.  Fine and dandy, but nothing unique. 

Why can't I get a unique, varietal-based wine that doesn't have the unique varietals buried under an avalanche of commoners?

Have you sampled a unique, varietal-based wine recently, which was also unique-tasting?  Do tell.


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OK so 0.1% Malbec is next to nothing but the Petit Verdot at 3.5% is a little more substantial. Would the wine have tasted different without it - maybe - but unless you are the wine maker there wont be an opportunity to see.

Unless they inherited the vineyards with those obscure grapes you have to wonder why they bothered planted them in such small quantities. Experimentation? A case of 'well we've got 'em so might as well use 'em'.

Dr. Debs

This is a pet peeve of mine, too, Beau. It's what I don't like about Big House Red and some other red blends--they're too mushy. Who knows what's in it? Who can taste it?

I had a great red blend recently from Red Head Ranch, their 2004 R3 blend which has cab, syrah, and mourvedre and you could actually taste the three varietals, yet they all worked together. Very nice. (see more at

But the big varietal revelation has been Grenache Blanc. Not a well known varietal, usually in blends, but both Tablas Creek and Kris Curran make varietal stand alones and they are wonderful!

Dr. Debs

Correction: the R3 is syrah, cab, and Malbec. Sorry!


Andrew - I agree, PV at 3.5% may change the wine from a taster's perspective. However, this wine tasted like most other big, brawny New World Rhone blends. I think a little less alcohol, more acidity and edgier tannins would go a long way in opening this wine up to nuances from unique varietals.

DD - I sampled a Di Bruno Sangiovese (Ballard Canyon - Santa Ynez) last night and it was beautiful. Chewy tannins, smoke, cedar, cherries herbs. It was something different - but 'good' different.

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