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Blends Rock
For a blog that explores huge numbers of different grapes, it seems almost sacrilegious to mention a dirty secret. This wino really likes blends. Like a lot. Sometimes when drinking one wine, the thought of another wine jumps up and of course you’re thinking how amazing they’d be together. Usually this happens when one wine’s ok but could do a little better for itself by dating around a bit. Maybe that’s how wine makers think up blends, maybe not.

Social Butterfly
Viognier is one of those “date around” wines, and it’s really quite prolific, the social butterfly of grapes. Lots of wines mix it up with others of their clan: Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Muscat show up quite a bit together, and Cab and Merlot do their dance every year at the Hong Kong Wine Auction. There are probably others that cross the Mason-Dixon line between white and red, but Viognier definitely shows up a lot at the Red parties. It’s Shiraz that usually invites Viognier, especially in Australia’s Barossa Valley.

But Viognier is more than a one-grape dallier. Take this wine from California that Clayhouse makes “according to a proprietary blend.” Presumably they also make software for Microsfot. The wine is 6 grapes with no majority shareholder. Viognier gets top billing at 22%, but Chardonnay and Roussanne and the three Blanc sisters (Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Chenin Blanc) are all there in at least 5% doses. Doesn’t seem fair to label this post “6 grapes for the Price of 1” so it’s limited to the main attraction of Viognier and the opening act of Princess.

Unrecognized Princess
Princess, like any good opening act, isn’t as famous or as appreciated as the star people actually pay to see. Princess, in fact, isn’t even on the label. The US doesn’t even recognize it as a grape that CAN be listed on the bottle, despite its parentage of Muscat (perhaps the first wine grape) and Thompson (those awesome big crunchy grapes that kids steal int the grocery store). Clayhouse, maker of this wine, are petitioning the government to allow Princess to appear on the label, and they’ll likely win. “US Government Rejects Princess” is not a headline bureaucrats like to see.

So, taste. Not sure who contributed what to this white wine potluck, but what I tasted involved peaches, lots of smoothness (like a skipping stone on a clear lake), a little Werther’s and medium grade oil on the mouth. Not light, not heavy crude – medium grade, straight into the motor.

Sounds like a really gross mix re-reading this description, so to clarify, this blend works in the way that long summer days work when you’re on summer break in high school. New motor oil in your car, fresh peaches from the roadside stand on your way to the lake and skipping stones in the afternoon until it’s dark, and you and your social butterfly head home. Wine for warm weather, definitely.

Detail Up!
Clayhouse, Adobe White Blend 2008, Paso Robles, CA (h/t to the linked guys for the image)

Random Googles:
* Princess probably won’t be a grape you’ll find alone on a bottle, even if the government allows it. She disappoints wine makers.
* Viognier almost went extinct back in the day (the hippie day of the 1960s) but stubborn Condrieu kept planting it on the banks of the Rhone River in France. Now it’s the only grape allowed in Condrieu wines and bottles start at $50. Viognier, like many a sketchy Frenchmen, now thrives abroad.
* “V-OWN-yay” – pronunciation for your favorite sketchy Frenchman

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Merlot Coaster these last few years
Merlot brings out emotion in collective conscience like the latest scandalous pop star (Lady Gaga meat collection anyone?). “Love it” screamed the teenie boppers when it’s smooth, fruity taste first hit the international market, throwing California into a tizzy over whether Cabernet still reigned supreme (spoiler alert: it does). “Hate it” screamed the slightly more matured cognescenti in a moment that happened to coincide with the release of a certain Sideways movie seven years ago that dropped Merlot into the bargain bin. And now, quietly, without much fuss or notice, Merlot is once again regaining a certain “F.U.” cachet.

Merlot, it’s back to the starting rotation
Merlot is back to the big leagues and its time in Triple A has done it well. People who know about wines tell me the best values for American wines are in Merlot. People have hated on it so much, it’s become trendy to hate the haters. Is it too much to call Merlot the PBR of wine? Is PBR even the PBR of beer anymore?

Regardless, Merlot is headed back to its rightful place on the team. Sure, Merlot won’t be the Roy Halladay that will lead the Mets to win on opening day – that just doesn’t happen in Queens. But Merlot is back on the starting rotation, sandwiched in between Cab, Shiraz and Pinot.

Black fruit fruit with some plum marching in next. Nothing too heavy from the tannins but some weight and smoke that makes it seem deeper than it is. Pizza, movie and this wine.

Detail Up!
Bogle Vineyards, California – 2009 Merlot

Random Googles
* Washington, Long Island and Hawke’s Bay – those are the 3 locations to find great value.
* Merlot – etymologists trace it to French for “blackbird,” as in 4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie. Never understood how that song didn’t become the stoner mantra.
* In Bordeaux, more Merlot is planted than Cab but somehow Merlot manages to stay in the shadow. Ask Zeno to explain that one.

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The Best Grape
There, I’ve said it. Riesling is just the best grape that exists. Maybe it’s my love for bone-crushing acidity. Maybe it’s that favorite jacket you have that pairs well with everything and manages to be classy without trying. Maybe it’s that thrill of walking to the airport to buy your ticket to somewhere you haven’t decided yet. Because it’s only Riesling that can bring you suck-your-teeth dry and rot-your teeth sweet. All grapes have a range in which they sing and you start to recognize their voices among the Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and that Cabernet Bass.

Opera Star
Riesling though is a category unto itself. It’s SATB performed by a love child of Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland. The wine soars in the right hands and has a range unmatched by any other wine. It can age for over a decade (crazy rare for a white), makes dessert wines equal to any of the greatest dessert wines in the world (Auslese) and CAN command prices into the thousands of dollars. Of course, Riesling can also command prices of $10 and it’s easy to find great bottles at $10 and really excellent bottles for $15.

Remember the Riesling!
Personally, Riesling has always been a food and friends wine. Eat one and devour the other – it’s a simple recipe but Remember the Riesling. It’s easy to find too since Germany and Austria no longer have a stranglehold on the grape. Australia, New Zealand and the US (especially Finger Lakes, NY!) all produce wines that melt in your mouth or stab you with lime – up to you to figure out which is which. South Africa too seems to be entering the fray, and South America has started late to the game but has started its experimenting. Rather than just carpeting the world too, Riesling producers have managed to produce wines that smack you across the face with their true gravel. If you enjoy S&M diversity in your wine, you just found your grape.

This wine is one of many styles that Chateau Ste Michelle makes (one of which is called Eroica – sweet and worth the search; it’s two of the world’s best producers teaming up on Riesling). This particular Riesling shown above is the regular “everyday” Riesling that Chateau Ste Michelle make and I think it cost about $10 (which is what it costs at Jericho Wines, who get the h/t for the photo). Here’s what my tongue dictated to my fingers: Kinda fizzy, tart like green apples but with peach taste. Light wine. Very green apples and something fizzy extra.

Detail Up!
Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling 2009

Random Googles
* Famed Riesling Maker Leo Buring (correctly) stated: “Winemaking isn’t a matter of life or death – it’s much more important than that!” The one wine I tried by him convinced me that my mid-life crisis will occur in Adelaide, Australia.
* Riesling regions to seek out: Clare, Eden and West Australia (Australia); Mosel, Alsace, and Wachau (Europe); Finger Lakes, Michigan and Washington (US); and Nelson (NZ)
* There’s a Red Riesling in Germany. Nobody’s quite sure if it’s the father or the son of Riesling Riesling.

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Lagrein is a grape that I wasn’t even sure was a grape. It was only through a process of elimination that I determined Lagrein was the grape in this bottle. First, Tobin James – biggest font on the bottle, meaning winemaker (probably). Next, Paso Robles – heard of it and know it’s in California so not the grape. Year, alcohol content and “silver reserve” – nothing sounding like a grape. Lagrein it is.

Anyway, Tobin James doesn’t list this grape on their website so they might not even make it anymore. Having never heard of it before or seen it anywhere in a wine store, it seems pretty rare here in the US. In really northern Italy, knocked up next to Austria in Trentino-Alto Adige, this Lagrein is at home. Outside of its home, wikipedia calls it “rare to the point of obscurity.” Needless to say, it’s pretty cool that a friend brought it to the mac&cheese&wine party the other night.

The wine tasted a lot like a dusty shiraz, kinda more stringent and earthy without all that fruit. It looked about the same color as a Shiraz and had the same body (and high alcohol-content) but lacked all the fruit that Aussies love to export and Americans love to import. Blackberry shouted down all the other flavors in the wine but really the wine was about the structure. Not sure if they blend this in with others (yup, see below), but it’s got the body for blending and a pretty unique dirty smokey quality going for it. Less like a fine cigar, more like a country road, it’s a pretty unique wine. Not amazing but not lackluster either, certainly happy to have tried it.

Detail Up!
Tobin James 2008 Lagrein from Paso Robles – cellartracker’s pic above too

Random Googles
* Lagrein – related to Syrah, Pinot Noir and (really obscure) Dureza
* Australia’s playing around with Lagrein in trial patches to blend it with Shiraz
* Highly tannic grape that winemakers age for 18+ months

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