I often get asked what my favourite wine is?
The answer is always it depends
It depends what I am eating, it depends who I am with, and it depends where I am.
A cheeky little Rose on the verandah, with family and friends is pretty hard to beat.
Is this the best wine I have every tried? Hell no, but then these are the times and the wines that I truly remember
The odd time I have tasted / drunk First growths, are pretty cool and exciting, but to be honest, the wines are just very good and quickly forgotten.
When I look at the most exciting wines I am drinking now, despite the situation I find myself in, the most common thread is that they are blends, something in Australia we used to frown upon. Used to; for the times they are a changing.
But first a little history.
It could be argued that the true skill of the winemaker is not found in the vineyard, the crusher or the fermentation tanks; but rather on the tasting bench in the lab.
You see all wines are created by blending parcels of wines together.
This could be on the micro level, with the blending of different barrels from the same vineyard, through to the blending of different varietals from different vineyards, be they from the same region, state or even country.
It is up to the winemaker to work out that special formula or blend, where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
You see, it is just not economical to bottle wines from a single barrel, so it seems strange that for so long the blend was looked upon as a cheaper option.
For example the Shiraz Cab blend is generally considered inferior to the Shiraz or the Cabernet, where as I have found in most cases they are the more complete wine
Some more history. For over 2000 years, Europe has been selling their wines by focusing on the region where the grapes are grown. So you get the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Chianti, etc. In most cases these wines came from multiple vineyards and varieties, but it was the region which was the most important part of the label. But these regions took 2000 years to develop their reputation.
Fast forward to the 1950’s and the post war growth of grape growing and wine drinking in the new world (Australia / US/ NZ / South Africa) with the influx of European migration. The problem was that to sell these wines, they used terms and references they were familiar with, so we saw labels in Australia and the US with terms like Hermitage, White Burgundy , Claret , Bordeaux and Champagne.
Everything was going really well until the 1970’s and 80’s when the Europeans started to take notice of these New World upstarts and realised the wines were pretty good and they needed to be stopped.
So they then went about the fairly lengthy process of preventing winemakers from using these European Regional terms. Today we think of this as entirely reasonable, but back in the day there was a lot of confusion and anger on how to proceed. It even affected our most famous wine. Up until the 1980’s Penfold’s Grange, was always referred to as Grange Hermitage, which also happens to be the name of a village in the Northern Rhone of France, famous for its Shiraz.
It was even more confusing, for Hunter Valley Semillon, one of the greats wines of the world. In the 1970’s it was sold under the label of Hunter Valley Riesling.
So what was the new world to do when it could not use these European regional names anymore? They eventually turned to the variety and the brand, as they realised their own regions were barely known in their own state.
This was the start of the big export boom of the 1980’s in Australia, with the wines of Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay and Rosemount Diamond Label Shiraz storming the retail isles of the world.
Consumers in Australia, the US and England were overjoyed to have their wine purchasing simplified and easy to understand. Just like they knew and understood Champagne and Bordeaux, they now grew to understand Lindeman’s Chardonnay and Rosemount Shiraz.
It was the same in the US, however they very much focused on one region, and so it was Napa Valley Cabernet and Napa Valley Chardonnay
Drinkers in these markets got used to drinking varietals and so when a wine was labelled as a blend or with no varietal, it was considered somewhat inferior.
However this is just not the case and thankfully the drinkers of the world have realised that the great wines of the world can be and normally are blends.
Let’s go back to our Go to Wine – Penfold’s Grange. This is actually a blend of many different vineyards in South Australia and depending on the vintage can contain up to 6-10% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Nobody feels this wine is inferior. And of course the great wines of Bordeaux are blends of up to 5 different red grapes. Chateauneuf-du-Pape can consist of up to 15-18 different grape varieties, including several white grapes. On that trend the super expensive wines of the Cote Roite in Northern Rhone are a blend of Syrah and up to 10% of the white grape variety Viognier. I could go on.
But in Australia and the US blends were frowned upon.
It was all about Cabernet, Chardonnay and Shiraz .
Today these three varieties are very important, but winemakers know that the sum of the parts are better than the whole and we are now seeing many more blends, not only at the entry level, but at the super premium as well
So what blends am I drinking now.
Of course there are the Grenache based wines of Southern Rhone, Eastern Spain and the Barossa Valley.
On the white side of things it is a little more mono varietal, with Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio and Riesling leading the way
However do you self a favour and try to find some Rhone Valley whites wines made from Marsanne / Viognier / Rousanne, truly exciting and complex wines.
Don’t be afraid of the blend, for just like all winemakers, you will soon realise the sum is greater than the parts.