Tasting Note: 2005 Catena Alta Cabernet Sauvignon, Bodega Catena Zapata

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Wine on the air: time for the barbecue

Last week, I got an invitation from Sharman Yarnell, host of Showtime, a Saturday morning show on Montreal station CJAD, to talk about summer wines and, more specifically good wines for the barbecue. Sharman was charming and fun to work with, and I certainly hope to do it again some time. I have to say it’s always nice, when you’re blogging, to reach towards other media. And I’ve always loved doing radio.

I put together a list of accessible wines that could come in handy for the grilling season (more…)

Mixing it up

There is a New World trend in wine that is intriguing, promising and annoying, all at once. It’s the habit of mixing varietals that don’t usually go together: chardonnay and viognier, verdelho and chenin blanc, touriga and tempranillo, etc. Australians do it with particular enthusiasm, determined to go, it seems, where no wine has gone before. There’s even a whole line of wines from Argentina based on that concept: Familia Zuccardi’s Fuzion brand. And other examples from Chile or the USA.

Sometimes the results are pleasant and harmonious, or really add up to something greater than the sum of the parts.  Like certain supertuscan blends of Bordeaux varietals and Sangiovese, or successful combinations of cabernets and shiraz.  Even more basic wines can do it well: Penfolds’ white Rawson’s Retreat is a blend of chardonnay and sémillon that is simple, accessible and, well, balanced. Which is probably the keyword that some winemakers forget as they seek to make daring, unusual blends.

For some producers, the fact that the blend is unusual seems to be the whole point, along with some notion of complementarity: freshness in one varietal, structure and richness in the other. Sometimes, going against the grain seems to be an end in itself. I’ve tasted mixes that should never have come together – and actually didn’t come together, even though they had been blended.

It’s just not that easy. There are historical reasons why certain blends have come together in different regions of the world, thanks to the way the climate favored certain varietals that came together properly in terms of flavors, textures, color and balance. Like sweeter, earlier ripening merlot with more tannic and tighter cabernet sauvignon in Bordeaux blends. Creating a new blend with varietals that have hardly established themselves in a new land, and trying to figure out how they’ll behave together is risky business, to say the least.

Mission impossible? Not really. But more care should be exerted by winemakers who choose that route. A hit or miss approach just doesn’t cut it. If it takes several years to build up a vineyard, it could be an idea for winemakers to give themselves many years of tasting and experimenting before releasing new, untested blends.