THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Maverick blends

I’m not sure at what point in time America got hung up on pure grape varietals as their wines of choice. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel. … The only Old World wine that comes to mind that’s labeled and sold as the name of the pure grape varietal is Prosecco. All other Old World wines are mainly labeled as the name of the house, chateau or the wine growing district — even if it’s a singular grape varietal. Does it stem from the American Kennel Club where a purebred canine is supposedly more valuable than a mutt? I personally would prefer a mutt, as they’re not as prone to genetic maladies like hip dysplasia and deafness like their purebred brethren. And on that subject, if I ever raise a canine for show, I WILL name my animal “Fido.” Who ever heard someone calling your dog “Ch. Breeze of wind down the valley for her majesty?” It’s a DOG!

Give it a dog’s name — like Fido. You may see “Ch. Fido” at the next Eukanuba Cup. But I digress. So let’s go back to wines. Sometimes, “mutt” wines or blends exemplify the “sum is greater than the parts” rationale. As with Chateau Margaux, Chateau Petrus or Chateau Beaucastel, blends of complementary grapes are so much better than any individual grape varietal.

American Blends
To be fair, there are vintners stateside who embrace the Old World tradition of blended grape. And about 25 years ago, the Meritage Association was formed in Napa Valley to embrace the blending tradition in Bordeaux where both red and white wines were made with classic grape blends. The reds had to be made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec or Carmenere, while the whites had to contain Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon or Muscadelle du Bordelais. In Central California, growers tried mimicking the blends found in Southern France, specifically the Rhone region where Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise, Cinsault and Carignan reigned supreme in red wines and Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne dominated the white wines. And while some of these wines are great (Opus One, Tablas Creek, Saxum), trying to emulate Bordeaux or the Rhone when the climatic conditions and soils aren’t the same often doesn’t translate to wines found in the Motherland.

A Step Further
Going a step further, there are some vintners in the Upper 48 and the Old World that are forging their own path. Never mind the classic grape blends found only in the old chateau. We are the NEW GUARD, with different climatic conditions, soils and grape clones that are better suited to these “home” conditions. These are blends not ever imagined in Bordeaux or the Rhone. But as Duke Ellington once stated, there are only two types of music, “Good music and bad music,” and in that same vein, there are only two types of wines, “Good wines and bad wines,” never mind heritage or tradition.

Probably the most successful in the white wine world would be the Wagner family’s Conundrum label, which contains varying amounts of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier. They are never the same proportion every year, and they don’t even admit to other white grape varietals added to the blend. But they are floral, fruity and crisp at the same time, and friendly to a variety of foods, making the wine so successful the Wagner family branched it out on its own label.

Then there’s Folie a Deux’s Menage a Trois White, a blend of 44 percent Chardonnay, 34 percent Muscat Alexandria and 22 percent Chenin Blanc. While you won’t find this blend anywhere in France (you may find menage a trois in France but not these three grapes in one bottle), the body, fruit and acid combine to perfectly pair with hearty Asian cuisine.

For other maverick blends, try these white wine blends with your favorite Asian cuisine, including Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese. The fruit pairs with sweeter flavors in sweet and sour, the slight sweetness tempers any capsaicin chili pepper heat and the acid cleanses the palate between bites. The prices shown reflect prices at K & L Wines in the Bay Area, followed by my own personal scores.

2011 Mas Grand Plagniol Costieres de Nimes” Côtes du Rhône Blanc $12.99 (4.25/5)
40 percent Grenache Blanc, 50 percent Rousanne and 10 percent Viognier
Peach, melon and citrus blossoms on the nose with a balanced medium mouth feel on the palate and moderately long finish.

2011 Chemistry by Chehalem “Fig.’11” Willamette Valley White Wine $14.99 (3.5/5)
40 percent Pinot Blanc, 37 percent Gewürztraminer, 12 percent Riesling, 6 percent Chardonnay and 5 percent Pinot Gris
Melon, peaches and stone fruit on the nose with a hint of lime with a medium mouth feel, good acid and a touch of bitterness on the finish.

Sokol Blosser “Evolution” Oregon White $13.99 (3.75/5)
Pinot Gris, Muller-Thurgau, Semillon and six other white grapes
White flowers, peach and apricot and lime zest on the nose with a medium palate feel, a touch of sweetness and good acid on the palate with a medium finish

Gyotaku —This wine was blended specifically for sushi and sashimi ensembles. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Gyotaku —This wine was blended specifically for sushi and sashimi ensembles. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

2011 Domaine Mittnacht “Gyotaku” $14.99 (4/5)
40 percent Pinot Blanc and 20 percent each Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer
White flowers, apricot, stone fruit and citrus on the nose with a medium mouth feel and very balanced on the palate with a medium finish. Created in Alsace, France specifically for sushi and sashimi, it worked with both limu ahi (yellowfin tuna) poke and wasabi infused shoyu au poke (marlin).

2010 Geoff Tate Insania (Three Rivers Winery) Columbia Valley White Wine $13.99 (3/5)
62 percent Semillon and 38 percent Sauvignon Blanc
Candied citrus peel and peach on the nose with a hint of mineral. Initially a lush mouth feel with ripe white fruit but the acid then hits the palate and ends with a touch of bitterness and a medium finish.

2011 Chateau de Montfaucon Comtesse Madeleine $17.99 (4/5)
45 percent Marsanne, 35 percent Viognier, 10 percent Clairette and 10 percent Picpoul
Orange blossoms, melon and a hint of gravel on the nose with a full palate of orange marmalade, sweet citrus and earth and lush, medium long finish.

2010 Urbanite Cellars “Caliberico” Lodi White Blend $14.99 (4.25/5)
47 percent Verdelho, 35 percent Albariño and 18 percent Torrontes

Caliberico — A new favorite for the Gochiso. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Caliberico — A new favorite for the Gochiso. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Pineapple and green apple on the nose with a hint of mineral with a very balanced flow over the palate and a medium long finish. This wine paired nicely with poke (so it should pair nicely with any raw fish) and didn’t clash with memmi (flavored shoyu). One of my new favorite white wines under $15!

2011 Szöke Irsai Oliver $10.99 (4/5)
Olaszrizling (Italian Riesling), Sylvaner, Hárslevelü (Linden-Leaf), Ottonel Muscatel, Tramini, Királyleányka, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and the oddly named Irsai Oliver
Very Gewurztraminer-like on the nose, with apricot, stone fruit and citrus blossoms, with loads of spice and a rich mouth feel and long finish. This should pair with heartier dishes like roasted poultry or pork and might even stand up to choucroute.

Final Words

Remember that the list of eight isn’t all-inclusive, so I encourage you to seek out your own favorite blend of grapes. Also remember that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Just because a certain blend works in France or Italy or Spain doesn’t mean it’s the best blend stateside, and likewise, just because it wouldn’t work in the Old World doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work stateside. And remember that it’s not simply about the wine but does the wine pair with what you’re eating. A little fruit balanced with a little sweetness and a little acid makes for the perfect partner with most Asian cuisines. And it doesn’t hurt that the list of eight are all less than $20 a pop and at those prices, any wine that scores 3.5/5 is a good bargain. And if you noticed, I didn’t even touch on Maverick Blends of red grapes. But that’s another column.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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