The Coast News Group
Taste of Wine

Wine blending is an art

A work of art is the rich mixture of the experiences of the artist producing a exclusive work for the world to judge. A blended wine, when the winemaker brings together finished wines from several varietals that could be from several vineyards and several vintages, ranks right up there with an artist’s masterpiece. The creation can be more than the sum of the parts.
The idea of a multi-vineyard blend acknowledges that vineyards are living families and their results year in and year out can vary dramatically. Consistency is important, so the winemaker tries to achieve an estate style to the blend. 
The historic, traditional guide for blenders is the Bordeaux model.
This district in France long ago developed production methods that married the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes from the finest vineyard sites, with aging in small oak barrels. Wineries were classified by the government as premier “first growth” or “grand cru” wines, and what evolved was a model for the world’s wineries that wished to venture into blended wines. Other Bordeaux-style grapes that may be used include Malbec, Petite Verdot and Carmenere.
Fast forward to the Napa Valley in the late 1970s when rising wine star Robert Mondavi caught the attention of French Grand Cru star Baron Phillippe de Rothschild.  The two wine heavyweights combined their genius to create Opus One, the first big-brand blend in Napa Valley, with Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Oakville To Kalon Vineyard. To this day, Opus One is viewed as a masterpiece in fine wine blending.
Others followed with their own creations, applying wine brush strokes to their own canvas, mixing combinations like Zinfandel, Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono and Malbec. This brilliantly constructed blend is called The Prisoner and is produced by winemaker Dave Phinney of Napa Valley’s Orin Swift. The 2010 is just out at $35.
Another important wine country for blends is Italy with “Super Tuscans.” 
These wines got their start in the 1970s when leading Italian winemakers created a new and exciting red wine, based on the Tuscan premier grape, Sangiovese. They added Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot and occasionally Syrah. From this inflection point came Antinori’s Tignanello and a host of other excellent, upscale blends.  A personal favorite is Summus by Banfi of Montalcino. The Sangiovese base is exponentially flavored with Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah for highest quality.
Lewis Cellars introduces world-class Blends
Lewis Cellars of Napa has been making Cabernet Sauvignon right up there with the best of them since Randy and Debbie Lewis began the family’s winery in 1992, later joined by their son Dennis in 1999.
A check of Wine Spectator’s Guide to California Cabernet shows very high scores for their three 2008 entries, with fruit from Calistoga, St Helena, Rutherford and Oak Knoll chosen for maximum flavor. But the big news is the blends, including Alec’s Blend and Syrah with big, spicy concentrated flavors. Dennis equates the blends to the rock bands Black Sabbath and Deep Purple for their inky, dark and powerful color.
You have to experience the 2007 Cuvee L with super concentrated black fruits and oak spices. It’s a blend of 96 percent Cabernet and a tiny but important 4 percent Cab Franc booster for a plush tasting touch. Just 225 cases were produced guaranteeing elite octane. 
The Grand Del Mar Resort will be bringing Dennis Bell and Lewis Cellars to San Diego on Dec. 8 for a Wine Dinner at Addison and that big, bold Syrah will be the highlight wine. RSVP at (858) 314-1988.
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Wine Bytes
— Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas is pouring Pinot Noirs for Thanksgiving, from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 11. Call (760) 479-2500 for details.
— Bacchus Wine Market in the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego has a Ken Forrester South African Wine Event from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 11 for $15. Seven wines will be sampled. Learn more at (619) 236-0005.
— The Schlossadler International Wine Warehouse in Oceanside has its annual wine tasting party from 2 to 5 p.m. Nov. 12. There will be live music and food sampling along with tasting of their latest worldwide releases. Charge is $30. Call (800) 371-9463.
— The San Diego State University Wine Extension Courses feature a California Intensive from 6 to 9 p.m. every Monday from Nov. 14 to Nov. 28. Wine Director and Advanced Sommelier Jesse Rodriguez will teach the history and traditions of California wines. Call (619) 594-6924 for details.
— A Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Dinner is planned for the St Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point from 6 to 11 p.m. Nov. 19. A four-course menu inspired by Lyon France is paired with the wines. Cost is $80. RSVP at (949) 234-3405.