Every time you buy a wine that’s a blend of grapes and see something along the lines of: 67% Cabernet Sauvignon/20% Merlot/10% Cabernet Franc/3% Syrah, do you wonder, “What does that 3% Syrah really do?” I mean, 10%, I can see that being a factor, but 3%? Why bother? Why not just make the blend 13% Cab Franc or 70% Cab Sauv?
I was contemplating these questions while at a tasting with the theme “Antinori’s Fascination With Cabernet“. Which made me think of this most excellent song by The Human League:
Where was I? Oh, yeah. I had the chance to compare three vintages (07/08/09) of three wines from Marchesi Antinori in an effort to highlight how Cabernet Sauvignon is expressed differently in distinct and diverse locations. The wines:
Col Solare is a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle and Antinori in Washington State’s Red Mountain region. And the 2008 has the blend of grapes I refer to in the first paragraph. You don’t think I just pull this stuff out of the sky, do you?
Yes, Col Solare is a Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy wine. But I was most interested in what Winemaker Marcus Notaro (who was present to guide us through the Col Solare portion of the event) had to say about the tiny percentage of other grapes at the end of the list. Here’s what the addition of surprisingly small amounts (like that 3%) of a grape can accomplish in pulling together a final blend:
- Syrah: gives extra texture and “shoulders” to a wine
- Malbec: softens a too-brawny blend
- Petit Verdot: contributes a little pop to the aromas
Petit Verdot can also boost color, but that’s not an issue in Washington. Marcus also revealed that if there was a beauty pageant for grape leaves and clusters, Petit Verdot would be the last to wear the tiara. He noted, “You never see pictures of Petit Verdot.” So the next time you watch a sizzle reel from a winery and see red grapes, it’s doubtful you’re gawking at Petit Verdot. (I’m starting to feel a little bad for this grape.)
These little additions to a final blended wine help achieve what I consider to be critical to the most pleasurable and distinctive wines: balance. That’s where the art of the blend and the artistry of the winemaker come to bear on what ends up in the bottle. And while you’d think the most powerful wines, with gum-melting tannins, would lend themselves to a long-lasting life and ability to last in the cellar, Marcus counters, “When you have wines that are balanced, that lends to ageability.”
It’s no wonder that Col Solare is a successful wine, and not just based on what’s in the glass. When a family like Antinori, with 26 generations of winemaking, collaborates with Washington pioneers and standard-bearers Chateau St. Michelle, I can’t help but think The Human League looked into a crystal ball and wrote these lyrics explicitly for this duo: “Just looking for a new direction/In an old familiar way.”