Since we’re heading into the finale of the NFL season also known as the Super Bowl in just three
days, it got me pondering about team dynamics, especially with the meltdown of Cardinals
receiver Anquan Boldin. No, I didn’t turn into the Nichi Bei Sports writer; this is still the Food,
Wine and Nutrition column. But team dynamics are the same in wine production. Wines in the
states are heavily marketed by their individual grape varietal; Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay,
Pinot Noir. In fact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF) defines
regions becoming American Viticultural Areas (AVA) and current California regulations
stipulates that any wine labeled as California must be 100% from the Golden State. It further
stipulates that any grape varietal (i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon) must be at least 75% of that grape
varietal and any vintage listed must be at least 95% from that vintage. What does this have to do
with the NFL? Bear with me a minute longer. These regulations have somehow put a premium
on individual grape varietals as being better wine. Purebred. I want my Champion-this-is-a-
ridiculous-name-for-a-dog. Pure Cabernet Sauvignon. Don’t want that mutt wine that has a
touch of Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot. That’s like a Labradoodle. Don’t see those entered at
the Eukanuba Cup.
Same goes for the NFL. The quarterback may be the highest paid and team star (like Cabernet
Sauvignon) but no team wins simply with a quarterback. It also needs supporting players like
wide receivers, running backs, lineman, and defense. Last time I checked, JaMarcus still couldn’t
throw the ball to himself. And look at those Manning brothers. Both going to the Pro Bowl but
both not playing in the Super Bowl. Both kinda like a big Cabernet Sauvignon with big ripe fruit
but a very short finish, literally. Anyway, the cohesion of individual players produces a better
team and likewise, the blending of grape varietals – even at the expense of a varietal name – can
produce a better wine.
Old World Blends
In the Old World, wines are rarely labeled according to grape varietal. They usually are labeled by
the winery (chateau) name or a winery designated name. Which makes sense to me. Though
Mom and Dad are both Japanese, I prefer being addressed as “Ryan” rather than “Japanese”. In
fact many French classic wines could legally be labeled as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot in the
States but somehow garner more attention as Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Petrus.
In the Chateauneuf du Pape, labeling individual grape varietals would almost be impossible since
thirteen grape varieties are allowed in the wine not including two lighter skinned clones of
Grenache and Picpoul. Despite not having a big name grape varietal on the label, Chateauneuf
du Pape wines are consistently selected to Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines. In fact, it was the
wine of the year in 2007 (Clos des Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2005).
Italy’s most popular export, Chianti also is a blend of red grapes (some even have white grapes in
the mix) yet you never see it labeled as Sangiovese. But this blend of red grapes produces
delicious food friendly wine. Like a team with no single big name player but complementary
enough to make it to the big game… perhaps the Steelers?
In Spain you also find that some of their biggest imports are blended wines. Rioja doesn’t come
from the Rioja grape but is made from a blend of Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Garnacha and Graciano.
This blending philosophy is found in Priorat which is primarily Granacha and Carinena but can
also be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot depending on the vintner. Almost
like the NFL Europe with younger Europeans teaming with aging or green Americans.
New World Blends
Fortunately here in the States, a handful of vintners are taking the same approach and blending
their grapes and foregoing that single varietal label. It first started in 1988 with the creation of
Meritage (rhymes with heritage) wines which had to be made in the typical Bordeaux style
which included a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Blanc, Petit Verdot and
Malbec. Any winery could produce a Meritage wine as long as it used a blend of these traditional
Bordeaux grapes and priced the wine in the upper tier of its wines. While emulating French
Bordeaux was a noble idea, The Golden State’s growing conditions aren’t exactly the same. I
think vintners should find their own blends because every vineyard won’t support Cabernet
Sauvignon like Bordeaux. Maybe they’re better suited to Syrah or Tempranillo or Grenache.
JaMarcus will never scramble like Steve Young, so let him capitalize on his strength… and just
draft him some receivers.
There are vintners trying to set their own path. Play to the strength of the vineyard and the
strength of the grape. Non-traditional blends with strange wine names but hey, it works.
Delicious wines with unique names.
Orin Swift The Prisoner
50% Zinfandel, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Syrah, 9% Petite Sirah, 2% Charbono, 1% Grenache
Consistently garners 90+ points from Wine Spectator though you should try it on its own
merits. Red berry, plum and black pepper on the nose with berry and herb on the palate with
moderate tannins. Will pair perfectly with braised beef or short rib, anything barbecue or hearty
stews and chili.
42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Syrah, 15% Merlot, 7% Malbec
The four Buoncristiani brothers created their proprietary red blend as a tribute to winemaker’s
before them; Ol’ Pa’s Cuvee (OPC) includes different red grapes to complement each. While the
Cabernet by itself may not have merited its own bottle, the Syrah supports any shortcoming
from the Cab. Likewise for the Merlot and Malbec. Like the rest of the Cardinals supporting an
aging Warner. Red and black berry flavors with black pepper, dried herbs with a touch of oak.
Perfect to pair with grilled or barbecued beef or pork.
41% Chardonnay, 38% Sauvignon Blanc, 13% Pinot Grigio, 8% Ribolla Gialla
Winemaker Mike Drash wanted to produce a wine along the lines of Friulian
maverick winemakers Josko Gravner, Stanislao Radikon and Ales Kristancic
who employ clay amphorae fermenters, eschew sulfur dioxide and ferment
white grapes on the skin. The result is this darker white blend with peach,
melon, grapefruit, spice and herbal qualities and a richness that allows it to
pair with roasted poultry and pork. Would probably be very good with
The exact proportion is never revealed though it contains Sauvignon Blanc,
Muscat Canelli, Chardonay and Viognier, that’s why it’s a Conundrum.
Initially produced by the Wagners of Caymus fame but with the success of
Conundrum, it’s branched off to its own label. Stone fruit, apple, citrus and
honeysuckle with a rich mouth feel and palate cleansing acidity. While it
pairs with white meats, I enjoy it with Southeast Asian cuisine.
So the next time you’re shopping for wine, I encourage you to seek out these (and other)
blended wines. They are usually very food friendly and since they don’t carry the same label
notoriety as individual Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, they are often priced lower. And
individual grapes in the blend will never whine that they weren’t thrown the ball enough… even
if their team made it to the Big Game.