Tasting No. 226 (Virtual) – January 25, 2021- Red Blends from Washington State



Tasting Overview: This is the first of a series of tastings dedicated to red blends of the Americas. Winemakers have been blending red grapes for ages.  Sometimes it was the result of harvesting and cofermenting different varietals planted in the vineyard (port wines are made this way) but it also has been the result of decisions by the winemaker to blend them, after fermentation in certain proportions to to produce exciting flavors beyond that which can be achieved with a single grape varietal. At times blends were considered low quality wine.  This is no longer the case. In fact blending has become an art and a science to produce superb wines. In fact, most reds contain some blending even though they are labeled as varietals. For example in California, wines only have to have 75 percent of a given varietal to be labeled as such. There are blends that have become famous and traditional. Some examples of them are:

  • Red Bordeaux is traditionally a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, though it sometimes also uses Petit Verdot, Malbec, or Carmenere as well. 

  • Chianti is a famous Italian wine from Tuscany that typically uses a blend of at least 75% Sangiovese grapes, with grapes such as Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabernet Franc making up the remainder. 

  • Super Tuscan wines come from Tuscany, Italy, and are known as any wine that disobeys Tuscan DOC standards and uses international or unauthorized grapes. These blends can include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, and many other grapes.

  • Rioja is normally a blend that contains 70% Tempranillo grapes, along with Mazuelo, Graciano, and Maturana Tinta grapes. 

Type of Tasting: Open

Wine presenters: Pedro Turina, Germán Zinke

The reference wine is: 2016 B. Leighton – Gratitude Olsen Brothers Vineyard, Yakima Valley

Participants: Marcello Averbug, Jose Brakarz, Jorge Claro, Clara Estrada, Jaime Estupiñán, Alberto Gómez, Jorge Garcia-Garcia, Orlando Mason, Agilson Perazza, Claudia Perazza, John Redwood, Lucía Redwood, Jorge Requena, Alfonso Sanchez, Jairo Sanchez, Cristian Santelices,Pedro Turina, German Zincke.

Information on the Wines

(The information below has been compiled from various internet sources) .

2016 B. Leighton – Gratitude Olsen Brothers Vineyard, Yakima Valley 

The Wine: Indicative blend: 70% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache and 5% Syrah.

93 points Vinous:  (a field blend from vines planted in 2009 on volcanic soil at an altitude of 1,200 feet; winemaker Brennon Leighton originally created this wine for his wife, who loves Domaine Tempier; aged in neutral demi-muid and 500-liter puncheons): Medium red with a palish rim. Subtly scented aromas of strawberry, cranberry, spices, red licorice, tree bark and rose petal. Supple, savory and fine-grained, with an essentially gentle texture enlivened by spice and tree bark notes and nicely integrated acidity. This is really quite complex and suave, with its restrained sweetness countered by salinity and a light touch. If this blend doesn’t possess quite the body of the 2015, it has every bit as much energy and spicy persistence, not to mention excellent retention of fresh fruit. Finishes with a firm spine of ripe tannins. Another singular wine from the multi-talented Leighton. (11/2018)

91 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: A blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah, the 2016 Gratitude Olsen Brothers Vineyard wafts from the glass with aromas of black and red fruit, with a mineral dustiness and lush flowers. Medium to full-bodied, it’s a delicious wine with flavors of dark cherry skin and blackberry, delivering lively tension and pleasure across the mid-palate, ending with a spicy finish. (12/2019).

The Winery: (from Wine.com) Brennon Leighton is the Director of Winemaking and Viticulture at Charles Smith Wines where he oversees all viticulture, vineyard relations and winemaking for all Charles Smith brands, including K Vintners, Charles Smith Wines, ViNO, SIXTO, Wines of Substance and Casa Smith. Considered to be one of the best winemakers in the state of Washington by wine critics and connoisseurs alike, Leighton has nearly 20 years of experience in winemaking and viticulture.

In 2012, Leighton created B. Leighton Wines to showcase the world-class terroir of Washington State. B. Leighton Wines are authentic, classic and alive. The wines have received 90+ points by wine critics such as Wine Spectator and Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate, who most recently noted, “If you haven’t heard of Brennon Leighton, now’s a good time to fix that!”

The Region: (From Wikipedia) The Yakima Valley AVA was the first American Viticultural Area established within Washington state, gaining the recognition in 1983. Part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA, Yakima Valley AVA is home to more than 18,000 acres (73 km2) of vineyards, giving the area the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in the state. The most widely planted varietals in the area are Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot gris, and Syrah.

The Yakima Valley’s borders include the sub-AVA of the Rattlesnake Hills to the north, the Horse Heaven Hills to the south and Red Mountain forming parts of its eastern boundaries. The Snipes Mountain AVA also lies within its boundaries. To the west, the Cascade Range forms a natural border and creates a rain shadow over the area which requires the use of irrigation in viticulture. The appellation covers 600,000 acres (2,400 km2) of land that is mostly contained within Yakima County, Washington with the eastern edge extending into Benton County.

Yakima Valley has an arid continental climate, with annual average precipitation at just 8 inches (20 cm). Irrigation is therefore required to cultivate vinifera grapes, as is true of all growing regions in eastern Washington. Also like eastern Washington’s other growing regions, Yakima Valley soils are strongly influenced by the Missoula Floods, which were a series of dramatic cataclysms in prehistoric times. Moderate to deep silt-loam is layered over gravel or directly onto basalt bedrock. This foundation creates well-drained soils that are ideal for viticulture.

A French winemaker from Alsace-Lorraine named Charles Schanno is credited with planting the first vines in the area in 1869. Schanno purchased the cuttings from a vineyard in The Dalles, Oregon and the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost at Fort Vancouver. In the early 20th century, an attorney from Tacoma named William B. Bridgeman pioneered the modern wine industry in the Yakima Valley. Bridgeman helped draft some of the state’s earliest irrigation laws for wine growing and planted his first vineyard in 1914. Many of the vineyards established in the Yakima Valley during this period came from Bridgeman’s cuttings. Following the repeal of Prohibition, Bridgeman opened Upland Winery and hired Erich Steenborg as winemaker. Together they were influential in promoting the use of varietal labelling for wines made in the Yakima Valley, including the state’s first dry Riesling.

CV Members Rating

View full evaluation here: 226 Summary of Scores

Technical Notes 

Jairo Sanchez compiled the following notes from the sources indicated.

The Oxford Companion to Wine. Jancis Robinson

 Blends. A blend is a product of Blending but specifically a wine deliberately made from more than a than a grape varietal (which can contain only a small proportion of other varieties).

Blending different batches of wine, or coupage as it is known in French, is a practice that was once more distrusted than understood. In fact, almost all the world’s finest wines are made by blending the content of different vats and different barrels; Champagne and Sherry are examples of wines which are quintessentially blends. It is often the case, as has been proved by the most rigorous of experiments, that a wine blend is superior to anyone of its component parts.

Blending earned its dubious reputation before the mid 20th century when wine laws were either non existing or under-enforced, and “stretching” a superior wine by blending it with inferior wines and was commonplace. Blending of different lots of the same wine as it is commonly practiced today to ensure the quality is maximal and consistent was not possible before the days of large blending vats; before then wine was bottled from individual cask or vats, which is one explanation of the much higher degree of bottle variation in older vintages.

Modern blending, important in the production of both fine and everyday wines, may combine wines of different but complementary characteristics: heavily oak-influenced lots aged in new barrels may be muted by blending with less oaked lots of the same wine; wines that have undergoing malolactic conversion may be blending with crisper ones that have not. In the case of ordinary table wines, blending is an important ingredient in smoothing out the difference between one vintage and its successor. Such practices are by no means unknowns in the realm of fine- wine production, whether legally sanctioned or not. The wine regulations in many regions permit the addition of a certain proportion of another vintage to a vintage-dated wine, as they frequently do a certain proportion, less than 15%, of wine from a region or even grape variety other than that specified on the label.

In today’s competitive and quality-conscious wine market, motivation for blending is more often improvement than deception.

Perhaps the more enthusiastic blenders are the Australians who regularly blend the produce of two or more different wine regions, probably many hundreds of miles apart. There are philosophical differences between them and the Europeans authorities but a compromise solution to allow the importation of such wines into the EU was reached in the mid of the 1990s.

Solera, a fractional blending used for Sherry wine, is also an alternative approach to blending wines.

Red Blends. www.vinepair.com

Red blend is a kind of term, it tells you everything and nothing about what’s inside. Put simply, a red blend is a wine made with a blend of red wine grapes. The category has come to signify a particular type of New World red wine, often from California, that has been blended to resemble classic European regional wines, such as Bordeaux. (No, Bordeaux, although a classic blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is not considered a “red blend.” Yes, we need to come up with better terminology around red blends).

If your red wine preferences tend toward monovarietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, it’s time to give red blends a chance. The fact that they are tailor-made to suit individual winemakers’ preferences and goals means that there is a wide range in flavor profiles — and prices — of red blends.

Washington State Red wines. Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine https://greatnorthwestwine.com

Washington is often thought of as a white wine state, probably because we’re famous for our Rieslings and Chardonnays. But, in fact, Washington has been a red wine state for a long time.

The last time Washington produced more white wine than red was during the 1980s. And since 2001, winemakers normally harvest about twice as many red grapes as white grapes. This is because of increased consumer interest in such varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. During the 2016 harvest, those three grapes totaled 127,000 tons out of the 270,000 tons of wine grapes picked.

While we certainly see marked increases of these varieties made by large wineries, this doesn’t account for all of the grapes being harvested. What’s taking up the slack is red blends, which make up a popular segment o the Washington wine market. At the 2017 Cascadia Wine Competition, 160 of the nearly 1,000 entries were red blends.

As European winemakers have known for centuries, blending red wines often makes the most interesting wines, certainly true in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, two of France’s most famous regions.Blending gives winemakers the flexibility during winemaking to produce wines full of flavor and balance.

We Need a Better Way to Talk About Red Blends, Internet, Courtney Schiesse, www.courtneyschiessl.com

I tend to like a red blend, so what should I drink?” In the last two years, more wine drinkers have begun to use the term “red blend” to indicate their wine preferences in the same way that one might use the words Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. But although it’s excellent to be able to verbalize and ask for a preferred style of wine, there’s one problem: A red blend isn’t one single style of wine. In fact, red blend doesn’t really mean anything at all. So why do more and more wine drinkers proclaim that it’s their favorite kind of wine?

When a red wine that is a blend of more than one grape this definition does not specify any particular grapes that must be used in the blend, meaning that any grape is fair game, from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Trousseau and Poulsard. Therein lies the problem: A category of wine cannot reliably indicate one style if it can potentially include any permutation of red grapes.

The rising popularity of the American red blend category likely has something to do with the so-called style that is now commonly associated with red blends. The concept of blending is certainly not foreign to U.S. winemakers, as blends of wines allow producers to combine and complement favorable qualities from several different grape varieties, stretch a more noble grape by blending it with a higher-yielding, easier-to-produce grape, or hide undesirable grapes in minute blending percentages. In fact, California wine law even allows for a single-varietal wine to blend in up to 25 percent of other grapes, meaning that a quarter of your California Cabernet Sauvignon could theoretically not even be Cabernet Sauvignon.

In the past five years, however, more big-brand wineries have started to make inexpensive California wines marketed specifically as “red blends.” The trend really took off in 2015, when Nielsen estimated that red blends comprised 13 percent of all off-premise wine sales, second only to Cabernet Sauvignon in red wine categories. Based on grapes like Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz, these red blends are typically full-bodied, round, rich, and juicy, providing full flavor and drinkability at a low cost. This is the flavor profile that most self-proclaimed red blend lovers have come to expect, even though the style encompasses far more.

Even wine publications list “red blend” as a wine “varietal” along with the world’s most important international grapes. But the discrepancy becomes increasingly clear when viewing the category in this context. Just the first of over 500 pages of Wine Enthusiast red blend ratings includes wines from Piedmont, Italy; Rioja, Spain; Burgenland, Austria; Walla Walla, Washington; and regions of California from Livermore Valley to Paso Robles. All of these wines taste markedly different, emphasizing the point that “red blend” is not a reliable indicator of a single style of wine.

That doesn’t mean that red blends should be tossed aside, however. On the contrary, even more attention should be paid to the category of red blends. Some of the world’s most famous wines are, in fact, red blends, particularly those with difficult grape-growing conditions. Take Bordeaux, for instance: Because the wet maritime climate can create a difficult growing environment and significant vintage variation, winemakers don’t typically place all their bets on a single grape variety. Rather, they grow several grape varieties and blend them together to create a complete wine, each grape making up a piece of the puzzle. This is also why certain wines throughout the world are referred to as a “Bordeaux blend” — they are made from some of the six classically blended Bordeaux grape varieties. The Rhône Valley is another famous region for blending, but again, no one would argue that a Bordeaux blend and a Rhône blend are the same style of wine.

So what’s a red blend lover to do? The key is to break this gigantic category down. Find out what grapes are in your favorite red blends or where they come from, and look for other blends that have similar qualities. After all, Nielsen’s 2015 report noted that half of all those surveyed felt that red blends allowed them to confidently experiment with wine, and there’s no reason to quash that experimental notion. But there’s a way to take on a more guided exploration within the red blend category, and that’s what these wine lovers should embark on next.

Rhône-style Blend Following for reference is a brief description of the Lower Rhone GSM wine main grape components contribution that resemble the B. Leighton 2016 Gratitude. Olsen Brothers Vineyard, Yakima Valley Red Wine Blend for Washington Club del Vino taste No. 126.  

Grenache“What Grenache is going to bring is bright red fruit—strawberries and cherries,” says White. “You get nice richness, especially in the mid-palate. In hotter vintages, you’ll get some characteristics that are a little more savory. In cooler vintages, you get some spice.”

Syrah.“Syrah is such a chameleon,” says Macmorran. “It has a very broad spectrum of aromatic and flavor profiles where you really wouldn’t even think it’s the same grape.” Aromas and flavors can range from raspberry, blueberry and blackberry to smoked meat and olive.Syrah also changes the appearance and structure of a wine. “Syrah adds color,” says Carter. “It also tends to add a little bit more tannin and also add finish.”

Mourvèdre“For Mourvèdre you’re going to get raspberry, but you’re also going to get leather and pepper,” says White. “In some of the hotter vintages, it’s going to go more toward black pepper and in the cooler vintages, you’re going to get more of that white pepper.”

Carignan“Carignan can bring in some of the herby, wild aspects, that for me is such a charming thing with the Rhône varieties,” says Mantone. “It’s herbs and spices and savory things.”

Cinsault“[Cinsault] can be a little light on the palate but a very intense flavor profile,” says Mantone. “It can help reduce some of the heaviness of the palate.”

Read more about blending here: https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/wine-blending-why-certain-grapes-are-blended/







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