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Varietal Blends: Vanilla and Chocolate?
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed October 15, 2001. For more information go to www.wineloverspage.com


Vanilla ice cream is all right on its own, but it definitely benefits from a dollop of chocolate syrup. Lettuce, onion and tomato add interest to a hamburger, and a hot dog really needs mustard.

Putting together compatible or complementary flavors adds interest and piquancy to just about anything we eat or drink. So think about that, the next time you uncork a bottle of 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

"Single-varietal" wines became popular in the United States a generation or two ago, leading to a perception that wines made entirely from a single grape are somehow better than wines made from blends of more than one variety. But that's not necessarily the case, as a quick look at high-quality blended wines from around the world will reveal.

Two weeks ago, we talked about modern Italian blends. This week, let's go back to the basics for a reminder that the French (and producers of French-style wines around the world) have been merrily mixing-and-matching grapes for several hundred years. The ultimate French blend may be Chateauneuf-du-Pape, in which a bewildering array of up to 13 grapes are permitted. But the classic example remains Bordeaux, where it's a rare thing to see a wine made entirely of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, but where a mixture of both grapes (plus Cabernet Franc and, on occasion, the less- familiar Malbec and Petit Verdot) is commonplace.

On its own, Cabernet Sauvignon can be herbaceous, and it's often astringently tannic. Merlot alone is typically fruity but may seem soft and one-dimensional. Put them together, however, and the whole can be more than the sum of its parts, each variety filling in the other's gaps in a complementary way. Sort of like chocolate sauce on ice cream, now that I mention it.

 

 
   
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