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Eat | Drink | Explore

Why you shouldn't under-rate blends

Eat | Drink | Explore

Philip White finds two multi-variety blends which make him question our obsession with straight varietal wines.

WayWood Wines Quattro Bianca Adelaide Hills 2013
$22; 13.2% alcohol; screw cap; 90 points

One of the most unfortunate aspects of wine marketing is the consumer resistance to creative blends of varieties; particularly anything unusual. Winemakers think about a flavour, work out how to achieve it, select the parcels of fruit, and make a wine. Sometimes they “blend at the crusher”, putting all the grapes through so they ferment together; sometimes they make separate parcels of wine and blend them carefully on the tasting bench, just as a master parfumier constructs a new fragrance.

To me, the greatest fun in winemaking is this latter exercise, polishing a blend with tiny dribbles of this or that until it sings. To be at a mighty house like Champagne Krug during the assemblage is the pinnacle of wine wonderment. Those rare folks lucky enough to have witnessed the alchemy that occurs when more than a hundred, sometimes two hundred, individual components from different vineyards are painstakingly blended for a more perfect result, walk away knowing that their wine knowledge has just done a major, irreversible change of gear.

Then comes the trouble, in Australia at least: marketers, retailers, sommeliers and wine evangelists all seem to agree the drinker is deterred if there’s a bunch of different varieties honestly listed on the front label. So the maker who’s gone to all that trouble then usually resorts to dreaming up a new name instead, often working up a word that sounds like a new single variety. Even then, the wine is usually tricky to sell, regardless of its quality.

Andrew Wood dreamt this lovely into existence. He picked Chardonnay, Verdelho and Semillon from a single Adelaide Hills vineyard and co-fermented them.  The vineyard’s actually in the very old rocks in the hills behind Willunga – stupidly called the Adelaide Hills by the appellation doctors. The wine has the creaminess of good Chardonnay and the butter-and-grass of Semillon with the more herbal edge of Verdelho all in there, singing a lovely little harmony. The flavours follow the same path, giving the drinker a smooth homogeny which is a better thing than the sum of its parts.

This is a wine which would offer a neat softening contrast to sharper foods, like tom yum and the other chilli and ginger dishes of Thailand. But it would also offer harmony to foods more akin to it, like the buttery scallops I drank it with at The Currant Shed this week. And it goes just slurpish with a creamy chicken liver paté. It’s easy, slippery stuff. The new website says it’s N/A, which may be why Woody says he hasn’t sold any there yet. Don’t believe it. There are good stocks in the shed.

Coates The Iberian McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek 2012
$30; 14% alcohol; screw cap; 93++ points

Duane Coates is a well-travelled, well-fed thinking drinker with dangerous parfumerie tendencies. This wondrous assemblage contains Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre and Mataro), Syrah (Shiraz), Malbec, Cinsault and Garnacha (Grenache). These are the varieties of the Iberian Peninsula. The wine has alluring Iberian aromas which bring visions of chorizos, warm black olives with garlic, sun-dried tomato and the black Jamón ibérico ham of Spain. There’s also a dark hint of Zorro’s boots and well-dressed saddle. It’s a smooth, comforting bouquet, fleshy and reassuring.

The flavours are more slender than that aroma suggests in this, its youth; they will swell and mellow. It tastes nothing like any of its individual components, which is the point. It has dark Valrhona chocolate flavours, with subtle hints of nightshade leaf and meaty blueberry. It tapers off to an appetising, sinuous finish, slick and stimulating as much as immensely satisfying. It will bloom into a more seductive delight with a few years cellar, but it’s a true bliss already, and grand example of why gastronomically-intelligent blending often beats straight mindless varietal wines hands down. Try it with any of the foods already mentioned, or a mouthful of Lindt Blueberry Chocolate. Yum-o.

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