Tom's blog

With blends, only red seems to work

I recently did a wine tasting for a small group of eager wine enthusiasts. The subject was blends — a segment of the wine industry that is growing so fast it’s just behind chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. In fact, of the wines introduced in the last year, 40 percent of them were blends.

Strangely to me at least is that no one is making a decent white blend. The two I offered to the tasters — Kitchen Sink and Apothic White — were awful. Nearly everyone — including me — dumped them. There seemed to be no consideration given to what each grape variety contributed to the wine. Awkward and overly acidic come to mind.

On the other hand, the three red blends I poured were equally delicious. Each blended different grapes — one was a California blend of mostly zinfandel and syrah; one was a South African blend of Bordeaux grape varieties; the other was a Washington state blend of 14 grapes. Each showed how well-paired grapes can produced a delicious wine with broad flavors.

I’ll be writing a column about red blends in the near future. For now, there are the three wines everyone liked:

  • No Curfew Red Wine 2016 ($15). This is a very delicious and balanced blend of zinfandel, syrah, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Raspberry notes enveloped in a round mouthfeel with oak-infused vanilla and chocolate flavors. This is an invention of Amici, a producer known for its great values. 

  • Beyond Ordinary Cabernet Blend 2016 ($15).  We didn’t expect much from this South African blend, but we’re we ever surprised. This blend uses all five Bordeaux grape varieties and offers French appeal with black currant and dark fruit flavors, soft tannins and hints of pepper and leather. 

  • Apex Red Blend “The Catalyst” 2016 ($17). There are 14 grape varieties in this complex and well-priced blend from Washington state. Syrah dominates the blend, though, and provides effuse red berry flavors. Nice dose of fine tannins gives it body for a foil to grilled steaks. 

Phinney sells another one

Wine genius David Phinney seems to have a pretty good deal going. He invents a label, makes it a marketing phenom, then sells it for a princely sum to a wine conglomerate.

Phinney’s most recent deal was to sell his Locations series to E&J Gallo. It was only a few years ago that Phinney was inspired to blend wines across regions and label them after the country’s designation. Resembling a bumper sticker, “F” was for France, “E” for Spain, “AZ” for Arizona, etc. There was no regard for boundaries in deciding which varieties to use in his blends. However quixotic, the wines were tasty — and reasonably priced at $20 a bottle. It was a formula that abandoned traditions that would be Phinney’s ticket to success.

The sales price was not disclosed.

Phinney already had a friendly business relationship with Gallo, having sold his Orin Swift wines to them just two years ago. Constellation now has the Prisoner brand.

Phinney was able to launch new labels without owning any vineyards or winemaking facilities. Think about that. He sells a label. Presumably, he stays aboard and makes the wine, but I suspect it is in name only.

Phinney’s latest wine is 8 Years in the Desert made under the Orin Swift label. It is a zinfandel blend that sells for $45 a bottle.