Some of the world’s greatest wines are single varietal. There are the towering Chardonnays of Montrachet, the suave and potent Pinot Noirs of Romanée-Conti, the hedonistic Rieslings of the Rheingau and the pure-Furmint Tokajis of Hungary. You’ll run into some impressive unblended Cabernet Sauvignons in Napa pockets, while Brunello di Montalcino remains one of the few places in Chianti that sings Sangiovese’s psalm solo.
After that, the list sort of thins out.
That’s because, for the most part, blended wine is better wine. Of, say, ten thousand wine grape varieties, only a handful are really so balanced and distinct that they make truly world-class wine by themselves, and even then only in outstanding vintages and in certain utopian terroirs. Otherwise, each tends to lack some critical balance factor—color, acidity, texture or sweetness—that can be compensated by adding a grape that lists the missing quality on its resumé.
The result, in theory, is supposed to be greater than the sum of its parts—like how alone, oxygen turns the Golden Gate Bridge to rust and hydrogen blows up Bikini Atoll, but combined, they fall gently from the empyrean to make our happy wine grapes grow.
Of course, for every blend wherein magical balance is achieved by brute force (or dumb luck), there are ten that go wrong. The art of blending is key to Bordeaux, Champagne, Rioja, Port and any of a thousand wine regions and so, being that the world is overloaded with artless people, most of these wines can be classified under the anti-appellation label ‘forgettable’.
My Whipping Post…
That was a roundabout way of getting to the subject, a memorable blend of white grapes from Murrieta’s Well whose varietal-listing on the label makes it look like a recipe for stone soup—like they tossed every item on the all-you-can eat buffet line into the stainless tank simply to see what would come out the other end.
If ever there was a blend that looks on paper like winemaker Robbie Meyer grabbed the third rail of blendology, like he threw darts at the Wheel of Varietals and ran with the results, it’s ‘The Whip’—a witch’s brew of (in descending order of proportion) Semillon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Orange Muscat, Viognier, Gewurztraminer and Riesling.
Ick, right? Where’s the Thompson seedless, right?
And yet, it is scrumptious. No equivocation. Sort of like how The Monkees were supposed to be a big joke, sewed together like a pop rock Frankenstein with spare parts laying around the Screen Gems work pool and wound up writing some of the bands catchiest hits.
Murrieta’s Well, ‘The Spur’, Livermore Valley, 2013, around $21
I expected a nasal assault, but the aroma is quite refined and elegant; there’s honeycomb up front, which I might associate with the Orange Muscat; also, a nice sweet undertow with sappy spring blossoms and peach syrup, creamy but bright, everything settled into its own dimension. The wine comes off as big—rich, almost unctuous, but with sufficient acidity to stand up—the wine is fruit-focused with peach, green apple and appealing grapefruit pithiness that does not become bitter. I believe I can isolate characteristics from each of the players, but it’s pure speculation—the climate enhances nuances in each that may overlap on the palate.
Murrieta’s Well—the estate from which The Whip draws its fruit—is in Livermore, 30 miles east of San Francisco, part of the larger Central Coast appellation. It’s one of California’s original historic estates, controlled by Wente, which is California’s original continuously-operating family-owned winery. A recent press release announced that Robbie Meyer, formally of Peter Michael, Lewis Cellars and Jericho Canyon had been hired to oversee the estate, presumably to crack the whip and whip it into shape.
Murrieta’s Well also produces a proprietary red called ‘The Spur’, and it’s similarly hodgepodgey mishmash of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Merlot upon which I will report out once a Google search for sufficient idioms and shitty puns using the word ‘spur’ is able to spur me on.
Hey quit stealin’ my material! I’ve been harping on about great blends for years. My schtick usually goes “No single variety is perfect.. except maybe nebbiolo”…
Most of Friuli’s greatest wines have traditionally been blends: Vintage Tunina, Terre Alte, Vespa Bianco… The monovarietal wines were the everyday wines, and even those (like the classic Friulano) were often field-blended with small amounts of other varieties to compensate for low acidity, etc etc…
The problem, unfortunately is that the market does not respond well to these wines. Without a varietal hook to catch the consumer, these wines are often overlooked and take a lot or extra effort in the market. People have specific expectations when it comes to varietal wines: Chardonnay is big and oaky, Pinot Noir spicy and fruity, etc etc… But blends can be fat, thin oaky or steely. They don’t know what to expect so often blended wines are relegated to the “hand-sell”..
Thanks for the great post and keep drinking white blends!