Wine drinkers nationwide--including a group of enthusiastic oenophiles who last night gathered at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center for an annual tasting event celebrating blended wines--are rethinking their stance on the sanctity of single-varietal wines.
A generation of shoppers schooled in California's cabernets and merlots have lately begun to appreciate how various grapes can be used to counteract flaws and add complexity to a wine. "Blending can be an extraordinarily useful winemaking technique," Food & Wine's Ray Isle this month explains in a column chronicling a D.I.Y San Francisco wine bar where patrons order varietals by the beaker.
The wines at Vinyl are designed for customers' craft projects. But can an oenophile who doesn't have access to raw materials replicate the experiment by mixing finished wines?
Home cooks casually combine the products they purchase at grocery stores and farmers markets; there's nothing blasphemous about stuffing a locally grown pork loin with apples, even if the preparation never occurred to either of the farmers responsible for the ingredients. Blending already-perfected beverages is common practice behind bars, where Bass and Guinness ales commingle in black-and-tans, and vermouth and gin are perpetual partners.
Yet even the cheapest wines are typically treated with extreme reverence. Out of deference to winemakers' visions, wine lovers typically resist discovering what happens when two ounces of Columbia Crest merlot are added to two ounces of Chateau Ste. Michelle cabernet.
"I would never do it," 12th & Olive Wine Company's Steven Brown says. "It's like GMOs, like putting flounder genes in my beef."
If drinkers were desperate to add sweet notes to a cabernet, Brown says, "I can see them adding port. But they've annihilated the individuality of the wine. It changes the expression of the wine."
Since wine drinkers pay significant sums for individuality and expression, it's foolish for them to eradicate those costly characteristics in a home-blend session. Still, Brown says, boxed wines could probably stand up to the mixing treatment.
"I can't imagine it would hurt," he says. "People do worse things to wine, like adding Coke and ice cubes."
And Brown isn't opposed to blending out of necessity.
"If there's only a little wine in my glass, I might pour (another wine) in to maintain momentum," he says. "For the sake of momentum, it might be a positive thing."