Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Flying My Freak Flag

If you think there is something inherently freaky about blending red and white grape varietals, you may want to think again. They've been doing just that for a long time in such chi-chi appellations as the Cote-Rotie in the Rhone. There, red wines can include up to 20% of a white varietal, viognier. The white grape lends its wonderful aromatics to the red, giving it a soft and somewhat mysterious aroma and a smoothness on the palate that can be extremely appealing. In the Cote-Rotie, the red and white varietals are grown together in what is known as a "field blend," then picked and co-fermented at the same time.

Cote-Rotie reds are so perfumed and so popular that the technique was bound to spread, and today winemakers from Australia to California are blending white and red grapes. Sometimes they co-ferment; sometimes they simply white and reds that have been fermented separately. Recently, I had a co-fermented blend of syrah and viognier from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France: the 2003 Le Freak Shiraz-Viognier ($13.99, Whole Foods; available from other merchants for between $11 and $13). Here the blend contains 85% syrah and 15% viognier. This blend was not as aromatic as most I've tried previously, and what aromas there were represented an odd combination of artificial flower and tar aromas. These were never very strong, and underneath there were flavors of blackberry, leather, and spice. This made for a chewy, rich syrah that (had I tasted it blind) I would never have pegged as a syrah-viognier blend. As a result, I reluctantly had to conclude it represented poor QPR, even though it was perfectly drinkable as a syrah.

So does this mean I'm taking down my freak flag and giving up on red/white blends? Not on your life. One of my favorite wines of all time is the Black Chook, an Australian blend of shiraz and viognier that I simply adore. And I have a bottle of D'Arenberg's Laughing Magpie, another Aussie shiraz-viognier blend. Rumor has it that one of my favorite domestic wineries will be producing a small bottle run of just such a blend later this year, too. I'll tell you right now, I'll run you over if you get in my way to score some of that! Maybe this wine was past its prime, since Andrew at Spittoon in the UK was drinking the 2006 vintage just this spring. At any rate, my freak flag is still flying, and I'll still be on the lookout for good syrah-shiraz/viognier blends.


Andrew said...

You know, I have to ask why so many wines (especially Australian) are S-V blends. So few seem to show any influence of Viognier at all. A fad perhaps...

Anonymous said...

While this could have been past its sell-by date, it's not all that likely. More just wasn't to your taste.

I have to say, I am happy to see a bad QPR rating on your site. I was beginning to think you were going soft on us!

Dr. Debs said...

Andrew, I don't know the answer. The Black Chook was full of viognier influence, and I've been trying out the blends ever since. Haven't found one I like so well yet, though.

And JB, well, I've been on a good run lately! All that pre-purchase research pays off because I hardly ever spend good money on a purchase that I later regret. My impulse purchases are way down as I buy from more online retailers, and find more and more shops that I rely on. But every now and again a disappointing bottle slips in!