Have you ever been in a wine shop and seen gallon jugs of “Burgundy” for less than ten dollars? Those wines bear little (okay, no) resemblance to the fine wines of the French region with the same name. Jug “Burgundy” often comes from California’s Central Valley and is a blend of high yield Barbera, Petite Sirah and other red varietals.
Wine snobbery is never a good thing, but these wines are just awful.
But blended reds are not created equal. Some of the world’s greatest wines are blends. The great reds of Bordeaux are blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (sometimes with Malbec and Petit Verdot as well). Joseph Phelps 2002 Insignia, recently named the wine of the year by Wine Spectator, is 78-percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 14 percent Merlot, 7 percent Petite Verdot and 1percent Malbec.
Some of Long Island’s best wines are also blends – even the top Merlots, which only have to be 75 percent Merlot to be labeled as such. You’ll often find blends labeled “Meritage” (rhymes with heritage), a term coined in 1988 for the purpose of identifying American wines produced with traditional Bordeaux grapes but with less than 75 percent of a given varietal. Two local producers have recently released new blends, and while they are both made with traditional Bordeaux varietals, they are quite different.
Castello di Borghese’s first entry in the Meritage game (65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 percent Merlot, 14 percent Cabernet Franc), the Borghese 2000 Meritage Red ($48) is an elegant, refined bottling that offers a soft nose of smoky sweet oak, sugar plums, blackberry and pencil shavings. With well-balanced cedar and fruit flavors, and light, dusty tannins on the finish, this is a sultry, inviting wine that seems best suited for roasted fowl or pork.
Bedell Cellars Cupola blend has long been a favorite, and the 2001 Cupola ($30) continues that trend. Made with 51 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 percent Cabernet Franc, 22 percent Merlot and 5 percent Petit Verdot from the lauded 2001 vintage, this wine is significantly darker in the glass and nearly opaque. The supremely aromatic nose is redolent of blackberries and bittersweet chocolate with faint hints of leather. The inclusion of Petit Verdot not only gives this wine a deeper, richer color, but it also gives it a bit more structure and body in the mouth. The tannins are apparent, but incorporated well and the flavors complex and mouth-filling. When tasted again a day after being opened, this wine still showed well with less fruit flavor and more leather and cigar box character. Serve with “bigger” meats like lamb, beef or even venison.
These are just two of the diverse and delicious high-end blends made locally. Other ones of note include Martha Clara Vineyards 6025, Lieb Cellars Meritage, Paumanok Vineyards Assemblage and Osprey’s Dominion Flight. You’ll probably have to pay a little extra to taste these wines at the respective tasting rooms, but it’s worth it. These blends really show off the best of what Long Island, and Long Island winemakers, can do. Check them out.