Mixed marriages: nine excellent blended wines

Mixed marriages: nine excellent blended wines

White blends are red hot

(Image: Brian Rea)

Before buying a bottle, we all want some idea of what it holds in store, and we often look to the grape variety for clues: chardonnay will likely be creamy and rich, sauvignon blanc crisp and herbal, viognier will bloom with exotic fragrance. The latest white wine trend—blending three or more grape varieties—makes it much harder to predict taste, especially when the wines are given such enigmatic names as Conundrum, Twisted and just plain White. (What exactly does a conundrum taste like?) The new white blends may seem mysterious (and some wineries even market that mystery), but a few rules of thumb still apply. They tend to be floral because they usually contain muscat, gewürztraminer or viognier—grapes with stridently perfumed aromas. Most also feature sauvignon blanc or riesling, as the acidity of these grapes balances the sweeter, fruity notes of the aromatic varieties. And many have background oak spice when chardonnay is mixed in.

While white blends are experiencing a surge in popularity, they’re not exactly new. Vintners have been combining indigenous, barely known local whites in far-flung corners of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal for generations. The growing presence of blends in the New World—especially in Ontario, which does whites very well—signals a new confidence, creativity and sophistication among winemakers, as well as a curiosity among consumers. This interest has reinvigorated the entire genre; blends are complex, challenging and often surprisingly fun. More practically, they provide a broader flavour spectrum for today’s internationally fused cuisine—they’re tailor made for pairing. Here are several charming examples from home and away.

Domaine Lafage 2009 Côté Est
$12.95 | Côtes Catalanes, France | 89 points
Coming to the LCBO in June, Domaine Lafage is a bracing, fragrant southern French white featuring star fruit, tangerine, anise and spearmint notes. Marsanne drives the aromas, while grenache blanc and unoaked chardonnay add body. Located on a hillside overlooking the Mediter­ranean, the vineyard’s stony soils give the wine a refreshing minerality. Try with curried shrimp. winetrader.ca. LCBO 179838

Anselmi 2008 San Vincenzo
$16.95 | Venetia, italy | 90 points
Progressive winemaker Roberto Anselmi
uses a blend of garganega, trebbiano and chardonnay to create something richer than the traditional Soave of his home region. A refined yet lively white with peach and melon notes, it’s great with seafood pasta. Vintages Essential. LCBO 948158

Conundrum 2008
$24.95 | California, USA | 89 points
This New World white blend was so successful when launched in 1989 by Caymus that it
has become its own brand. Grape composition and proportion are never revealed, but it’s no secret that muscat, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and viognier are in play. So is
barrel aging, though the wood’s caramelizing effect has been reduced in recent years. It’s plush and powerful, with a tropical and spicy finish. Vintages Essential. LCBO 694653

Emiliana 2007 Novas Winemaker’s Selection Chardonnay-Viognier-Marsanne
$18.95 | Casablanca Valley, Chile | 88 points
Putting three grape names on the label is clumsy marketing, which explains why many blends are given a single fantasy name. This leading organic producer combines three powerhouse warm-climate grapes into a fruit salad of a wine. It’s opulent, with a spicy nose of peach pie, melon, clove and butter­scotch. The 15 per cent alcohol lashes out on the hot finish. Vintages. LCBO 63909

Flat Rock Cellars 2008 Twisted
$16.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 87 points
As a Niagara pioneer (the first vintage was 2004), Twisted was an instant success—it brought a sense of play to the super-serious offerings from Niagara. It’s a slightly sweet blend of riesling (acidity), gewürztraminer (spicy aroma) and chardonnay (body) that is fresh and lively, full of pineapple and peach, as well as some lemon drop candy acidity on the finish. An ideal patio wine. Pair with sushi and spring rolls. Vintages. LCBO 1578

Hillebrand Estate 2008 Trius White
$19.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 88 points
Darryl Brooker has created an intriguing elixir of six varietals: gewürztraminer, riesling, pinot gris, savagnin, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It has a mild nose of well-integrated citrus, floral, herbal and oak spice. Slightly tart and dry, with a mineral finish, it would work well with rich fish dishes. Vintages. LCBO 54957

La Vieille Ferme 2009 Côtes du Luberon Blanc
$11.95 | Rhône Valley, France | 87 points
This wine blends ugni blanc with such obscure indigenous Rhône varieties as grenache blanc (alcohol), bourbelenc (alcohol and acidity) and roussanne (aroma) into a spry, warming white that most closely resembles a pinot gris or unoaked chardonnay. Pineapple and honey­dew are joined by a note of anise that’s a trademark of southern France. It’s a crowd-pleasing aperitif. LCBO 298505 P

Malivoire 2008 White
$14.95 | Niagara Peninsula | 87 points
Malivoire sews both elegance and substance into this mix of chardonnay, riesling and gewürztraminer. The nose is muted, with apple skin, melon, spice and a touch of cream. It’s slim and barely off-dry, with very good length. Enjoy through 2012. LCBO 141531 B

Stratus 2007 White
$44 | Niagara-on-the-lake | 91 points
This showpiece winery was founded on the principle of blending, or assemblage as the French call it; Bordeaux-trained, 20-year Niagara veteran J. L. Groux is Ontario’s most experienced practitioner. Combining several unspecified varieties, the 2007 vintage is packed with oak spice, greengage plum, melon, tobacco, honey and fresh mint. Available on pre-release “futures” until April 30 at $38. stratuswines.com.