Many wineries make blends. For example, Longoria Wines, established in 1982, is a small family owned winery producing acclaimed artisanal wines from some of the finest vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Pioneer winemaker Rick Longoria has been involved in the local wine industry since 1976. His wines are distinctive for their purity of varietal and site expression, balance and compatibility with food. Rick makes varietal-based wines and some nice blends as well. But to know what’s going on here, we need to look at the labels.
Why is that you say? It’s all about state labeling laws. You see, in many states, 75% of the varietal is all you need to call it that varietal. So if it’s 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, it can be 25% anything else and still be called a Cabernet Sauvignon. Now if you’re looking at Pinot Noir (or a few other varietals) from Oregon, it’s 90% minimum of that varietal. As a consumer, you can see the basics, but know that if it has a fanciful name (a name other than a grape varietal), it is most likely a blend without 75% of any particular varietal, but that can also be untrue on a vintage-by-vintage basis.
Names like Joseph Phelp’s Insignia (the first fanciful name), Beaulieu Vineyard’s Tapestry, Flora Springs Trilogy, Airfield Estate’s Aviator. But what you don’t know, is these are Bordeaux blends. There are also fanciful names for Rhone blends, Tuscan blends and so many others from around the globe. White blends can also have fanciful names and can be blends indigenous from many areas as well.
Say a winery creates a cool Bordeaux style blend. Let’s also be real-world. Joseph Phelps’ Insignia has to be on the top on many folks’ lists as being a Bordeaux blend of superior reputation, year after year. But to do so, the winemaker must adjust the blends to compensate for individual varietal strengths to create a well-balanced wine. The 2005 Insignia blend is 92% Cabernet, 7% Petite Verdot, and 1% Merlot. It could classify as a Cabernet Sauvignon being well over 75%. But the 2004 Insgnia only contains 72% Cabernet Sauvignon so it could not be classified as a Cabernet Sauvignon. Notice how using a fanciful name gives wineries leeway in blending to create great wines, without the pressure of feeling like they have to always have 75% of a particular varietal.
So let’s circle back to Longoria wines.The Blues Cuvee is an interesting blend indeed. It is part Cabernet, part Syrah and other Bordeaux varietals. One could call it a “cabernet sauvignon and syrah blend”, but that would not be the entire story as there are amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Malbec. So as much as there is Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, the more accurate terminology to describe this one is to call it a Rhone and Bordeaux-style blend. If you think this is complex, you’ll be really looking forward to my next blog post on matching varietals to regions, understanding that some varietals belong to more than one region.
So who was ever going to educate the consumer on this more-than-a-little nuance? At WineMatch, we truly want wineries and their wines to be presented in such a way that consumers do more than just glean what the wine is all about. It’s all about a greater understanding and making informed decisions. Put the information in the hands of the consumers is important as that is what the market demands.
I think it’s time for a little Rhone blend….or was that a Bordeaux blend?