Playing the percentages

“75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec”

Wait. 2% Malbec? 2%?

It’s perplexing for a new vinophile (oenophile if you’re being fancy) to imagine that 2% Malbec or 1% Petit Verdot can possibly make enough of a difference to change the character of a wine. 1% …really?

Ah, but this is where you get to the heart of a winemaker’s goal.

First, let’s look at that 1-2%  Can you really taste a difference? Well, try squeezing a bit of lemon juice in water, probably less than 1%, but surely you pick up on a freshness that wasn’t there before. How about that pinch of salt in tomato juice? Brings out the flavor doesn’t it? My favorite recipe for Daube du Bouef calls for 1/8 teaspoon of capers. That’s right, 1/8 teaspoon in a big old dutch oven full of meat, vegetables and spices. When an ingredient has a certain quality, it can go a long way.

So what do stalwart mixing grapes bring to the party?

Petit Verdot adds a small amount of tannin, color and flavor to a blend. It can also boost the mid palate of a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Malbec brings a luxurious color and robust tannins. If you are playing by the old rules, Malbec is one of the six grapes allowed in a blend of red Bordeaux wine.

In whites, Semillon gifts a soft, smooth flavor and some herbal spiciness. You may see this blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Blending is an art, the alchemy of certain varietals that reveals subtle nuance and grace. Winemakers seek to bring balance, express particular notes, or layer character in their philters. A few percent of just the right this or that can conjure up gold in a glass.

One of my new year’s resolutions is to explore new wines. Experiencing traditional blending grapes as varietals seems a good place to start.

Some favorite Malbecs. Sensuously dark with seductive tannins :

Domanico Cellars 2012 Alder Ridge Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills
Sparkman Cellars 2012 Preposterous Kipsun Vineyard, Red Mountain
Capataz (Darioush) 2011, Mendoza, Argentina

Some favorite Petit Verdots. An irresistable, shadowy Maltese Falcom in your glass:

Domanico Cellars 2012 Alder Ridge Vineyard, Horse Heaven Hills
Northstar 2010 Stone Tree Vineyard, Wahluke Slope


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