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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hanging with the big dogs

I had a bottle of a homemade blended red sitting under my desk at work when a colleage walked by carrying his latest shipment from a well known wine club. The bottle caught his eye and he wound up trading me for a bottle of Lodi-area Cab Sav from his shipment, valued at $15. The bottle I gave him was a blend of 48% Cab Sav from central California (juice) blended with Norton and Chambourcin from my back yard. It was an experiment, and I blended in the Cab Sav to correct some cranked acids in the Norton, but it still was a bit sharp in the finished product. Still, the nose was interesting as you can pick out all three varietals overlapping. The color is good, too, because the Norton was on the skins for two weeks, turning it inky dark in a way that would take an extra-extended maceration in most vinifera.

It just so happend that my friend was heading out that very evening to a meeting of the local "snooty wine club," a monthly dinner where wine is shared. We're talking serious stuff, too. He said that there were bottles worth $75 and $150 on the table, some dating back to the early '90s. He set my humble bottle next to an Oregon pinot, and he undersold it as a home-grown curiosity. He rightly called out the slightly sharp acid and then some thinness in the body. But several of the "snooties" said that he wasn't doing it justice and went back for more. At the end of the night, there was less left in the bottle than the Oregon pinot, a Parker pick worth $60.

I taste this wine and put it squarely in the $5 to $10 class, but perhaps I'm not being fair. Or maybe the folks at the wine dinner were already a bit tipsy. Who knows. In any case it shows that you can do interesting things with blending vinifera with hybrids. And it also shows that there is something crazy, something completely insane going on in wine pricing. The most I've personally ever spent on a bottle of wine is $35. I've found a few brilliant wines in the $15 range, and we have plenty of standbys at $10. And if a $60 bottle sits next to my humble basement blend and doesn't get drained within minutes of the cork coming off, there's something truly amiss.

In any case, it was an interesting experiment, and I was happy to hear the results. In a few years I hope to repeat it with a wine made from a commercial-sized planting of Cabernet Franc, with a touch of Norton (4%) for added color and a bit of Chambourcin (8%) for complexity, and we'll see if a vinifera-hybrid blend has any real promise. Besides the novelty aspect, there are some serious economic advantages to the notion of such a blend, which I'll get into in my next post.

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