Greatness Can Come In Many Flavors

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - July 07, 2010
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Which do you prefer, the soloist or the full orchestra?

As with music, we must make the choice between the soloist and the orchestra with wine as well.

The soloist can take many forms. It can simply be a mono-varietal - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay Riesling - bottled on their own. The wine shows its unique varietal character. Another form of the soloist is a single vineyard. This is a singular expression of a particular terroir. Some famed single vineyards are considered the greatest wines on earth. Clos du Mesnil, Romanee Conti, Chambertin, La Mouline, Eisele Vineyard, Martha’s Vineyard and more each have their own story to tell. The message in a bottle is so strong that it compels wine lovers to joyful expression at the table and drives these same sane people to pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars to obtain a bottle.

As great as the individual may be, what happens when you combine the great attributes of many to create a masterpiece of sound or aroma and flavor? This is the orchestra, the master blend. Varietal blending is more common than you think. Even those bottles of California wine labeled with a single grape type can be blended with as much as 25 percent of other grapes. So the Cabernet Sauvignon you enjoyed last night probably had some Merlot or Cabernet Franc blended in. Each varietal brings a special component to the blend. Blends can be even more complex and riveting than the single varietal alone. Take Chateau Cheval Blanc or Dalla Valle Maya, where Cabernet Franc’s sweet herbal complexities are combined with the strength and depth of Cabernet Sauvignon, and you have something even more layered and nuanced than each varietal on its own. The examples are many.

In Champagne, not only are different grapes used but also many different vineyards from different villages. One Champagne house may use Chardonnay from Avize, Pinot Noir from Ambonnay and Meunier from Ay to create the amazing treat we know as Champagne. Different vineyard parcels are used in other famous wines such as the great Chateau Margaux, JL Chave’s famed Hermitage Cuvee Catheline and even Mollydooker’s Velvet Glove.

Greatness can come in many forms. Is one greater than the other? Soloist or orchestra? I leave that judgment up to you.

Recommendations: 2008 Ojai Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ($25) Great sweet aromatics in this wine with spiced cherries all around. A lovely wine with a rich finish. 2005 Mobius Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) Maybe the best deal on Cabernet I’ve seen all year.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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