With the exception of New Years Eve, I think I drank two glasses of wine in January — not propitious behaviour for a wine writer. I even missed having something nice for my birthday, but I guess the flu followed by pneumonia is a decent excuse. I even managed to lose 10 pounds, which under other circumstances would have been a good start on a New Years resolution.
Now my taste for wine has returned and I wanted to share with you my fondness for wines that I like to think of as (everything but the) kitchen sink wines.
The style for the past 20 years has been to move towards single-grape wines. Where our parents drank wines like Bordeaux or Burgundy or Chianti, which were blended with multiple grapes and named after their regions of origin, we live in a time where the labels say Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier.
There are some very good things about this trend. For example, we can begin to identify wines of particular grapes that we enjoy. I love old vine Zinfandels. These spicy, red, California treats are made from zinfandel grapes grown on vines that are often 50 years old, or older and the concentrated, fruity, spicy taste is one of my favourites to sip, or serve with grilled meats.
Unlike a blended wine, where a talented wine maker can improve a sub-par grape by mixing in several other grapes, a single-grape wine must sink or swim on it’s own merit. This can be very good. Consider a fine Cabernet Sauvignon, which may sell for multiple hundreds of dollars per bottle.
However, in some cases it’s disappointing, as I have found any number of California or Australian Chardonnays to be.
Recently, I have seen a reversal of this single grape wine pattern and a celebration of blending the grapes again.
Part of the art of the wine maker in our parents’ era was the blending and balancing of different amounts of different grape juices, to find that perfect balance of taste. When achieved, it almost seems like the wine is playing with your tongue, landing in one place, then another and filling your mouth with a rich fusion. It’s a bit like hearing a chord, rather than a single note of music – but the chord needs to be harmonious in order to be pleasing.
I am enjoying the trend where wine makers are mixing together multiple grapes and turning out some very approachable and fine wines.
One such wine that just arrived on the shelves in Whitehorse is the charming 14 Hands Vineyard’s Hot to Trot Red Blend ($20), found (as soon as the stock is replaced) in the United States Wines section. This 2010 vintage from the Columbia River Valley is particularly appealing to me because, unlike most recent kitchen sink wines, such as Ménage a Trois, that are coming out of California, this one comes from Washington State.
The 14 Hands wine makers blended Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre among others and aged them for six months in French and American oak barrels to make an appealing, fruit-filled wine with both the dark fruit taste of plums and bright red fruit flavours of currants and cherries.
With low tanins (that mouth puckering feel), it is an excellent wine to pair with cheese and crackers, pork roast, or (not too spicy) pasta dishes.
So give this wine, a try, I suspect you’ll like it. I’ve already had friends come down from Haines Junction looking for it and raving about it. It should be back on the shelves in the coming weeks and in the mean time, ask the staff what else they can suggest in American red blends, or conversely, try some of the Washington State Cabs or Merlots.
They’ll be a little bit more expensive, but then you’ll know what’s being made with the grapes that don’t make it into 14 Hands Hot to Trot.