"Varietalism is the scourge of the modern wine industry."
That's a direct quote from one of the master sommeliers (first name Joe, they weren't really on a last name basis) at a wine seminar I had the amazing pleasure of attending yesterday during this weekend's Pebble Beach Food and Wine event at the Inn at Spanish Bay.
The seminar, named 'The Once and Future Wine of California' was all about the origins of winemaking in California during the mid 19th century ... and how, believe it or not, blending was a key factor in early California winemaking. For the past 40-50 years Californian wines have prided themselves on single varietal creations, proudly stating that it should be the power of the grape that carries the wine. However, there are quite a few winemakers who are returning to their roots (pun intended) in order to reclaim what they believe is a vital winemaking process that creates multidimensional wines.
And let me tell you, these wines we tasted were not just multidimensional. They were phenomenal. And not one of them cost over $100 per bottle - many of them were in the $25-40 range! These wines held characteristics of classic Bordeaux blends, but with a unique California flair that presents a certain sweetness, a unique berry quality that France doesn't always have. Most of them contained Zinfandel as their premier grape - because, according to winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Vineyards, zinfandel is a highly versatile grape that is difficult to produce entirely on its own, but works fantastically as a leading grape for California blends.
Above is a snapshot of all the wines we tasted, but I'll only go over a few of my favorite choices in the interest of saving time. The first notable wine would be the 2007 Elyse Nero Misto from Napa Valley ($29). Nero Misto, which means "mixed black" in Italian, is a blend of several different grape varietals which led to a very interesting combination. The nose had strong notes of tobacco, red curry and ... you're not going to believe this ... hemp. Yes, the wine tasted a bit of the funky bunch. My boyfriend Julien pointed this out to the winemakers, and their response was "Hooray!" which I thought was funny. The mouth on this wine was tannic, which some dark berry (particularly boysenberry) with some red curry on the finish. I loved the sweet spices on this wine and how they blended well with the deep berry flavors. It made for a very unique wine that tasted amazing.
Another notable wine was the 2006 School House Mescolanza from St. Helena ($40). This wine was unique because of its interesting sweetness. It almost tasted like a red Gerwerztraminer, with strong notes of apple juice and a sweet cream. The mouth also had red cherry in addition to that addicting cream I got on the nose. I don't believe I would ever buy a bottle of this, just because I would have no clue what to pair it with, but it was a favorite just because of its uniqueness.
And finally, my personal favorite for the day was the 2008 Bedrock Lorenzo from Sonoma ($35). What I loved about this wine were the heavy notes of limestock and earth, which the winemaker said came from the fact that the soil (which is red) has been dry farmed for 110 years, contributing to the suffering (and thus better flavor) of the grapes. The nose was completely earthy, which the mouth also had dark fruit and strong tannins. But I just loved smelling this wine. I would love to pair this with some hoison-glazed tofu and vegetables. Hmm ... idea forming!
In the end, I came out of the wine seminar a better, more educated person. I used to have some of that single varietal bias that many California tasters can develop ... but now, I'll be looking for some of those blends to try out for myself. They truly made for some high quality and multidimensional wines, and I am truly grateful that I got to try them out for myself.