September 24, 2008
Onward With Blended Wines

Well, I'm surprised. Two weeks ago on this blog and a week ago in the Dunne on Wine column in The Sacramento Bee I asked readers to tell me which of five story topics would interest them the most. I'd then pick the subject that elicited the most responses and write here about the process of pulling the feature together. The potential stories concerned crowd-control issues at winery tasting rooms, an apparent rise in the number of American-made blended proprietary wines, the holding of a home olive-oil tasting, the resurgence of the liquor absinthe, and the status of the dessert wine port.

First, let me thank all those people who responded to my request. More readers expressed themselves than I anticipated, both by posting comments on the blog and in e-mail messages and phone calls. If I were a betting man, I would have gambled that the dubious behavior of some people at winery tasting rooms would have generated the most interest. It didn't. It actually got the fewest number of votes, which explains why I'm not often seen at a blackjack table.

The subject that readers said they are most interested in reading about is blended wines. Why am I surprised? It just doesn't seem as inherently colorful, unusual and personal as other topics. It's a subject that intrigues me, sure, but I just didn't expect so many others to be excited about blended wines. Incidentally, very few replies looked to be from sources with a vested interest in the subject.

So how do I start to write of blended wines? First, I'm using the remarks of readers to provide some direction. Among other things, they want to know just what goes into blended wines; several readers are suspicious, asking whether blended wines simply are made with leftover batches of wine for which the winemaker has no other use. I suspect so, but we'll see. People want to know what are the really good blended wines, which is a question I especially look forward to answering because it means I get to taste several of them.

I put the topic of blended wines on the list of potential stories in the first place because I sensed that more are showing up in the marketplace. If so, I find this curious because winemakers, wine merchants, sommeliers and the like have complained for years that they are tough sells. Throughout the country's modern winemaking era, American wines have been packaged and sold as varietals more than blends, and that's what much of the wine-buying public has come to expect and ask for - chardonnay, zinfandel, pinot noir and the like, not blends with fanciful names.

First, however, I need to learn whether more blends actually are being made, and, if so, why. That means checking in with the usual subjects - firms that track sales, such as The Nielsen Company; marketing consultants like Napa Valley's Paul Wagner; and wineries that recently have released new blended wines, such as Trinchero Family Estates of St. Helena, currently introducing a blend simply called Red. Phone calls have been made, e-mails dispatched. Now I'm waiting for replies. Here's one, from John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, who in response to an e-mail query says to give him a call. Excuse me as I do.

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