In the world of wine there are the shining stars; the household names that don’t have to be a contributor of a blend to get some recognition. These grapes are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, even Riesling just to name a few.
Then there are the grapes intrinsically used for the said purpose of producing the ever-popular blend. Blending wines have been given the explicit task of hanging out with two-plus varietals for their entire existence. Sad times. But how like our world, really, that we would have varietals that accept award after award for their beauty and brilliance, while their supporting actors do everything they can to measure up and yet still remain secondary in popularity. Well, this is 2017 and we’re saying hello to equal rights.
In light of Oscar season, we’re shedding some starlight on the grapes that tend to slip between the cracks of your prototypical wine lists and give credit where credit is due! The characteristics theses blending varietals possess may need some warming up to. But once offered the opportunity, they deserve quite the standing ovation. Let’s roll the film, shall we?
Today we’re taking a deeper look at three varietals that are infrequently given the chance - but perfectly able - to stand alone. Lucky for a few select regions on the entire planet, we now have some wonderful ones to explore. Without further ado, I present to you: Cabernet Franc, Mourvédre and Sémillon! (Enter frantic cheers here).
Let’s start off easy here with a word that sounds familiar: Cabernet. Phew, see! We can do it! Now add Franc, and you have a whole separate varietal to play around with: Cabernet Franc. We have this fine varietal, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, to thank for getting grafted and producing our beloved Cabernet Sauvignon. The two grape vines got together a looong time ago and churned out what we now have as one of the leading varietals on Earth. Talk about the family favorite.
Cab Franc is a bit less friendly to the California palate than its offspring and, thus, has gotten a bad wrap. But its peppery, crushed violet, flinty, dark chocolate-ness is absolutely superb in the correct setting. It originally got its big break in the land of Bordeaux, France as part of the infamous blends that are mainly composed of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Nowadays, the varietal has gotten around a bit and is making its big domestic debut in Washington, New York and California.
The goods: Cabernet Franc
If you want to ease into the idea of this “blending grape” taking center stage (and happen to have some extra jangle in your pocket) give Spring Valley Vineyard’s Katherine Corkrum Cabernet Franc a try. This Washington jewel is, truthfully, a blend as well, but with 90% Cabernet Franc leading the way, we’ll let it slide.
In other news, hailing from a small region of North Fork on New York’s Long Island, is the 2014 Harbes Family Vineyard’s version of the grape. Give their herbaceous yet plump Franc a try and you might just have found your new favorite varietal.
Lastly, let's assume you don't want to spend this week’s paycheck on an experiment. Give the 100% Cabernet Franc from Reserve des Vignerons Saumur Champigny, in the Loire Valley of France a shot. Peppery to the max and combined with touches of violet and perfume make for a pleasant experience to be sure. Let this one aerate for a hot second. Otherwise the grip of the structure might leave a bad taste in your mouth - pun intended.
Katherine Corkrum Cab Franc
Alright, raise your hand if you’ve heard of this guy? Hmm. A sparse few. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the blend abbreviation GSM? Ah! There we go! GSM is a palate-pleasing blend of three grapes you truly can’t go wrong with. That to say, you may only know what the “G” and “S” represent as the varietals have stood on their own for ages. It’s now time for our “M” friend to step into the limelight. Say it with me now, “Mourvèdre”.
Originally part of the Rhône Valley’s admirable line up of varietals, Mourvèdre is now being planted all over, and incognito as well. You may have had this grape before and not even realized it, for in Spain its name is Monastrell. In Australia? Mataro. It does extremely well in hot regions. So it’s no shock that Australia, Spain, Southern France and the booming California region of Paso Robles have each staked their claim with the varietal.
The goods: Mourvèdre
So let’s break this down. Ever crave BBQ, short ribs, pork sausage? Pair it with Mourvèdre. You enjoy Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah? Give this plum and blackberry, deep maroon colored, full-bodied drop a try. For example, $40 can buy you an excellent version of the varietal from Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles. Want to try a version from foreign soil? Tesoro Monastrell offers spice, lots of just ripened blueberries and a surprising touch of orange zest for less than a pretty penny. Cheers to exploring new territory!
Lemme tell you about this gem. Talk about a diamond in the rough of a Chardonnay dominated white wine community! Sémillon is the blending partner to Sauvignon Blanc, both possess the fame of original Bordeaux roots. The match is one made in Heaven to be sure, as they share the crisp flavors of citrus, green apple and pear. But what Sémillon offers to the blend is a fuller mouthfeel; a softer, waxy sensation. It truly rounds out the racy herbaceousness that is Sauvignon Blanc.
The goods: Sémillon
Don’t be dismayed that this understated wine has a lower average ABV (alcohol by volume). There’s nothing wrong with having a ridiculously easy drinking white on hand for those sunny afternoons that you’d actually like to remember enjoying. However, Sémillon changes a bit depending on the climate it’s planted in. You can expect a touch higher ABV from warmer climates such as South Australia and California like Cuda Ridge Wines’ 2015 Semillon from the Central Coast.
If you're curious for seeing what Oz has to offer, try this delectable drop from Hunter Valley Australia. Tyrrell’s Old Winery 2012 expression of the grape is one that will keep you going back for more and, at around 12 bucks a bottle, I suppose you could afford to do just that.
Cuda Ridge Barrels
So next time friends, let’s remember the little people that helped the big bad varietals of our day get to their place of stardom. After all, it’s clear that everyone deserves a shot at the big screen.
Samantha Stowell began her adventure with wine 4 years ago after quitting her corporate life as an interior designer. After completing the Advanced Level 3 WSET course, she traveled to McLaren Vale, Australia to work for Mollydooker wines. Since returning, she has been the sommelier of a wine bar in Downtown Santa Ana, CA, helping to develop their wine program and is currently the resident sommelier at Yves’ Restaurant & Wine Bar in Anaheim Hills, CA.