This is the second post in a three part series on wine blends.

I’m on a mission to only drink wine blends until the BLEND event on Sept. 12th. And if the past two bottles are any indication of what I’m in for, I’ll take it!

Last evening I shared a bottle of Sparkman Cellars Wilderness at the 6th Avenue Wine Seller with Doug Haugen of WINO magazine. I was surprised that by the glass it was offered at $17 so we opted for a bottle at $33. I’m crazy for this wine. It’s got a ton of fruit and spice, is well balanced and full of structure and yet it is so soft on the palate, almost silky. This is a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The cool thing other than the wine itself is that Sparkman donates a portion of the revenues from this wine to wilderness preservation.

Tonight while dining at Sullivan’s Steakhouse Sommelier Jeffery Dorgan walked us through the delightful wine list (Washington first, of course!) and I let him know my mission to drink only blends. He led us to the Gorman Zachary’s Ladder at $59. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Syrah and Petit Verdot; only 400 cases produced. Awesome wine for the price. Full bodied, dark fruit and spice,  complex texture. Went perfectly with the Cajun Ribeye with Bluecheese…and the Mac & Cheese…and the Steak Oscar…

There is the theory that blends are all the left over juice from other varietal wines and frankly I don’t think they get the respect they deserve. And even if it is true in some cases, does it  matter if the wine is fantastic? I mean really, who cares why? After listening to the winemakers perspectives on their love of blending it seems to me a great blended wine is a true reflection of the winemakers artistry in a different way than a straight forward varietal.

A few trusted palates share their perspectives on wine blends:

 Yashar Shayan, Sommelier, Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar

I’ve always loved blends, they’re a great way to get everything you want out of a wine. No one grape is perfect, they all lack something, but you can create balance in a wine by blending different grapes.   

 As a sommelier I’m always interested in how well wine pairs with food. In order to do so, a wine should have enough structure to stand up to a dish, but be elegant enough so as not to over power the dish entirely. Consider, for example, the typical Bordeaux style blend; which I think we do so well here in Washington.

 Cabernet Sauvignon is known for having aggressive tannins, with mouth-watering acidity and a showcase of black currants & berries. Merlot has a rep for its smooth body, medium acid, and juicy red fruits like raspberries. Cabernet Franc lovers know of its ability to deliver a spicy, peppery kick, with supple blueberry and pomegranate. With all these different characteristics at play on the varietal level, you can imagine that what you produce by is a wine who’s whole is greater than the sum of its vinous parts. Add to the mix PetitVerdot known for its ability to pump acidity up to the next level, and Malbec with its alluring aromas and smoke and iron, and now we’re painting with a full pallet of colors.

 This is what blending can bring to the table; a wine that’s balanced, age-worthy, complex, and can pair with a wide spectrum of delectable cuisine.

Anne Nisbet, Culinary Director IPNC, writer, culinary expert

Blended wines make sense on multiple levels.  For the winegrower, having a variety of grapes provides an edge against a poor harvest of one particular type.  For the winemaker, it broadens the range of flavors and characteristics available to them when crafting a wine.  And for the consumer, it means a dazzling array of choices.

 I¹m partial to Rhone-style blends.  These are based on wine grapes from France¹s Rhone Valley.  The reds tend to be spicy with aromas of dark fruits and smoky, leathery notes.  The whites are citrusy and bright but with a rich mouth fell I find particularly compelling.  In the north, varieties are limited to syrah, viognier, roussanne and marsanne.  In the southern Rhone, options expand to include red varietals like Grenache, mourvedre and picpoul and whites like Grenache blanc. This all as to do with French AOC laws.

Here in the States, we have free reign to grow what we like, where we like (and to blend accordingly!).

 Some of my favorite Rhone-style blends come from McCrea Cellars, Washington state¹s original “Rhone Ranger”.  Winemaker Doug McCrea is a Rhone specialist and I¹m absolutely crazy for his 2008 Sirocco blanc, a gorgeous assemblage of Grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne and picpoul. Fresh and lively with scents of white flowers and minerals, the crisp nose leads to a velvety mouthful of deliciousness.

 Another top notch Rhone producer is the Bunnell Family Cellar.  Ron Bunnell’s Lia and Vif are two bottles to look for.  The 2007  Lia is a Grenache-based blend, the bright red fruit complimented by cinsault and mourvedre with syrah and petite sirah adding depth and structure.  The 2007 Vif, which translates as vivid, lively or bright, en francais, is grounded in syrah, with deep flavors of hickory-smoked bacon and dark cherries.

Generous dashes of mourvedre and petite sirah add hints of tobacco and earth.  This is a bottle crying out for some pit-roasted pork.

 Clive Pursehouse, writer, The Oregon Wine Blog

When talking about single varietal wines you often hear winemakers say things about their role in making this wine was to let the terroir come through, or to “get out of the way of the fruit.”  While the barrel and vineyard selection can certainly let a winemaker’s knowledge and skill show through nothing lets a talented winemaker flex their muscles like a blend.  While there is a great deal of tradition in the craft of blending wine and Bourdeaux and Rhone style blends can be tinkered with to different results, I love to see winemaker’s get a little crazy from time to time.  Blending varietals in a way that eschews tradition a little bit allows me as a wine drinker to taste something truly unique.  Wine is already a great deal of fun, blends though can really turn up the volume on the party.

If you want to explore the world of wine blends and give your palate a treat, come to BLEND on Sept. 12  and have some fun tasting through more than 100 wines.  If you think you’ve got the touch or want to know how blending is done; sign up for one of the hands-on seminars  just prior to the event.  All information available at www.columbiablend.com,