There’s no doubt about it, Oregon takes its winemaking seriously. The state is recognized nationally as a leading pinot noir producer, and is becoming known for putting its own stamp on pinot gris and chardonnay as well. But with all these great single varietal wines on the shelves, the stunning red blends crafted in every Oregon wine region might just be the industry’s best kept secret. Combining artistry and chemistry with quality, value and complexity, Oregon’s red blends come together to produce a tapestry of flavors that will improve your dinner experience.
A Year in a Glass
Winemakers take advantage of the differences each harvest offers. Depending on weather and ripeness of fruit, they make decisions about using less or more of one variety or another to compensate for or enhance the finished wine. “The winemaker’s artistry is in assembling the blends to best reflect that vintage,” said Seven of Hearts winemaker Byron Dooley. “The blends I produce are definitely vintage specific, and they change, sometimes dramatically, depending on how the grapes look that year.
photo by Easton Richmond
“Red blends aren’t necessarily more complex, the complexity just takes a different form. Cabernet franc can be extremely compelling by itself, but it is a more narrow form of complexity,” Dooley explained. “A blend with cabernet franc, in a co-starring role alongside cabernet sauvignon and merlot, can paint a picture that is complex in a broader way. It draws on diverse and complementary characteristics of each variety.”
Boyd Teegarten of Natalie’s Estate agreed that blended wines have more depth and show more of the winemaker’s style. “I started my career as a purist, but as I’ve grown, I now understand that by blending wines, I can craft a more complete wine that seems seamless, with more complexity and layers of flavors,” said Teegarten.
Field of Dreams
Winemaker Brianne Day of Day Wines produces an unusual field blend at her winery in McMinneville. Field blends are wines that include different varieties of grapes grown together, harvested together and fermented together. Purchasing the fruit from Herb Quady in the Applegate Valley, Day’s Running Bare (a combination of cabernet franc, tannat and malbec) is not what you’d expect from an Oregon wine. “The pH and sugars of the each variety are different, which is advantageous because it produces built-in complexity and creates wines of great interest,” she said regarding the benefits of a field blend. Day loves the excitement and unpredictability of crafting a co-fermented wine, embracing the unknown and the playfulness of trying something new.
photo by Easton Richmond
We’re Letting the Secret Out
Distinctive and delicious red blends from Oregon winemakers are just starting to gain momentum. For those in the know, this translates to value because prices haven’t caught up to quality yet. Since red blends tend to be bold and well-structured, they pair perfectly with food. Blends are best enjoyed with your heartiest of meals, so open a bottle the table, sharing dishes such as rich stews, warm pastas, comfort foods and roasted meats. Below are blends from a few of the many Oregon blend producers to get you started.
Day Wines 2013 “Running Bare”
Composed of 50% cabernet franc and 25% each of tannat and malbec, Running Bare is luscious and ready to drink now. Fill your senses with cranberry, raspberry, pomegranate, tobacco and red licorice. Embrace the high acidity and light tannins solo, or alongside a decadent charcuterie plate or a hefty bowl of mushroom and parmesan risotto. Still in barrel as of February 2015, it will be bottled and available to purchase in March.
Abacela NV “Vintners Blend 14” Red Table Wine
Though this wine blends 14 different types of grapes, it’s dominated by the winery’s flagship tempranillo and is perfectly integrated. In your glass you’ll catch dark cherry, plum, cedar, smoke and spice. Great structure, bright acidity (perfect for rich food) and a delightfully lingering finish make this wine a winner. I found this gem at Trader Joes for just $12.99. At that price, I recommend snatching up as much as this everyday wine as you can. Try it with pasta bolognese.
Seven of Hearts 2012 Chateaux Figareaux “Tradition”
Composed of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, this gorgeous $25 wine is made for comfort foods such as pizza and burgers. Easy to drink, with soft acids and silky tannins, the Tradition is remarkable for its Morello cherry, black plum and earthy yet savory flavors.
Natalie’s Estate 2011 “Meritage”
A careful blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petit verdot, Meritage is available now, but ideally could be cellared for a couple more years, or at least decanted before serving. Complex, with juicy black plum, ripe black cherry, bittersweet chocolate, leather and smoke, this wine would be heavenly alongside a rack of lamb. The word Meritage is a combination of the words marriage and heritage (rhymes with heritage, not garage).
A few others worth trying are David Hill Farmhouse Red, Canas Feast Bricco Red and Guild Red Wine.