What’s in a name? If a wine calls itself sauvignon blanc, must it have only juice from those grapes in its bottle? It might be a surprise that the answer is “no.”
In California, a wine need have only 75 percent of its juice from a grape to use its name, under federal rules. So a California chard might have up to 25 percent other grapes in it.
And often does.
The reason is part ego and part common sense. Ego comes in because winemakers love to tinker, adding a few drops of this, a smidgen of that to create their versions of perfect wines. Common sense is involved because, in a cool year, a sauvignon blanc might be a bit lean and tart without the addition of a few percent of more opulent white grapes such as semillon or viognier.
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And, since I took part in a wine-blending demonstration a few years ago, I can attest that the addition of as little as 2 or 3 percent of another grape can change the flavor of a basic wine by quite a bit.
For example, Kendall-Jackson’s “Vintner’s Reserve” Sauvignon Blanc contains 5 percent semillon and 2 percent viognier, giving fuller body, or “mouth-feel,” to the wine.
And, as I said, even smaller additions can make a difference. Frei Brothers Reserve Russian River Chardonnay has 1 percent of what they call “select other white varieties.”
Sometimes winemakers purposely violate the 75 percent rule to make a blended wine. Knowing they can’t call it chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, they dream up their own monikers, called “fantasy names.”
Franciscan Estate in California’s Napa Valley makes a white blend that is 72 percent sauvignon blanc, 17 percent richer chardonnay and 11 percent of a sweet, orange-scented white grape called “muscat.” It calls the wine “Equilibrium White Blend.”
Sometimes fantasy names are more, well, fantastic. McKinley Springs Winery in Washington State makes a white blend of 52 percent chenin blanc and 48 percent viognier called “Bombing Range White.” It honors U.S. female military pilots and the vineyard’s history as a fighter pilot training ground in World War II.
It goes on. Geyser Peak Winery adds a touch of fruity, spicy gewurztraminer to its pinot grigio. Tom Gore Vineyards in California’s Alexander Valley slips 2 percent of crisp sauvignon blanc into its 2013 chardonnay. Swanson Vineyards puts 11 percent chardonnay in its Sonoma pinot grigio.
And it’s not only Americans who do this. In France’s Alsace Region, Hugel et Fils 2012 “Gentil” white blend contains a mouthful of grapes — gewurztraminer, pinot gris, riesling, muscat and sylvaner.
So as long as there are savvy, ambitious winemakers with time and the boss’s OK to tinker, there will be blends.
As Martha Stewart would say: It’s a good thing.
▪ 2013 Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio, “Morning Sun Vineyard,” Sonoma Mountain, (89 percent pinot grigio, 11 percent chardonnay): intensely fruity, with aromas and flavors of apricots and citrus, crisp and creamy; $21.
▪ 2012 Hugel et Fils “Gentil” white blend, Alsace (gewurztraminer, pinot gris, riesling, muscat and sylvaner): light and lively, with mixed floral aromas, flavors of ripe pears, minerals and spice; $15.
▪ 2014 Franciscan Estate “Equilibrium White Blend,” Napa Valley (72 percent sauvignon blanc, 17 percent chardonnay, 11 percent muscat): orange blossom aromas, flavors of pink grapefruit and oranges, hint of sweetness, full body, creamy; $23.
▪ 2013 Kendall-Jackson “Vintner’s Reserve” Sauvignon Blanc, California (93 percent sauvignon blanc, 5 percent semillon, 2 percent viognier): floral aromas, flavors of ripe apples and pink grapefruit, crisp and fruity $13.
▪ 2013 Frei Brothers Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (99 percent chardonnay, 1 percent select other white varieties): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of ripe apples, smooth, full body; $20.
▪ 2012 “Bombing Range White,” by McKinley Springs Winery, Horse Heaven Hills, Wash. (52 percent chenin blanc, 48 percent viognier): light, lean and crisp, with aromas and flavors of lemons and citrus; $15.
▪ 2014 Geyser Peak Pinot Grigio, California (pinot grigio, gewurztraminer): floral aromas, lean body, flavors of white grapefruit and cinnamon; $14.
▪ 2013 Tom Gore Vineyards Chardonnay, California (98 percent chardonnay, 2 percent sauvignon blanc): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of ripe pears and mangos, smooth finish; $15.