In February, we traveled to Portland, Oregon, where Brent Braun serves up natural wine at dining mainstay Castagna and local wine bar OK Omens — oh, and where he’s starting his own wine label, Post Familiar. Brent is all about curiosity, experimentation, and accessibility when it comes to wine, which is why his theme focused on the unexpected regions (Sacramento!) and grapes (auxerrois! valdiguié!) behind some of the most interesting California and Oregon wines today.
Brent’s theme also focused on blending, a common yet perhaps misunderstood practice that can also yield delightfully unexpected wines.
“The idea of blends became a hot thing in America in the mid-2000s, everyone was like, ‘I want blends.’ But it’s funny since most European wines have always been blends of grapes,” said Brent at the Eater Wine Club monthly tasting event. “It was really an American thing, for the most part, where we started doing single-variety wines that we would label, like, ‘Cabernet Sauvignon’ or ‘Merlot.’ Part of that was because American wine drinkers were trying to get their heads around what they were drinking — whereas in France, you could just be like ‘It’s Rhone,’ and someone from France would know exactly where the Rhone is and know, ‘Okay, Rhone wines are usually these grapes and taste this way.’”
Thus many of us have grown used to identifying wine by a single grape (ordering, say, “a chardonnay” or “a pinot grigio” at a bar) — when in fact so many wines are blends of several different grapes in one bottle.
Another blending factoid: In the US, labeling laws require winemakers to disclose the grapes in a blend. However, if a wine is made up of 75 percent or more of a single grape, they’re permitted to list only that grape. For example, if a wine is 80 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot, and 10 percent malbec, the bottle of wine is legally allowed to just say cabernet sauvignon.
Which is why drinkers may encounter a quirk when they examine their Loop de Loop ‘Romeo Red’... More on that and the rest of February’s wines below:
- Loop de Loop ‘Romeo Red’ — This red wine is an intriguing blend of cabernet franc, pinot noir, and — wait for it – riesling. Fun fact: Winemaker Julia Bailey Gulstine originally listed riesling on the bottle label, but then got worried some people would be turned off by the stereotypically sweet grape. So some ‘Romeo Red’ red drinkers will find their labels list just the pinot noir and cab franc (which, as mentioned above, is legally allowed since the riesling is a small percentage). Listed or not, the riesling undoubtedly adds a refreshing zip of acidity to this highly drinkable wine.
- Broc Cellars ‘Love Red’ — This light-bodied red is a blend of carignan, syrah, and valdiguié, the latter of which may sound less familiar but is in fact frequently grown in Northern California and known by some as Napa Gamay. The wine’s got flavors of dried rosemary, sage, and black licorice and is super quaffable.
- Haarmeyer ‘St. Rey SRV’ Chenin Blanc — Grown in the Sacramento River Delta, this bottle is the result of enterprising winemakers who had the audacity to grow wine in California regions previously overlooked. Made of 100 percent chenin blanc, it’s got sweet, zesty citrus flavors (think pink grapefruit and lemon curd).
- The Marigny ‘Deep Cuts’ — This slightly fizzy white was an exclusive collaboration made for Eater Wine Club between Brent and the Marginy’s Andrew Young, who together chose four different grapes to blend. The base of sauvignon blanc explodes with citrus, the chardonnay brings weight and exotic tropical fruit, the auxerrois adds minerality and texture, and the pinot gris adds freshness.
Now you know: Not everything from California is a Napa Valley cabernet, nor are all Oregon wines Willamette Valley pinot noirs. Want to stock up on more bottles of these West Coast rule-breakers? We have a select number of bottles left.