The elimination of variables is the basis of logic. Getting rid of ambiguities will, we assert, leave us with one undeniable truth. Taking this approach to wine is compelling: a bottle that contains just one variety of grapes from an isolated region will really teach us about the place and time in which it was made.
The geek in me loves single varietal, single vineyard wines, and the revelations that can be distilled from them. The wine lover in me, however, is drawn to the complexities and balance that result from a winemaker's decision to mix up the variables, and create a blend.
Blending grape varieties allows the vintner to play grapes off each other. Rough edges can be softened, aromas and flavors can be layered, and a new wine experience is discovered. As in making music, the combination of chords come together to make an entirely new harmony.
Speaking to hundreds of Nova Scotian wine lovers over the past few years, I have learned that blends have a bad rap in people's minds. There's a purist attitude that blends are not serious wines, as though failure to commit to one grape variety compromises the wine's integrity. However, some of the world's most famous wines — Champagne and Bordeaux, for example — are blends. (Most never even list grape varieties, as this information is considered irrelevant.)
There is also the sense — and people are correct about this — that blends are an easy way to hide low quality grapes. But this is largely true of industrial wines where varietal vagueness is the last thing for a wine consumer to be concerned about.
In spite of public perception about blends, local winemakers embrace the practice precisely because it allows them to skip over the grape varieties — Marechal Foch, Leon Millot, Seyval Blanc, et cetera, which are hard to market — and instead connect with wine lovers using simpler branding.
Many local wineries have been creating proprietary blends to represent their program in a given season. Luckett Vineyards, for example, has Phone Box Red, White and Fizz. Planters Ridge has Quintessence Red and White. Sainte-Famille Wines has Avon Red and White. Jost Vineyards has Coastal Red and White. Gaspereau Vineyards has Gina's Red. Blomidon Estate Winery has Blow Me Down. Eileanan Bréagha Vineyards in Cape Breton is releasing its first Red Marble today. And so on.
I have come to appreciate these wines. As I become familiar with the grapes we grow and the wines they make, it is gratifying to witness the subtle and sophisticated adjustments, and sometimes creative leaps, that our vintners are making with those varieties.
Here are a few blends that strike me as being particularly good representations of our region and of the wine styles we do best, and I like that sense honesty in the craftsmanship of each.
L'Acadie Vineyards' 2013 Vintage Cuvée Rosé ($28) is a wine I talk about a lot, and here I go again: I just love this wine. High quality, affordable, organic, and lovely to look at, this bubbly is Nova Scotia in a glass. L'Acadie just released the 2013 vintage, which has the same blend as earlier years: l'Acadie Blanc, Seyval Blanc and Marechal Foch. Pineapple, lemon and cream, a touch of sweet and a hint of yeast, throw in some field flowers. A great bottle to have on hand to class up brunch.
Benjamin Bridge has been making Vero ($22) since 2009, before Tidal Bay became Nova Scotia's signature blend. Vero has since been overshadowed in production and prestige by our appellation wine, but since tasting the 2013 vintage at the winery a couple years ago, I couldn't get it out of my mind.
"Vero represents a style compatible with our growing environment," says winemaker Jean Benoit Deslauriers, "a lighter, aromatic white, that considers the profile of the fruit" — Chardonnay, Ortega, Vidal, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc — "in a drier style."
At once light and complex, this wine starts off gently with lime and grapefruit aromas and the sensation of sweetness. But the acid backbone will bring you through any fish dinner, and what lingers is a notion of cream. All of this, keep in mind, is very, very subtle.
Domaine de Grand Pré recently came out with its 2013 Tribute ($24), a blend of Marquette, Cabernet Foch and Castel. Inspired by a previous blend called Tom, named for a vineyard worker at Grand Pré who passed away, Tribute was a way "to take it to the next level," says winemaker Jürg Stutz. Plum and roots, soft tannin and sinewy body, this is a true Nova Scotia red.
"We wanted to expand the idea of honouring farmers, but also the land." Stutz says this includes the cultures that have historically stewarded the land, the Mi'kmaq, Acadians and Planters. Tom used Baco Noir, but for Tribute, Stutz replaced it with Castel. "It gives the wine more kick. Brings the weight and flavours up a bit."
I have found that blends teach me just as much about the terroir of our province as any single varietal wine. In the context of a well-balanced glass of wine, I also learn how our winemakers are interpreting that terroir, including themselves in the landscape. The scientist in me figures this is a logical approach.