So-called garage wines actually carry on old tradition

August 26, 2013

Several questions concerning the proliferation of Cali blends and so-called garage wines were emailed. New to California, the practice of being a “wine chef” has been around for quite a while. Wine cheffing, as I like to name it, is the practice of finding various end-of-run or small-production containers of wine, purchasing those you think will blend well, blending them and enhancing through a second fermentation or barrel aging, or just bottling the result and selling it. The truth is, most wine was produced in this fashion until the Snidely Whiplash arm of the wine trade realized that a large part of the value of the biggest names in the wine world arose from their restricting production as well as from their quality. This discovery resulted in the move to narrowing the label naming to regions, AVAs, towns, specific areas surrounding the towns, vineyards, areas within the vineyards and even, in rare cases, rows of grapes.

Garage wines are an attempt to provide top-flight drinking wine blended from leftover or purchased product by expert blenders or wine chefs. Some I have recommended in the past are Orin Swift The Prisoner, The Culprit and Apothic.

Balius Wines Xanthos Proprietary Red 2010 is a new entry into this mix. Priced under $20, Xanthos is ruby red. It opens to red cherry, ripe raspberry, spice, dark chocolate and floral aromas. Acidity, oak and alcohol frame is well balanced and in agreement with cherry, plum, cocoa and creamy vanilla flavors that are mouth coating. The flavors flow through the long and smooth finish. Xanthos is a blend of 63 percent Syrah, 16 percent Ségalin ( I bet few have heard of this varietal grape), 11 percent Merlot and 10 percent Zinfandel. After blending, it was aged for 18 months in 40 percent new French oak. For the curious, Ségalin is a red wine grape hybrid of Jurançon Noir and Portugais.

Those in the know about Europe will recognize this practice has been around for a very long time. Even the most prestigious names have a second label where their less-than-perfect wine is blended and bottled. You can find a listing in R Parker’s Wine Buyers Guide or you can follow this address on your computer for more info:

Frequently, the distinction between second label and first is only discernible to a well-trained palate. If you don’t trust your own taste buds, you can usually go to the wineries’ web page to learn of the production methods employed. Sometime, the seconds are not barrel aged for as long a period, or they may employ used barrels as opposed to new or perhaps the wine is not cellared as long before release. If you are a consumer of this type of wine, I think it is very valuable to spend some money on a top name from the 2009 vintage of Bordeaux, then purchase a first and second label. I think an affordable valuable comparison would be 95-point Chateau Gazin Pomerol 2009 for about $100 and a bottle of its 90-point second, L’Hospitalet de Gazin 2009 at $40.

Before you flood my email, I realize this is not chump change. Think outside the box a bit. Invite five wino pals to share your experience and the cost. Incorporate the tasting into your next barbecue or family dinner or card night or whenever you congregate. Trust me, this will be any fledgling wine drinkers’ best $23.50 bargain ever. If that is still too pricey, invite more into the circle. For this type event, a bottle can easily sample up to 12 people with a pour of just over 2 ounces each. I do prefer no more than eight or nine because I think 3-plus ounces gives more opportunity to try at different temperatures and aeration levels. This amount also allows enough sips to make a decent comparison. If your pals are anything like mine, the tasting should immediately follow the hellos. Avoid conflating warm-up drinking with tasting to enjoy the best impact. Preprandial is best. Consumption of food during a wine tasting usually confuses even those with discerning palates.

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