Italian Designer Wines – A new tendency among established producers
Italian mainstream producers are following a tendency initiated by California wine producers. In California it is known as Meritage, or the marrying of wines. The general process is to create wines from 3-5 grapes separately. Once they have come to maturity the wine masters will blend the wines to achieve a predefined taste.
Blending has been performed as part of the wine making process since the beginning of time. Many well-known and established wines have 5-15% of a secondary grape, usually grown in the same vineyards, as part of their make-up. Generally this process is used in Italian table wines where grapes with more sugar content or a particular flavor will be cut with blander grapes. They are then fermented together creating a large quantity of a relatively good and inexpensive wine.
The established wineries rarely were involved in this type of production. Instead they would dedicate their resources to the DOC or DOCG wines. Wines made in this way have many of the same characteristics as white wines. That is they are ready to be consumed as soon as they hit the shelves and aging will reduce the quality of the wine.
The novelty of the designer or meritage wines is that the grapes are fermented and aged individually. During the aging process they will be tasted several times and they are then blended. The blended wine is then aged another 12-18 months. This is done to allow the flavors time to stabilize and balance while maintaining their unique qualities.
The advantages to designer wines is that they will not have up and down years due to the quality of the growing season in a specific region. They wine masters will be able to source their grapes across Italy and change the blend depending on the flavor. Another important benefit is that these wines are ready to drink as soon as they become commercially available while traditional red wines usually require a certain number of years to age appropriately.
The disadvantages seem to be that while these are generally great everyday wines I have not found a “knock your socks off” wine. Additionally the designer wines are young making their appearance in the early to middle 90s. It is not clear how they will age.
Considering the advantages and disadvantages the designer wines should be a great compliment to the existing DOC and DOCG wines. It is reasonable to think that a quality cellar should have at least 15% of its wines in designer wines. While they may not last 10 years the designer wines are versatile enough to compliment most meals and should they be the souvenir of a recent trip it will be possible to re-live that memory just popping the cork on a bottle of wine.
Tags: Red Wine Italian Wine Sommelier Food and Wine Travel Italy