My home state has what are considered the strictest wine labelling laws of any state in the US. Oregon winemkers are not allowed to use foreign place names -- you'll never see an Oregon wine called Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Champagne. Furthermore, if it says it's an Oregon wine, all the grapes used to make that wine will have been grown in oregon, and all of them will be from the region of the state specified on the bottle, and (with the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon), at least 90% of the grapes will be of the state varietal.
And while this has been for the most part a good thing, there have been, in my mind, a few negative side effects. The main one has been that due to the focus on varietals and the prohibition against names like Burgundy and Bordeaux, there has been, especially in the past, an almost cult-like bias for straight varietal wines -- Pinots, Chard, etc. This means that less time and effort was spent on blended wines, and so they gained an unfortunately deserved reputation for being of lesser quality than the straight varietals.
But that lesser quality had to do with the effort being expended on them, not on the inherent superiority of pure varietal wines. And I'm happy to report that Oregon winemakers are starting to experiment more with higher quality blended reds -- with pleasing results. Some of the better results come from Cab-Merlot blends and Syrah-based blends, as well as more complex and esoteric blends.
Two of my favorites are Girardet Winery's Grande Rouge and Bergstrom's Red (how straightforward is that? Nice, huh?). The Bergstrom is a marvelous, full-bodied wine, both drier and bolder than the usual demure pinot noirs for which Oregon is known. It also has more oak flavor to it, and pairs well with steak and beef. The Girardet Grande Rouge is also dry, but not as in-your-face as the Bergstrom, and finds a middle ground between fuller-bodied wines and the softness of Pinot Noir. It went well with salmon last night, but I'd also not hesitate to pair it with Italian food or beef. And the best part? It'll st you back about $7 a bottle.
All in all, I'm encouraged by the new blended reds. I'm also interested, bemused, and at times amused by the names the winemakers come up for for these blended wines. One winery names them all after members of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Appropriate, given the adventurous spirit this new trend reflects.
Are you ready to join the Corps of Discovery?