Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Thousand Flowers

The vast majority of wines, whether you know it or not, are blended. Blending is a celebrated success in Bordeaux. But most Americans, I suspect, remain unaware that the varietal they enjoy from California, for example, must contain only 75 percent of the grape identified on the label.

There are, however, well-known exceptions. Many of the meritages from California are rich and delicious new world examples of the classic red Bordeaux blend. In the world of whites, there are some famous examples of chardonnay blends, like Conundrum.

Unfortunately, I've never been able to get my arms around this particular wine. I know Conundrum gets good ratings and many people love it, but I've always found it to be a bit muddled. Maybe it's my own peculiar tastes at work. But I always felt like the chardonnay was battling, rather than integrating, the other varietals for dominance.

Fortunately, the folks at Hop Kiln in Sonoma County have found the right formula to tickle my palate. They make a blend of chardonnay (38%), gewurztraminer (27%), riesling (22%), and sauvignon blanc (13%) that's called A Thousand Flowers. And, it sells for only $13 a bottle.

Some friends of mine discovered this intensely floral wine a few years ago while touring Sonoma County. They shipped some home and then introduced us to this great find. I was captivated but resigned to the probability that, as an east-coaster, I probably wouldn't see this wine again for years to come. I'm delighted to say that I was wrong. Hop Kiln wines, including some terrific zinfandels, have been available in Connecticut stores for at least a year now.

The Thousand Flowers remains a favorite. The 2004 has aromas that are lush with flowers and tropical fruit and apples, so much so that you expect to encounter sweetness with the first taste. But, instead, this unique wine achieves a nice balance, like a fine Alsatian. While the chardonnay contributes a nice richness, I think it's the gewurztraminer and to a lesser extent the riesling that carry the day here. That's probably why I like it so much -- it does not taste like a confused chardonnay.

Do yourself a favor and give Thousand Flowers a whirl. It's such a wonderful break from vinous routine at a pretty terrific price.


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