One of the signs that people aren’t quite sure of themselves around wine is if they dismiss blended wines — that is, wines made with more than one grape — as inferior. In fact, many wines are blended, and that includes some of the most expensive and famous wines in the world, like high-end red Bordeaux, which are always blends, and Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon, which will often have a couple of percent of something else added.
Why do winemakers blend? For the same reason chefs do — they’re looking for different flavors and appearance. A wine that is 100 percent cabernet, for example, may be too tannic, so the winemaker will add a little merlot to soften the wine a touch.
One of the best ways to experiment with blends is to start with inexpensive wines that include a grape you’re familiar with. These will give you a good idea how blended wines differ from those made with just one kind of grape.
• Osborne Solaz shiraz tempranillo ($10): Most of us know shiraz from the manly Australian version. This is much less harsh and much more food-friendly — think burgers and pizza.
• Llano Estacado Melange ($11): Currently, the worst name I know of for a wine, but a winner — literally, with a gold medal at this year’s San Antonio competition. It’s a mix of five grapes typical of southern France, which produces a fruity, dry and easy-to-drink wine. It’s ideal for Texas barbecue.
• Altano Douro ($10). This Portuguese red blend is made with grapes most of us have never heard of, but it makes a jammy, red berry fruit wine with decent tannins. It’s a meatloaf wine, and will also go with red sauces.
Ask the Wine Guy
Q. What does varietal mean?
A. A varietal is the grape used to make the wine. Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are varietals. Red blends have more than one varietal in them.
WITH YOUR WINE
There are probably as many meatloaf recipes as there are cornbread recipes, for it’s something that lends itself to infinite variation. I’ve seen high-end loaves, and even Julia Child did one (incredibly complicated). This version, which is a combination of about a half dozen I’ve worked with over the years, remains moist yet firm — not always easy to do. The secret is fresh, not packaged, bread crumbs. And no, it doesn’t have tomato sauce on the top.
Serves 6-8, takes about 1 hour
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (put two or three slices of good-quality bread in a food processor)
1/2 cup milk
2 pounds ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1 onion, chopped finely
1 small carrot, chopped finely
1 small stalk celery, chopped finely
1 tsp dried herbs — sage, rosemary, thyme or oregano or a combination
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Soak the bread crumbs in the milk until the milk is absorbed, about five minutes.
2. In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together. Shape into a loaf in a baking pan lined with parchment paper.
3. Bake 45-60 minutes, basting with the fat and juice that runs off. When the loaf is done, it will be lightly browned and firm, and should register 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer.
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