Duckhorn Vineyards made a name for itself in the late 1970s by producing an exceptional wine from merlot, a grape considered at that time best suited for blending.
Dan Duckhorn had worked in vineyard consulting and vineyard management for years and had learned that certain grapes grew better in certain sites, which is why he and his partners focused on merlot and cabernet sauvignon in the Napa Valley. Duckhorn still produces some of California’s best merlots. But, not content to rest on his laurels, he took another innovative step by making a red wine, Paraduxx, from a blend of cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel, a uniquely California grape.
Blending wines made from different grapes is nothing new. Red Bordeaux is a blend made from cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and malbec. Making a blended wine in Bordeaux probably originated as an insurance policy to take advantage of the different growth cycles of the vines. In Bordeaux, merlot flowers and ripens two weeks before cabernet sauvignon. As a result, a spring frost would damage only part of the crop (merlot) since the cabernet wouldn’t have flowered yet. Similarly, autumn rains would harm only cabernet.
But California winemakers don’t need an insurance policy against the weather. Duckhorn felt he could make a distinctive wine by blending Bordeaux grapes and zinfandel. And he has.
The first Paraduxx, the 1994, was a third zinfandel, a third merlot, and a third split between cabernet sauvignon and petit sirah. Over the years the blend has evolved and currently is about two-thirds to three-quarters zinfandel and the rest cabernet, sometimes with a little merlot. It’s a blend that works. The 2002 Paraduxx (about $50) is an exuberant wine, ripe and robust. It’s sure to please when you fire up the grill.
Paraduxx is distributed by Martignetti Cos., 800-872-9463.
May 19, 2005.