It’s hard not to worry at least a little bit about the potential for wineries to choose big-box consistency over individual personality these days. Is it better to use tricks of the trade to help make a wine taste exactly the same way year after year, lulling consumers with ho-hum homogeneity? Or is it worth it for a winemaker to rise to the challenge of the sometimes rough-and-tumble choice of finding the unique expression of not just a grape, but that irreplaceable combination of a place, a patch of land, a vintage— weather be damned!—to form and shape what a particular wine will become?
To Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters, the answer is always the latter. For him, the magic really lies in the mix. Or the mosaic, as the case may be.
“We are thoroughly interested and obsessed with blending,” Tracy says. “All wines are blended wines of some sort, even varietal chardonnays from California or Burgundy, in some sense—they’re blends of barrels or plots or certain vineyards, or whatever it may be.” But it was the concept of field blends—the planting of several different varietals on the same plot, followed by harvesting, pressing and fermenting them together (which, Tracy points out, is a winemaking practice dating back to ancient Egypt), that brought to fruition his Mosaico, a beautiful blend of chardonnay, pinot grigio, muscat ottonel, tocai Friulano, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc.
“Mosaico is a field blend, but there’s a twist in the bottling. Everything is harvested together and planted in the same vineyard. When we pick it and we bring everything up to the crush pad, we put everything into the press, but we also take some of that muscat out and ferment it on its skins like a red wine.” The muscat then goes into new Slovenian oak barrels for fermentation, says Tracy, while the rest ferments in stainless steel. Later, the muscat is blended back in, giving the wine an exotic, fruity, deep complexity.
In part inspired by the field blends of modern-day wine maverick and vin du terroir proponent Jean-Michel Deiss in Alsace (whom Decanter magazine profiled and lauded in its July issue, noting Channing Daughters’s field-blend success as part of Deiss’s far-reaching influence), Tracy wanted to foster an expression of one particular place—in this instance, 4 acres of the Sylvanus vineyard on the western part of the estate in Bridgehampton.
“[Mosaico] was done because we made a bit of a mistake beforehand,” Tracy explains. “We had planted that block to dolcetto.” It didn’t work, he says, because dolcetto is a Piedmontese varietal that thrives in the dry climate of northwestern Italy. Northeastern varieties, like lagrien and tocai Friulano, worked out well. “We had been working with this Sylvanus plot and making the Sylvanus field blend and having wonderful success, and loving the differentiation of style with the blending philosophy. So, we ripped out that entire block of dolcetto and replanted it specifically for the varieties of this wine. It really was a blend from conception.”
The first vintage of Mosaico was 2006—a success story that is still filling glasses at restaurants like the Modern in Manhattan. But it’s the 2007 (“which was just a brilliant year,” says Tracy of the growing conditions), released in May of this year, that proved Tracy’s field of dreams to be more than happenstance. A glass of the Mosaico 2007 fills your nose with lusty tropical fruit and, after a moment or so, ripe, luscious Anjou pears. On the palate, there’s a little nuttiness and something akin to a baking spice like nutmeg—that’s the telltale sign of the Slovenian oak. Its nice, medium acidity keeps it bright and balanced, and makes it an incredibly versatile bottle for the dinner table. “It’s a great, fresh aromatic wine that you can use with light, acidic vegetable [dishes] or shellfish, but then you can also take into birds, chicken, pork, veal because it has some of those other flavors that those foods will really bring out, too. That’s the great thing about these symphonic wine blends.”
I put Tracy’s theory to the test and tried it with lobster at Jimmy Hayward’s casual BYOB eatery on Shelter Island, Commander Cody’s, which also specializes in Southern-style ribs. It sang with the lobster—the sweet, luscious meat complementing the bold but balanced fruit flavors, while its good acidity cut right through the butter. But as nice as that pairing was, I couldn’t help but think I’d like to go back and give the ’07 Mosaico a go with those ribs, too.