Into the white

Classy blends from California

By Mike Rosenberg

Photo:Franciscan Estate’s white blend, Equilibrium


This is a really good wine if you want to impress people. It would be great if you’re serving a nice brunch – or if you’re opening it up for the first bottle
of girls’ night.  –
The Sweet Partner in Crime on Equilibrium


I remember a conversation I had at a conference in the days well before I knew much of anything about wine. The woman I was speaking with (whose name and face are long-lost in my dusty, ethanol-laden synapses) was waxing rhapsodic about her favorite white wine – a white wine from California called Conundrum. The wine’s name was a reflection of its several-grape blend. I filed that nugget away.

A couple of years later, I met a very attractive professor at the University of Kentucky who agreed, in a stunning lapse of judgment, to let me cook dinner for her. I made a shrimp and scallop curry that night, and I’d splurged on a bottle of this Conundrum stuff. This wine tasted like nothing my unpracticed palate had run into before – very fruity, a little sweet without being heavy, and super-easy to drink. I also remember it as a great pairing with the curry. The attractive professor is better known to all of you as the Sweet Partner in Crime, and during the early days of our relationship, Conundrum was our “special occasion” wine.

What does all that have to do with the sample of Franciscan Estates 2012 Equilibrium Napa Valley White Wine from Folsom & Associates that showed up on my doorstep?

While white wines sourced from a number of different grapes certainly aren’t a new thing, they were reasonably rare in American winemaking. These “field blends” tended to be inexpensive wines made from whatever was left over after making the “premiums.” Conundrum was one of the first mainstream California wines to marry the tart acidity of sauvignon blanc, the body of chardonnay and the sweet fruit of sauvignon blanc – and a few other grapes – in one bottle in a manner that suggested high quality.

Equilibrium, to me, represents a step forward with these sorts of wines. As my palate became more experienced, I found myself liking wines like Conundrum less. It seemed a bit overly heavy. Similar wines started appearing, many of which simply weren’t very good. (They were usually much too sweet or tasted like they were artificially “thickened.”) Equilibrium, on the contrary, is quite nice.
It’s a blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and muscat. The nose is grapefruity like a sauvignon, but with a light undertone of flowers. The first taste gave me more grapefruit, melon and nectarine. It’s medium-bodied and fresh. The finish is very fruity. I expected a sweetness like honey or sugar at the end, but there’s none of that. Instead, there’s a lingering peach flavor that’s extremely pleasant – very nice to sip on its own.

For dinner that night, in a lucky coincidence, I was making shrimp curry. (Seriously, I didn’t plan it that way.) I was very impressed. The label recommends “BBQ and Asian cuisines” – so I thought, “Hey, close enough!” It went delightfully. The very prominent fruit flavors of the wine were strong enough to shine through the curry spices, both cooling the heat a bit and complementing the meal well.

A really nice effort, Equilibrium retails for around $23. Good first-bottle-of-the-night wine, especially if you’re following the SPinC’s advice above.

Still, for the sake of full disclosure, I was largely going from my memory of Conundrum’s flavor. Since I hadn’t had a bottle of it in years, I thought it would be a good idea to return to the scene of the … crime.

The wine is a proprietary blend of up to 11 different grapes, but it always includes chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, semillon, muscat canelli and viognier. The blend changes each year depending on climate and harvest conditions. Conundrum also produces a red wine, which is another “nontraditional” blend of red grapes. (My guess, however, knowing Caymus and reading the tasting notes, would be that it’s largely zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, perhaps with some pinot noir thrown in.)

I was relieved that my memory was still pretty good. The Conundrum 2011 White Wine is still a hefty white. The nose is very floral and the body substantial from the viognier. The chardonnay gives it a green apple-dominant flavor, along with some citrus and a honey-like sweetness. It’s a fairly complex wine. There’s enough acidity to keep it from being too sweet, although the honey and apple hang around on the finish. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d slipped some riesling into the mix because it really reminded me of some of those flavors. For a food pairing, rich fish or chicken dishes or Asian spicy flavors work well.

If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing wine that’s a little higher end, it’s a solid choice. The Conundrum did illustrate how much my palate has changed over the years. Before I’d explored much wine, I really liked how full flavored this wine was. Trying it now, it’s actually a little heavy for my palate. I usually prefer my whites a little bit crisper.  My vote for these similar white California blends would still be for the Equilibrium.

Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at


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Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at or visit his blog at

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