The Truth about Wine Blends – Are they Any Good?

There are basically two kinds of wine in the world, single varietal and blends. One can even argue that many “single varietal” wines are in fact blends, as many are produced using grapes from different locations within the vineyards, and in many cases, grapes from another vineyard in a different region. The bottom line is that the Vintner is endeavoring to produce the perfect balance of all the peak flavors, to produce the desired results, a perfect wine.

It is the blending process that brings you such elegance in flavor from that awesome French Bordeaux you have recently enjoyed. To produce such elegance in flavor, the blending of the wines was performed just at the peak moment when the wine was placed in the oak casks for aging. The reason one would perform the blending before transferring to casks, is to allow the different varietals to date before the marriage.

One rule of the world of wine blending is that you never add a bad wine to a blend of good wines, for any reason. By such performance, you will only end up with a bad wine blend. The same runs true if you attempt to add a young unfinished wine to more mature grapes in a blend. The younger grapes will overpower the refined wine grapes with unnecessary roughness, acids and tannins. Another popular saying, and one that is true, blend a young wine with an old wine, and the end results is a young wine.

Something else you might want to understand is that different countries have different rules as far as what you can call a Single Varietal” wine, or when it needs to be called a blend. Take Argentina for instance, and the Malbec produced there. Even though there may be other varietal used to round out the Malbec grapes, as long as there is at least eighty-five percent Malbec grapes used, it is a Malbec, single varietal wine. With most European wines produced the percentage must be above eighty percent, and the United States seventy-five percent. Most vineyards will produce a small amount of Merlot, Malbec or Cabernet for the sole purpose of using it to blend in the flavors they are looking for.

We are seeing more and more wines in the Meritage classification of blends, however not many people really know what that means. Meritage is a wine that is produced in a Bordeaux style blend, produced using the vineyards finest grapes, and is limited to no more than 25,000 cases of that wine in a year. The Meritage Association must approve the wine, and find that it has been made of the same grapes as Bordeaux style blends are made. If you are wondering why they just can’t be called Bordeaux style wine, it’s the same as why only sparkling wine from Champagne Region of France can be called Champagne. The French have wrapped up that market as well with the name Bordeaux.

A great example of an excellent and quite approachable Meritage produced in the U.S. is Dry Creek Vineyards located in Healdsburg, California produces their 2008 Meritage, which received 91 Points from Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Winery VP Kim Stare Wallace is the Chairman of the U.S. Meritage Alliance.

Then you have your Rhône Style Blends from France, creating their delightful bouquets from Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and Mourvèdre grapes, mainly but not exclusively. Often you will hear a winemaker or serving staff at a winery explain that the wine you are about to taste is made in a “Rhône-Style.

A perfect example of a Rhone Style blend is from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles Wine Country, a region known for it’s Rhone Style wines. Their 2009 Tablas Creek Espirit de Beaucastes is a perfect example of a Rhône Style wine.

Next lets talk about the classification of Super Tuscan Blends, created back in the early 1970’s by a group of radical winemakers in Italy. This group decided to ignore the Italian “blending laws” and create their own blend of wines. They produced blends from Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot and Sangiovese. Consequently, the Italian authorities classified the Super Tuscan Blends as “table wine” until years later when they were given their own classification.

An excellent example of a Super Tuscan Blend can be found in a smaller winery, Apolloni Vineyards in Forest Grove, Oregon. Their new Conti di val Seriana is a limited release blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that will carry your spirit on a cloud to Tuscany.

Finally there are the Bordeaux Blends, a class of wine unto their own. Using only the following grapes must produce these. Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. These delicious and world famous blends are most often produced using only a few of these varietals, but in some cases can and do contain all. If any other grape varietal is used, the label cannot claim it to be a Boudreaux Blend.

There are many wineries outside Bordeaux, France making these blends. One such vineyard is producing some excellent blends in our neighbor’s to the north. I the South Okanagan Valley, BC, the Rustico Farm and Cellars has produced Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2009 2 Bench Red. A perfect blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a big, bold, meaty red and created in the true form of the Bordeaux Blend.

Now up to this point we have only talked of blending red grapes for wine. Now lets talk about the use of grapes in blending some of the worlds best white blends. Lets start with a white blend known throughout Europe for many years, the White Bordeaux, and you guessed it, from Bordeaux France. This particular blend is produced using Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, and in some cases Muscadelle to add some sweetness to the blend. Here in the United States, California specifically vintners are producing Rhône style blends from grapes including Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne and White Grenache.

Now your white Bordeaux’s come from France, as there isn’t much activity in the U.S. or elsewhere to make this fantastic wine. When at your local wine store, you will probably find this wine available anywhere from $10 to 100’s per bottle. My only guide is to say that as usual, you will sip what you pay for.

Also another white blend to keep an eye out for is the White Meritage, made from a blend of at least two of the grape varieties, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Sauvignon Vert. And then there are the White Rhône style blends, which are becoming quite a hit in the U.S. market.



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