Wine blends are all around us

You could call it “Group Love” – or, more appropriately, “Grape Love.” If you look on the shelves of a liquor store or wine shop, it seems wines are a lot less monogamous when it comes to the grape varieties inside. While wine purists may think it is sacrilege, blending is indeed gaining traction.

The wine industry’s secret

We’ll let you in on a dirty little wine industry secret: most wine is in fact a blend. As a general labelling rule, wine must be 85% of the varietal that is stated on the front label. This means a Cabernet Savignon from California may include up to 15% other grape varieties and it likely has been blended with at least one other grape variety, but probably more.

The California wine industry didn’t invent the blend!

It’s like these Californians think they invented blending! Sorry to say, but the Europeans popularized blends many years ago. The truth is, some of the most iconic wine styles in the world are made from blending various grape varieties. Champagne, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Bordeaux and Amarone are among the most notable.

Amarone combines Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella grapes. Corvina is the backbone, but the latter grapes bring a fleshy and fruity characteristic to the finished product. The grapes are dried on straw mats resulting in a raisining of the grapes to create a style that is dry but rich in flavour and full body.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a region in Southern Rhone of France may use up to 13 approved grape varieties. Among them are Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre. These wines have the ability to age but are also great to drink earlier thanks to the complementary flavours of the grapes selected.

Champagne combines Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (a red grape) to produce some of the finest sparkling wine in the world. Most Champagne is white sparkling in spite of the fact that two of the grapes are red.

Bordeaux can blends up to 6 grapes for their red wines. Generally, Right Bank Bordeaux is Merlot dominant and Left Bank is usually predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, with Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere making up the rest of the blend.

Are blends that boast multiple varieties a trend?

Many modern winemakers are following the blend trend of Old World wine regions. They are looking to produce house-style wines that are consistently reliable from year to year.

Blending of different varieties takes skill and there are often multiple winemakers working together to perfect the art. Each of the selected grape varieties contributes a distinct personality to the mix. A blend may even involve a mix of wines from different vineyards that were created separately then blended to make the final wine. In the New World wine regions, a blend can consist of wines from different regions or sub-regions. Each regional wine again brings its own personality to the party, creating a dynamic wine style.

There are also advantages to blending from a production standpoint. Blends are a great way to work with varieties that bud earlier in the season and ones that achieve optimal ripeness later on. Magical seasons where everything happens on schedule are rare. This is why the early budding Merlot is often blended with the late budding Cabernet Sauvignon. The ripe fruit flavours from the Merlot can balance out the masculine tannins and green characters that a not so ripe Cabernet can express in a cool summer.

In the end, blends represent the creativity and style that a winemaker and their team wish to express – as they explore exciting new flavours, aromas, and sensations.


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Co-authors: Mike Roberts and Tracy-Lynne MacLellan