Over the holidays, my mother in law asked me to provide the wine for a family dinner. I selected a blend – Cabernet, Malbec and Shiraz from Australia. She wrinkled her nose and said, “I don’t trust blends. Doesn’t it mean they’re doing something wrong?”
“You like Bordeaux, don’t you?” I asked.
“Bordeaux is a grape, isn’t it?” she replied.
And thus this article was born.
Let’s start first with the misconception that blends are bad. Blending is simply one of the tools at the winemaker’s disposal to make a wine the best it can be.
For example, a winemaker may use blending to enhance a wine’s aroma or improve its color. This technique can help balance a wine’s acidity, tannins or alcohol levels. Blending also adds complexity to the wine’s flavors and textures.
Bear in mind, too, that a “blend” can be anything from, for example, 5% Merlot to 95% Cabernet, to a 20-varietal cuvee in which none dominates.
As further proof of the value of blending, consider non-vintage Champagne. Consumers expect- and the winemaker strives to create – a bottle of NV Veuve Clicquot or Moet & Chandon that tastes the same year after year.
|Bottles of Champagne,
ready for assemblage.
To accomplish this, the winemaker must sniff and taste through not just the lots of wine from the current vintage but also from their vast library of reserve wines, which change each year in the cellar. Then they take these different wines – which can number well into the hundreds – and assemble them into the familiar cuvee. That’s art.
Given that European wines are labeled by place of origin and American wines tend to put the grapes on the label (but know that a wine labeled “Chardonnay” legally needs to be only 75% Chardonnay), a little confusion about what grapes are actually in the bottle is understandable.
To help you better navigate the shelves, here is a list of common wine blends and the varietals contained therein:
Five grapes are allowed in these wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. Cabernet and Merlot tend to dominate these blends; the latter three grapes generally appear in small percentages, if at all.
|The 2005 vintage was 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and the balance
Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.
Wines from the left bank (including Pauillac, Médoc, Margaux and St.-Estèphe), are generally Cabernet-based while right bank wines (such as St.-Émilion and Pomerol) typically have more Merlot in them.
Wines from this part of Italy’s Tuscany region are all based on the Sangiovese grape – it must make up at least 75% of the blend. The wine can also be up to 10% Canaiolo, a native red grape, and up to 20% of other approved varietals.
Though from Tuscany, these wines were created to sidestep regulations dictating grape percentages. When the first ones appeared in the early 1970s, Chianti had a poor reputation, and winemakers felt they could do better by crafting wines with French varietals.
Sangiovese may or may not be in the blend. Sassicaia, for example, is Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, while Tignanello blends Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Typically seen on Australian wine bottles, GSM stands for
Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre, the three grapes that go
into these wines.
Southern Rhône/Châteauneuf du Pape
This is the ancestral home of the Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre blend. Wines from the southern appellations (including Côtes du Rhone, Châteaunuf du Pape and Gigondas) are almost always blends of these three grapes. Two other varietals, Carignan and Cinsault, also are allowed in the wines.
This designation – it rhymes with “heritage” – was created by winemakers in Napa to describe a Bordeaux-style blend. It is licensed by the California-based Meritage Alliance, and only wines meeting certain criteria may use the term.
And last but not least…Champagne
Both vintage and non-vintage Champagne may use a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the cuvee.
Bubbly labeled Blanc de Blancs is crafted exclusively from Chardonnay, and Blanc de Noirs may have either Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or both, in the blend.