Blending in!
Some of the greatest wines on the planet are blends
© by April Eichmeier

Some time ago, especially in the United States, consumers began to believe that wines made from more than one grape were inferior to single-grape ("100 percent varietal") wines.

It's time to reconsider.

Think of it this way: If you're a painter, and you only have one color to work with, you can still make a beautiful painting. But if you have two, or three, or 13 colors from which to chose, you have far more possibilities. Black contrasts with white. Yellow softens the coolness in a blue painting.

Blended wines are like that: When winemakers blend, different grape characteristics can be enhanced or muted. And when winemakers blend grapes together, they are able to create different effects.

For example, Cabernet has certain characteristics - blackcurrant or black cherry flavors, often with heavy tannins. Wine makers can soften those characteristics and add another flavor influence, like Merlot's plummy flavor and relatively soft texture. On the white wine side, you have Sauvignon Blanc, with its lean acidity and grassy or citric flavors, balanced and lent complexity with the subtle lemon and pear flavors and richer texture of Semillon.

Here is an overview of blends - I hope you're inspired to try!

Classic blends

The examples are many. Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a classic wine of the Southern Rhone, can be a blend of up to 13 grapes, usually with Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre dominating. Bordeaux built its reputation on the skillful blending of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and a handful of other grapes. Champagne (the real stuff!) is often a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sometimes the less familiar Pinot Meunier. Winemakers in Rioja - one of Spain's flagship wine regions - start with Tempranillo, but often add Grenache (or in Spanish, Garnacha) and occasionally less traditional grapes, even Cabernet, to reach their desired flavor profile.

On that note, some grapes are intended primarily for blending. For example, Cabernet Franc is allowed in the Bordeaux blend. You will occasionally see it on its own, but it is traditionally a blending grape. (Until modern times, by the way, even Merlot was primarily used in blends and rarely as a "monovarietal.")

New blends

In France and Italy, especially, the best vineyards in the traditional wine regions are limited by laws that govern which grape varieties may be grown and which varieties are permitted in blends. Wines that fail to meet these criteria don't qualify for "Controlled Appellation" status such as "Bordeaux," "Bourgogne" ("Burgundy") or "Chateauneuf-du-Pape." Traditionally, grapes and wines from different regions are not mixed.

But winemakers in the New World - especially in Australia - have been shaking up the concept of what goes together. For example, they're mixing Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux) and Shiraz (Rhone Syrah) in red blends, and Semillon (Bordeaux) and Chardonnay (Burgundy) in whites. In Italy, rebel wine makers virtually overturned the old order by insisting on mixing Cabernet or Merlot in with Sangiovese to make "Super Tuscans" in the ancient Chianti region.

Hidden blends

It's not highly advertised, but many varietally labeled wines are actually hidden blends. Laws vary, but in most U.S. states, a wine may contain up to 25 percent of another grape variety without having to disclose this on the label.

A few recommendations

Making recommendations is difficult because there are so many wines to choose from. Here are a few I like at varied price points. Don't hesitate to visit your favorite wine store and ask for recommendations and advice.

REDS

2004 Chateau La Bourree Cotes de Castillon (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec), Bordeaux, France. Around $13.

2005 Borsao Campo de Borja (Grenache and Tempranillo), Spain. Around $10.

2005 Marquis Phillips, "Sarah's Blend" (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc), Australia. Around $15.

WHITES

2003 Chateaux Magneau Graves Blanc Cuvee Julien (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon), Bordeaux, France. Around $16.

2004 Lindemans Bin 70 (Chardonnay and Riesling), Australia. Around $10.

2005 Qupé Bien Nacido Cuvee White Wine, (Chardonnay and Viognier), California. Around $18.

RED AND WHITE BLEND

2004 Creed the Pretty Miss (Shiraz, Cab Franc and Viognier), Australia. Around $20.

February 2007

To contact April Eichmeier, write her at aeichmeier@hotmail.com.

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