My “Blended Wines vs. Varietal Wines” article generated great comments on LinkedIn that I am pleased to share with you. I really value all of the insightful comments, and I hope that they will generate still more comments.
Dan’s comments: A little over a year ago, my wife and I took a hiatus from our snobbery for pinot noir and tried a meritage, specifically a blend of two cabs and a merlot …We were delightfully surprised at not only how complex, palatable, and creamy it was…, but at $10/bottle, it was hard to beat. At our next wine party, we offered tastings to around 40 guests, and it beat most of our best varietals running twice the price! Cheers!
Betty’s response: Dan, congratulations on giving up your “snobbery.” Bordeaux blends (known as Meritages in the “New World”) can be pretty incredible. When you can find one for $10, that is hard to beat.
Terrence’s comments: I’m a big fan of blended wines, Rhone style blends in particular. Varietal wines can offer purity but blends in general can give great complexity. Thinking about my favorite red blend, the so called GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre); this combination truly transcends the individual varietals. Grenache provides elegant and bright red berry character, the syrah often adds a rich smoky-meaty character and the mourvedre gives the wine deep grounded earthiness – a gamy contemplative savory character. There are just more variables in blends.
Betty’s response: Terrence, your description of GSM is wonderful. I don’t think I’ve heard such a good description before. It makes me want to drink one right now. I also love your statement that the combination “truly transcends the individual varietals.”
Julie’s comments: I work in a winery in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, a region known for its Rhone style blends. I am amazed by the number of people who come into our tasting room and exclaim, “Oh, you only have blends. Obviously your wine is not very good!” To our way of thinking, the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The wines have so much more complexity than the individual varieties, as they each contribute so many interesting flavours. The wines are well balanced and develop more complexity as we get closer to the bottom of the bottle. (Then again, these people who make this comment also ask how much Cabernet is blended with the Sauvignon!)
Betty’s response: Julie, I just love what you wrote. I feel sorry for those poor people who miss out on blends because of their biases. Like Terrence, you said it perfectly – “the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.” My favorite line is how much Cabernet is blended with the Sauvignon. That is classic. Thank you!
David’s comments: I prefer apples to pears but I would never blend Cabernet with Sauvignon 😉 I find it odd that varietals are considered better then blended wines, if anything I think it´s more logical that blended wines are better, for example where I live, around the Priorat you very rarely see a 100% red Grenache for the simple reason it´s better blended, usually with Carinena (also known as Samso and endless other names).
Betty’s response: David, I love your response to Julie. That’s great. I guess purists will be purists will be purists. Some people think it’s better to eat the individual ingredients of a peanut butter cookie than to eat a peanut butter cookie. Go figure.
Stephen’s comments: Many “pure” wines are not 100% pure, but are actually blends. In the US, a typical requirement for labeling a varietal is 75%. However, many wines that are actually made from 100% pure varietals are still blended. There’s a whole cult around which “clones” of pinot noir are blended in many of the higher end wines. Likewise a 100% varietal producer may blend grapes from different “blocks” of a vineyard, different vineyards, and even different appellations. The more variable the climate, the more likely that the best wines are blends. This has led to a prejudice, that is occasionally true, that a blend is an attempt to rescue an inferior harvest. Consumers value consistency, e.g., McDonalds, so they are drawn to wines that are consistent. Look up the history of Champagne.
Betty’s response: Stephen, great comments about clones and blends hiding out as varietals. Regarding people’s negative view that blends are an attempt to rescue an inferior harvest, if the end result is a superior wine, we’ll take it!
I’d love to hear any additional comments you have about blended vs. varietal wines.