I remember way back when hearing that blended wines (wines with more than one grape) were always inferior. The good news is this is not true. A Bordeaux blend or a Rhone blend will quickly tell you that. But last night, at my business school reunion at a bar in Berkeley, CA, I tasted a Syrah blend that was incredibly disappointing. That prompted me to write an article about blended wines.
Why Do Winemakers Blend Wines?
From a historical perspective, Nuvo Magazine tells us that “Over the long history of wine, right up to the 20th century, blended wines were the rule because instead of grape varieties being planted in separate vineyards and parcels, as they are now, vines were often planted randomly, largely because grape varieties were not reliably identified until the 1800s.” This is the reason that the Bordeaux region of France is known for its blends. It’s probably the reason that Rhone is also known for its blends.
From a wine-tasting perspective, JNWine shares that “All grape varieties have their own distinct characteristics, and when blended together successfully, they can produce a well-rounded, harmonious wine. Take Côtes du Rhône red wine for example, it is commonly made up of 3 key varieties – Grenache which provides juicy, ripe, red fruit, and is quite low in tannin; Syrah lends darker fruit, spice and plenty of body; and the final key component is Mourvèdre which gives structure and ageing potential in the form of its bountiful tannins. A good winemaker will be able to use each variety to its best potential, work out the right balance of each, and bring these together in the final blend.”
Are Blended Wines Better than Single Varietals?
When I was growing up, red wine blends were sold by the jug as “Red Wine” or “Table Wine.” These were inexpensive wines that were blends of grapes, vineyards and sometimes even vintages (different years of grapes). Thankfully, virtually all of that has gone away. Now, blends are highly sought after. But are they better than a single varietal? Are they worse?
Truth be told, both blends and single varietals are good – or should I say great!
It’s important to note that some grapes don’t do well in blends. Pinot Noir is a perfect example. While the grape is blended beautifully in Champagne and Sparkling Wine, it is rarely blended in a still wine. According to Dr. Vinny of Wine Spectator, “Pinot Noir is about balance and a sense of place…, and blending doesn’t help achieve these goals.”
Some grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, do well as single varietals and as blends. As the consumer, you get to choose what you’re in the mood for when choosing a glass or a bottle.
Do you have a preference for blended wines or single varietals? Do you have any favorites?