In my first article, I covered the major species of grapes grown across the world and the trend of increasing use of Vitis Vinifera grape varietals in East Coast states. This week, I want to cover a topic that is often misunderstood by the wider community. That topic is the importance of blending wine.
I’m fortunate enough to work in one of the most beautiful tasting rooms in Healdsburg, CA. I can’t tell you how many people come into the tasting room and demand to know why such a fine establishment would dare serve their customers a blend, as if the very word is a curse. I explain, patiently, that some of the best and most world-renowned wines are blends; that blending grapes allows the winemaker greater control over the final product by picking and choosing from grapes that naturally compliment each other.
Imagine a wine made of 100% Merlot. I’m sure you’ve tasted one. It doesn’t have a lot of complexity, for, though it may be an absolutely pleasant wine to drink, the grape itself doesn’t have a lot of complexity to begin with. Now imagine a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Big, rich, dense, full of flavor, but no subtlety. But imagine a blend of the two. Let’s call it 60% Cabernet, 40% Merlot. All of a sudden, you have a Cabernet that has a particular softness to it, the tannins are lighter, the fruit flavors easier to stomach, the alcohol reduced. In England, such a wine is called a Claret. In America, a Meritage.
Of course, I know the issue stems from what we, in this country specifically, are taught about blends. Most people assume blending cheapens a wine; that winemakers resort to blending when they run out of a grape and don’t have enough to meet demands; that all blended wines are of the same quality as, say, a “Burgundy” jug wine.
If you’re a casual wine drinker, you may be unfamiliar with a commune called Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The commune, part of the Cote d’Azure region of France, produces some of the most prestigious and noteworthy blended wines in the world. The reason for their noteworthiness is that the blend is typically created from between thirteen to eighteen grapes in one blend! While the highest percentage of the wine is usually Grenache Noir (though occasion has it that Mourvedre takes over the blend), blends can be comprised of Syrah, Cinsaut, Counoise, Piquepoul Blanc, and Rousanne, to name a few.
And while it is possible to pick up inexpensive bottles of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (and I would highly recommend these bottles, too!), the blending process does nothing to cheapen the wine. Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the better-known, higher-quality Chateauneuf-du-Pape wineries, sells for upwards of $250 per bottle in the better vintages.
To sum up, just as the old adage goes “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, so should you never judge a wine by its blend. Instead, learn about it, drink it, and enjoy it.