The more grapes the merrier
Special to the Sun
Not too long ago, California wine makers’ main aim was to produce single varietal wines, taking pride in labeling those wines by the type of grape used to produce it. Quite different from their French counter-parts, who labeled their wines after the region the grapes were produced in.
The French realized long ago that blending grapes together would create a finished wine that had better flavors, aromas, and mouth feel, than if that wine was produced from a single grape type. Today, New World wine producers have found that by blending certain grapes together they can improve on the finished wine, creating more desirable flavors, aromas and complexity than a single varietal wine would have.
In addition to creating tasty wines, another reason wine makers will make a blend is to save money. Cabernet grapes from the Napa Valley were selling for more than $4,700 per ton last year. By adding one or more less costly varietals to the blend, that expensive Cabernet juice will fill more bottles. Federal law allows up to 25 percent of blended wine to be added without naming that wine on the label.
So be aware, not all wines labeled as a single varietal are truly produced from that one grape, if it doesn’t read 100 percent on the label, you have an un-named blend added to that bottle.
There are a number of types of blending efforts a wine maker may choose to use. There is a field blend, which is wine that is produced from vineyards that have been planted with two or more types of grapes that will be harvested and fermented together to produce a blended wine. Ridge Vineyard’s Monte Bello Cabernet is an example of a quality field blend.
Finishing blends are the wine makers’ alchemy efforts used to create a perfect wine. Most of the wines produced in California will have had different varietals added to it to soften out tannins, extend the finish, add complexity, or to exemplify certain characteristics of the major grape that is in the blend. The great wines from Bordeaux are created by finishing blending.
In your search for a blended wine there are some basic styles to look for. Most all the wines produced in the French Bordeaux region are blended wines, from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Carmenere. White grapes from this region are Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadelle, and the lesser known, and almost never used in New World white blends, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondenc and Mauzac.
So wines that are labeled a Bordeaux blend will be made up of some of these grapes, in California Bordeaux Blends are also called Meritage, it rhymes with Heritage. Classic California Bordeaux blends are Opus One, Cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petite verdot.
Other wine makers are blending wines using traditional blending grapes from other old world wine regions as well. Rhone Blends are another new world blending styles, using grapes which originated in the Rhone region of France.
Red grapes fro Rhone blends include Grenache, Mouvedre, Syrah, Cinsault, Petirte sirah, carignan. counoise, in any amount depending on the wine-maker’s aim, the predominate red grapes used though, are Grenache, Mouvedre, and Syrah. Hedges Vineyards in Washington makes an exceptional, reasonably priced Rhone blend, aptly named GMS.
Super Tuscans are also on the rise in popularity. These blends first appeared in the 1970s, made by renegade Italian wine makers. These wine makers went against Italian wine laws and created interesting blends by breaking tradition and adding Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, or Syrah, to the traditional base wine of Sangiovese. Wines labeled as Super Tuscan blends will have some of these varietals as their make up.
Some other blends you find in the marketplace, are made by the whim of the wine maker, and there are not any traditional ties to the formula used, making for some interesting blends that would have been unheard of 10 years ago. Syrah-Zinfandels are one of those blends, Stephen Vincent, a California winery, produces Crimson, which is 75 percent Syrah and 25 percent Zinfandel, an unheard of blending a few short years ago. Or the wine maker may choose any number of unusual combining of grapes to create an interesting wine, that who would have guessed blends together wonderfully, creating a wine that has a great flavor and aroma profile. Good luck exploring some of the fantastic blends out there; you will surely find some tasty wines.
Janice Jones is a Truckee resident and wine consultant. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org