Wine is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the world. Wine has been around for millennia, and people have always enjoyed its taste. Wine blends are a great way to experiment with different flavors, and this art form continues to grow in popularity.
What Is Wine Blending?
Wine blending is the act of mixing wines of different grape varieties, or wines released in different years. It seeks to produce a wine that has superior flavor and balance than its base ingredients.
Blending is widely used in the wine industry, and there are several world-class wines that have been blended.
Many excellent wines, whether from Rioja, Bordeaux, Champagne, California, South Africa, or Australia, thrive on blending. It's one of the reasons why some winemakers compare their cellar work to that of a Michelin-starred chef.
History Of Wine Blending
Blending of wines originated thousands of years ago. Back then, the purpose of mixed vineyards was because of natural disasters and calamities, and what mattered the most was a successful harvest.
Blending techniques nowadays are more flavor-centric, although the origin of blended wines has less to do with taste.
In reality, it was not until the 1800s that winemakers began blending different grape varietals for their distinctive flavor and aroma, and long after wine consumption and sommelier appreciation had become widespread.
Why It Started
The blending of wines of different varietals, particularly the Bordeaux blends that are now reproduced all over the world, was prompted by a need for reliability or to have produced wines every season.
Planting a variety of grapes served as an early kind of insurance for farmers against pests, war, as well as bad weather. This insurance policy was critical in Bordeaux region's cool, maritime climate, where early rains can prevent ripening and late springs can ruin a season before it even begins.
Due to the unpredictable weather patterns that make red grape ripening difficult, blends gave vintners with more consistent yields and wines. The five grapes allowed in the Bordeaux blend demand similar but not identical nutrients, so a winemaker may have more assurance by interplanting them.
Its Influence In Modern Blending
The process continues to this day, allowing the region to produce great wines in outstanding vintages and palatable wines even in unfavorable times.
In a chilly year, Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, may struggle to develop, leaving vintners with underripe, acidic, and tannic grapes. On the other hand, Cabernet Franc and Merlot require less heat and sun exposure to reach full ripeness. When combined, the three produce a delectable wine, with no fruit going to waste.
Blending completely ripe Cabernet Sauvignon with less ripe Merlot, on the other hand, both reduces Cabernet's high alcohol content and enhances Merlot's fruitiness. By including Petit Verdot and Malbec, two varietals with distinct aromas and perfect ripening circumstances, early Bordeaux growers and winemakers are more protected against potential disaster.
In Other Parts Of The World
The Bordelaise weren't the sole pioneers in the field of wine blending. Planting a variety of grapes was immensely popular across European agricultural regions, as it assured a consistent crop every season.
Chianti, Tuscany's Sangiovese-based red, is still a blend, with up to 20% non-Sangiovese allowed in the final product. The Rhône Valley's Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, crisp Italian white wines, Spanish Rioja, and Portugal's rich red wines have all been blended for generations.
Similarly, despite growing grapes in a new climate, most American vineyards were originally planted as field blends to ensure a strong harvest and wine in every vintage.
Interplanted vineyards were traditionally handpicked, crushed, and fermented together, allowing early winemakers less control over their wines' final flavor profiles than we have today. The balance of ripe and underripe grapes in field blends still provided balance, even if the flavors weren't as subtle and exquisite as today's blends.
Wine Blending Techniques
Vintners utilize several blending techniques to produce their most optimized wines. There are two types that we can distinguish:
- The first is blending of wines made from different grape varieties, which is done to combine their individual characteristics. An example is the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah wines, to give a light wine more body.
- The second most prevalent method of blending is to combine wines from various vintages. This procedure is advantageous for a variety of reasons, including reducing changes in taste and quality induced by changing weather conditions.
Producers of fortified wines, in particular, frequently utilize these two processes. They combine wines from various varietals and years to achieve the best possible result.
To be proficient in wine blending and make the best blends from the grapes available to them, winemakers need years of experience. They utilize two methods to discover the best wine combination: technical analysis and tasting.
The quantitatively measurable wine properties are the focus of the technical analysis, which includes: acidity, sweetness, and alcohol level. Tasting of the wine is done to assess certain characteristics of wine that are not quantitatively measurable like flavor, tannins, balance and complexity.
When Is Wine Blended?
Blending is usually done somewhere at the end of the production. The numerous grape varietals are grown, harvested, fermented, and aged separately. It's not uncommon for them to come from separate vineyards and not make contact until they've achieved their optimal flavor profile.
The winemaker will then evaluate (and taste) each one independently before deciding how to proceed. They combine the wine after choosing the best formula. The wine is ready to bottle soon after the blending is completed.
However, some vintners employ different procedures. There are instances where they blend their wines in the middle of the aging process or even ferment them together.
It Differs From Winery To Winery
These methods are neither superior nor inferior. What works best for a particular winery is determined by the winemaker's individual preferences and experiences. A few wineries begin the blending process even before the harvest. In the same area, they grow a lot of various varieties.
As a result, a Merlot vine may grow beside a Cabernet Franc vine. Because there is no limit to the number of varietals that can be planted in a vineyard, some winemakers plant dozens of different grapes. Even on the same lots, they mix red and white grapes.
Because of the diversity of plants used, it's safe to assume that mixing takes place in the vineyard. As a result, wine enthusiasts refer to this process as "field blending" and the resulting wines as "field blends."
At the same time, all of the grapes are collected and processed. The characteristics of the final wine are difficult to anticipate because they are dependent on the percentage of varietals used and their ripeness.
However, according to some wine experts, "field blends achieve a level of complexity, balance, and elegance that is very hard to achieve in blended wines."
Why Do Vintners Blend Wines?
Wine blending is a winemaking process that can be used for a variety of reasons to finalize a wine. The following are a few of the possible reasons:
- Establishing a signature style
- Consistency in vintage production
- Highlighting the terroir of the vineyard
- Increasing the favorable sensory attributes of a wine
- Reducing the wine's unfavorable characteristics
- Balancing the oaky flavors
- Changing the chemistry of a wine
- Keeping track of wine inventories
- Getting rid of problematic wines by blending
Establishing A Signature Style
The signature style and vintage consistency of a brand can be extremely crucial for its marketability and consumer trust. To create a signature style cuvee associated with their sparkling wines, several Champagne makers rely on blending.
While these aren't red wines, they do have their own distinct style. This is typically based on certain sensory or flavor traits that the winemaker finds appealing and influences important blending decisions.
These blending options help to reduce vintage-to-vintage variability as well as variation in farmer fruit supplies while improving brand consistency.
The same principle can be applied to red wines, that being said red wine grape varietals are used. Blending names like "Proprietor's Red" or "Winery's Name House Blend" can be used to symbolize signature blends.
Wines designated as blends allow the winemaker to create a wine with a similar character year after year while varying the wine grape varieties used every year.
Consistency In Vintage Production
In colder climate regions where vintage-to-vintage variability is common, blending might be a winemaker's best tool for improving vintage consistency. Winemakers have been able to achieve this process in a few different ways.
They can set aside prior vintage wines to blend into future wines. They can also buy bulk grapes, grape juice, or wine from warmer climates and blend it into each vintage in modest amounts.
While neither of these blending processes is optimal for expressing terroir in certain wine blends, they do offer chances to diversify a winery's product line and increase wine style variance associated with the brand.
Highlighting The Terroir Of The Vineyard
Blending, on the contrary, can be used to demonstrate and celebrate vintage variety, which is a natural part of the winemaking process.
Not only do these wines provide unique educational and marketing opportunities, but they may also be utilized to differentiate premium products within a brand and cater to wine connoisseurs or those who are more interested in vintage-to-vintage variances for a certain brand.
This method can also better portray the brand's terroir, which is an important selling point for wineries with estate vineyards.
Furthermore, these wines provide outstanding tasting experiences for customers who prefer vertical tastings of numerous vintage years, and they can be used for a variety of sales campaigns over time.
Getting Rid Of Problematic Wines
This purpose is probably less artistic and also possibly a little less imaginative. Even so, blending can be used to assist decrease the impact of problematic wines or wines with noticeable flaws, defects, or shortcomings.
Minor flaws can be partially hidden by blending them with aromatically abundant varieties like Concord, Niagara, or Catawba.
Wines with slight oxidation issues can often be added in small amounts to richer, fresher, younger wines without affecting the freshness or youth of the red wine.
Additionally, when high VA (volatile acidity) wines have been adequately treated and stabilized, they can be blended to wines with a lower VA to avoid contaminating a clean wine.
When blending clean wines with problematic wines, keep in mind that it isn't desirable for a winemaker to develop a series of lower-quality wines just to get rid of a problem wine.
Bare in mind that mixing problematic wines in any significant amount is unlikely to result in a "unique blend." When winemakers use blending for this goal, they are more likely to produce a “good enough” or “commercially acceptable” wine.
Wine Blending Styles
This is the world's most popular blend, hailing from the Bordeaux region of France. Blended wines make up the great bulk of red Bordeaux wines. The majority of white Bordeaux wines are also blends. Wine enthusiasts all over the world adore these powerful, concentrated wines, which are created from at least two, and in some cases more varietals.
Bordeaux wines may only be created from specific grape varietals, according to tradition and regulation. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and sometimes Carménère are used for red wines.
Almost no Bordeaux winemaker utilizes only one, and even fewer use all six. Sauvignon, Semillon, and Muscadelle are the white grape varieties used for the white wines, and at least two of them are nearly always utilized.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the primary grape in most blends on Bordeaux's Left Bank, which includes famous appellations like Haut-Médoc and Sauternes. On the other hand, Merlot is the predominant grape varietal in wines from the Right Bank appellations such as St. Emilion and Pomerol.
Bordeaux-inspired Blend Models
Other countries' winemakers have utilized these two models to try to replicate Bordeaux's successful wines. A varietal wine in California, for example, would contain at least 75% of the grape variety stated on the label.
Winemakers who aim to develop a wine with no component that achieves that level combine according to Bordeaux principles. The winery assigns fancy names for these wines that gives them exclusive right to use.
Rhône-style Blends/ GSM Blends
The GSM blend originated in France's Southern Rhône Valley and has since been adopted by winemakers all over the world.
This is a red blend that is similar in principle to the Bordeaux-blend model, but the grape varietals are from the Rhone Valley, specifically Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone.
Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre are abbreviated as GSM. These are the most important grape varieties in this region and for this blend. Carignan, Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Blanc, and a couple of white grapes, like Viognier, are among the 13 grape varieties that can be used for this style.
Rich, full-bodied red wines are made by blending them with one another and other varietals by local vintners. Each variety serves a distinct purpose:
- Grenache adds red fruit aromas, spicy undertones, and alcohol to the mix.
- Syrah adds structure and hints of black fruit.
- Mourvèdre provides color and tannins to the mix.
This most famous sparkling wine blend uses two or more grape varietals. The grape varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier are the only ones allowed to be used in French Champagne.
Some blends, such as Cava, add their own indigenous types, while others, like Franciacorta, include different varieties such as Pinot Bianco.
Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinto Cão, and Tinta Barroca are the most significant grapes used in this blend of dessert wine.
This wine is still produced using the field blend technique in Portugal. Some ports have as many as 52 different grape varieties blended together due to the enormous diversity of grapes in the region.
Super Tuscan Blends
Super Tuscans are also from Tuscany, and in many cases, they come from the same regions as Chianti wines.
Sangiovese plays a key role in Super Tuscans, just as it does in Chiantis. However, it does not have to be the primary grape. It may only account for as low as 25% of the blend in some wines.
There are numerous variations of this blend, but the majority contain a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Cabernet Franc. Sangiovese contributes a burst of red fruit, bright acidity, and the capacity to age beautifully.
The blend uses Washington's most important red grape varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. This combination produces a wine with lush fruit flavors and a smooth finish.
Wine blending is a fascinating art form that can be used to create new and interesting wines.
Some of them can even be tried at home for your enjoyment.
Have you tried any blended wine? Let us know in the comments below!