Bond with Blended Wines
Winemakers across the world are driven by the need to create the perfect sip in a glass. And while perfecting the single grape varietal wine is a great accomplishment, creating a complex blend is no joke.
Single varietal wines are those where only one grape is being used to make the wine, like a Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Often a varietal is also a blend, but as long as the primary grape varietal has the dominant role it is fine. For instance in the US the primary grape varietal has to be 75% of the total, it’s 80% in Europe and 85% in Argentina. These varietals have this addition to build and balance the wine and make it consistent year after year. Majority of white wine grapes are single varietal, red wines like Pinot Noir, can also pure single varietals.
Blended wines allow a winemaker to create a mix that a single varietal may not be able to create. Each grape varietal that is used in a blend has a specific element that enhances the final wine. In a Bordeaux Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon has the body, Merlot the roundness and Cabernet Franc the aromatics; the three come together to create this luscious complexity which people fawn over. In New World wine blends there are no rules as to the percentages of the grape varietals used; Old World wines are now dictated by strict rules of blending which have been perfected over centuries. Still there is a lot of leeway, for instance Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines can legally use upto 18 grape varietals in their blends; the proportions for that are going to be quite difficult to map!
At what point of time are these wines blended is, again, the winemaker’s prerogative. It can be at the very beginning of the fermentation, mid way or at the end; it can also be blended in tanks or oak barrels; wines aged in oak barrels can be blended those which are not oaked; the permutation combinations are endless and it all comes down to what the winemaker thinks is right for the style of wine he wants to create. This is where his skills are best displayed.
These wines are commonly known by the region where the grapes are grown rather than the grape varietal themselves.
Popular blended wine styles
The region of Bordeaux in France is the grande dame of the wine world. Bordeaux’s biggest topographical feature is the Gironde River and its 2 tributaries Garonne and Dordogne. These rivers divide the region into Left and Right Bank and accordingly the wine styles also differ. Left Bank (left bank of Garonne River) wines are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon while the Right Bank (right bank of Dordogne River) uses Merlot as it’s core grape varietal. The Left Bank is further divided into Medoc and Graves. These grape varietals decide the structure of these wines as well.
Merlot based Right Bank wines like those from Saint Emilion tend to have more fruit notes with gentle tannins while the Left Bank wines have more weight with strong tannins and they have great aging potential. For the red blend only 6 grape varietals are permitted – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. A typical Bordeaux Blend almost always includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. White blends from the region use Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle to create Sauternes, a sweet style wine; others include Ugni Blanc and Colombard.
A complicated name and with 18 grape varietals it is also a complicated wine. The region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is situated in Rhone, France. Majority of the wines produced in the region are reds with a few whites; rose wines are not permitted to produced according to the AOC rules. Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre are the 3 primary grape varietals used for these wines; Grenache with its jamminess, Syrah with its spice and Mourvèdre adds structure to the wines.
According to AOC regulations, Châteauneuf-du-Pape could be made from 13 listed grapes. In 2009 this list was updated to include 5 more grape varietals which took the number up to 18 – Cinsaut, Counoise, Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Piquepoul noir, Syrah, Terret noir, Vaccarèse, Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche, Clairette Rose, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Picardan, Piquepoul Blanc, Piquepoul Gris, and Roussanne. These include both red and white grapes. Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines tend to be full bodied and spicy wines; they were considered rustic wines with earthy, leather like notes.
Rules are meant to be broken, a saying that Italian winemakers in Tuscany have mastered with their Super Tuscan wines. In the 1970s winemakers found the DOCG norms of Chianti wines to restrictive; it was Marchese Piero Antinori who chose to break away from these rules to create a blended wine with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc which was aged in oak barrels.
Based on the success of this one experiment, soon other producers followed suit to create wines with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Syrah and others that were not eligible for Tuscany’s various appellations. Even though these wines were declared as ‘table wines’ the quality commanded premium pricing. There are no hard and fast rules for a Super Tuscan, many producers use local Italian grapes in their blend while others stick to the Bordeaux Blend. Irrespective of the blend, the terroir speaks through the wine making them modern, full bodied and rich.
North Central Spain is where Rioja is located and Tempranillo is the commonly found grape varietal. This is later blended with Garnacha Tinto, Graciano and Mazuelo. The white blends are made of Malvasia, Garnacha Blanca and Viura. Based on the category, Rioja wine can be anything from simple, easy drinking to full bodied rich and spicy wines. Tempranillo is the base which gives the wine its primary character and the ability to age while Garnacha adds aromas. The amount of time the wine spends aging in oak typifies its category of being Riserva or Gran Riserva.
The region came in the limelight as a quality replacement for the French wines which were suffering from Phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century. Eventually Spain too fell prey to Phylloxera and subsequent wars didn’t do the wineries any favors either. It was only in the 1970s that Rioja and her wines picked up pace and have steadily been growing since then.