Wine Blends Explained

Over the years I found that many people can be a bit confused about wine blends, meaning just about any wine that doesn’t have the name of the variety, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, on the label. In the US we are used to having our wines labeled with the varietal. When it’s not then it means we need to know bit more about the country it comes from and how they label wines, or the reason behind the fact that it’s not on the label for a US wine.  So let’s clear this up starting with the US.

As I wrote previously in “Reading the Wine Label,” for the grape variety, like Cabernet Sauvignon, to be on the label then at least 75% of the stuff in the bottle must be from that grape. If no one grape is 75% of the wine in the bottle then it has to be labeled simply Red Wine or White Wine – this is where you find branded, proprietary blends (an example is Oracle from Miner),  or each grape in the blend must be identified, or you may see the word Meritage, which signifies the use of the Bordeaux varieties and membership in an association with specific governing rules. By the way, Meritage is pronounced like heritage. Members of the Meritage Alliance agree to use the same grape varieties that are used in Bordeaux.  For red that is Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere and Malbec. For white they are Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle. In Bordeaux itself virtually all of the wines are blends of these grapes, and even others can be included based on the regulations there.

Wines from places like South America and Australia, as well as throughout Europe, all utilize blending. The main thing to be aware of is that for the grape type to be on the label then 85% of the wine has to be from that grape.

Why blend if it’s so confusing?  Blending is part of the winemakers art.  

Each variety has its own unique set of aroma, taste, color and aging characteristics.  By using different combinations or additions the winemaker basically builds the kind of wine they want to offer us, and to their own style.  For example, adding Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon softens the wine and makes it more readily drinkable, while adding in some Petit Verdot ratchets up the color.

I once went to a blending seminar at Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa.  They make the very well known and highly regarded Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon and Tapestry, their very tasty red blend, as well as a wide selection of other wines for everyday.  Red Blend

The blend I created was composed of wines from two different blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, with 50% from one and 24% from the other, along with 18% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc – and after letting it age a few years it was yummy. So though technically not a Cabernet Sauvignon, it was my own red blend which I dubbed Chateau Crisken!

I only wish that I still had some to sip.

Isn’t wine fun!

Everyday Sip
2012 Gundlach Bundschu Mountain Cuvee $16
A blend of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 8% Zinfandel and the rest small dollops of Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Malbec

2013 Coppola Black Diamond Claret $15 
Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc blend

Guest Sip
2012 Beaulieu Vineyards Tapestry Reserve $50

2013 Ramey Claret $40
55% Cabernet Sauvignon with 34% Merlot, 4% Malbec, 3% Syrah, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot

Splurge Sip 
2010 Chateau Saint Jean Cinq Cepages $66
Always delivers! 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and the rest Petit Verdot.

2012 Dominus $210
I have had other vintages but not the 2012. According to Parker: “Flirting with perfection, the 2012 Dominus is composed of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Franc. Five thousand cases were produced, a relatively modest amount from this large vineyard’s big crop. Christian Moueix told me that there was plenty of heat in 2012, but there were no excessive hot spells that can plague Napa Valley vintners during the growing season and harvest. This wine’s opaque plum/purple color is accompanied by a beautiful nose of sweet crème de cassis, a touch of background oak (only 40% new oak is used), spice box, cedar wood, black cherries and a hint of spring flowers. The complex, intense aromatics are followed by a deep, opulent, multidimensional, full-bodied wine with not a hard edge to be found. Everything is seamlessly crafted in this beauty and the vintage’s abundant richness is well-displayed. This 2012 can be drunk in its exuberant youthfulness or cellared for another 20-25 years.” – Robert M. Parker, Jr., #215, Oct 2014. Reviewed by: The Wine Advocate – 99pts

2 thoughts on “Wine Blends Explained

  1. Pingback: From Vine to Wine – Winemaking! – Sips

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